The Year of the Birds, & Warring With Squirrels

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This has become the Year of the Birds.

Glorious weather, and more time on our hands, finds us outside often when not working remotely at our respective jobs. We have several bird feeders set up along the deck and under the gazebo. A pair of cardinals have taken up residence in our backyard, flitting about the azaleas and crepe myrtles. They are appreciative of the newly installed feeder under the gazebo, stopping by several times for a snack. They chirp warnings when Tater and Tot are prowling outside. Cats are natural-born bird killers, so we keep an eye on them when they go outside to do their business. Mainly they spend the day sleeping inside, each curled up in a sunny spot. Those two rascals won the lottery when my Beautiful Mystery Companion leaped at the chance to adopt two abandoned kittens, dumped three-plus years ago at her brother’s house.

Every spring, a wren builds a nest below one of our house’s balconies, using a mounted floodlight to prop it in place. Smart wren. She is nearly finished bringing in twigs, leaves and pine straw. Soon, baby birds will be peeking their tiny beaks over the edge, while she brings them food.

The robins show up right after a rain or when the sprinklers have run, hopping about the ground, taking the opportunity to bathe and maybe find some worms to eat. From a magnolia tree above, a blue jay — the schoolyard bully of the bird world — eyes the robins and caws loudly, while tiny wrens flit in for a few kernels of seed.

We installed a pair of hummingbird feeders last week, after noticing the little guys darting among the tree branches. Within a few hours, we had our first visitor. Hummingbirds are the A.J. Foyts of the bird world, fast little critters that are a joy to observe. Another admirable aspect of hummingbirds: they will divebomb the squirrels eyeing the feeders as they creep along the deck rail.

As most of you know, squirrels are the nemesis of bird feeders. My BMC has a cage feeder into which you put a square cake of bird seed, which the wrens and chickadees enjoy — but not as much as the squirrels. I installed a baffle that theoretically keeps squirrels from getting onto the feeders. It didn’t work with the cage feeder. One squirrel in particular would leap on top of the cage and hang upside down, munching away at the cake until one of us ran outside and yelled at him. Next, I tried hanging a large plastic owl bought years ago from the same pole, in hopes it would scare the squirrel. The squirrel returned and spent about 15 minutes eyeing the owl. He even walked over, touched it and leaped back when it swayed from the pole. Ha! I thought. This might work.

Nah. The squirrel figured out the owl was fake, hurdled over its head and hung from the cage once again. As a former neighbor once said when I was previously engaged in a war with squirrels, “Squirrels don’t have jobs. They have all day to try to figure out how to get to your bird feeder.” That’s true, but I now have a lot more time to work on making our feeders squirrel proof, since we remain largely sheltered in place. Accordingly, I moved the cake cage to hang below the balcony, about six feet up. Almost immediately, my BMC spied a squirrel perched on a narrow piece of molding beneath the closest picture window, apparently poised to leap for the cage.

She scared the little bugger off, and I haven’t seen another. I went out later and measured both the molding on which squirrel had balanced — a half-inch! — and the distance the squirrel would have to leap to reach the cage — 55 inches! The vertical leap required from the deck is 64 inches. If any squirrel is able to achieve either leap, I’m setting a trap, catching that rascal, and entering him in a carnival sideshow, once the world opens back up.

So far, we’re winning the War on Squirrels. But I am well aware that squirrels don’t have jobs and plenty of time to plot. I’m not declaring victory just yet.

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