Educated as an engineer and having a father that was pretty handy, I take pride in my ability to fix or build most anything. When I didn’t have any money as a college student, I did my own brakes and rebuilt carburetors. As a young father with only a little money, I repaired TVs and electronics equipment (with some guidance from my friend Brian) that I got on the cheap besides building bookcases and ripping out and redoing bathrooms and kitchens. And recently I have become an avid dumpster diver finding and repairing laptop computers, desktop displays, bicycles and anything else that looks good.
But after many attempts, I may have found my Waterloo. And it is in the body of a squirrel.
One of the most pleasant things I do in the morning is to lift my granddaughter Charlotte to the countertop with a cup of coffee and watch the birds attack the suet and seed feeders. Unfortunately, over the past month instead of seeing finches, blue jays, robins, cardinals, titmice, sparrows, woodpeckers, bluebirds, doves and the other birds of the season, I see a fat squirrel hanging upside down scarfing all the seeds out of the feeder or dislodging the suet so it falls to the ground giving it and its buddies a gooey breakfast.
This is nothing new.
For years I have had bird feeders hanging outside my kitchen windows and for years the squirrels have been attacking it. In the beginning I hung the feeders from surrounding trees and the squirrels hopped from branch to branch to get a snack. So then I thought I would hang the feeders with a long, thin 16 gauge wire so that they were less accessible. That worked for about a day as they climbed down the wire or did a free fall jump from above like some crazed daredevils.
Then I thought I would put a baffle above the feeder so that they could not get to it from above. That worked for about two days as they launched themselves from the house or adjacent trees to get to the feeders. Sometimes they would be successful, sometimes not.
So I stated to try different things. Hanging pieces of flashing in the path of their leaps. Inverted pots on branches to stop their egress. Putting the feeders on long horizontal wires. After a while the space around the feeders looked like a strange junk yard Christmas tree with ornaments placed by a crazed human. At one point my wife told me that I had to take all down and damn my efforts. I had to agree with her as my yard started to remind me of a lady’s I used to deliver papers to as a boy.The trees in her yard were decorated with bowling pins, bicycle wheels, cans, plastic bottles and anything else she could hang from a string. Detritus was scattered around her yard and dozens of cats lazily slept on her porch roof. Was I becoming that person? Did she have squirrel problems or just problems?
As I went through these exercises, my son-in-law Alan was the most amused and would comment on my every failed attempt, “Squirrels 47, Erik 0.
Last year, I didn’t have these problems. No squirrels but no birds either. The feeders would be full of seeds for weeks on end. Perhaps the mild winter and abundance of food (we had a banner year in acorns) made my offerings superfluous. Or perhaps all the birds told each other that this wacky guy should be avoided. Don’t know. But this year is very different as the birds are hitting the feeders with renewed passion. And so are the squirrels. Time for a new plan. So I methodically attempted a series of measures.
1) Put feeders on long horizontal steel line
2) Put baffle made from old hanging pot bottom on steel line
3) Remove baffle, put 200 small spools on line
4) Put 200 small spools, 20 large thread spools, 15 orange plastic tinker toy round connectors on line
5) Remove 170 spools, drill hole in flashing, wedge flashing on line with small thread spools
None of these have worked, though they have slowed the squirrels down. It was fun to watch for a while as they did their imitations of Philippe Petit, who tightrope walked between the Twin Towers in New York City. Unlike Philippe, for their initial attempts they slipped and hit the steel doors going into my basement with a thud, but they eventually figured things out and got to the feeders. Even the spools of thread, which I thought would spin and drop them to earth with a furry plop worked for only a few days.
But the flashing has been slowing them down. Only one squirrel seems to be able to get across the chasm, and only when the flashing is in a certain position folded down. The rest have given up so now it’s just me and it mano a pata. It took me a few days to figure out how to stop it and I’m sure I have come up with the solution.
6) Place 3-ounce lead sinkers on flashing so it stays erect on line.
I’m crossing my fingers confident in my ability to outwit this rodent. And if this doesn’t work, I have the rest of the winter to work on it. My wife is consulting with mental health officials.