Brain Dropping #71
Persistence. We have a squirrel, or should we say the squirrel has us. Our homemade bird feeder is quite the construction – a large saltine cracker tin becomes a hopper with a hole punched in the lower edge to allow the black oiled sunflower seeds to flow out as the birds feed. With the aid of a rod through the center, it is perched on an inverted galvanized lid of a metal garbage can which serves as a large tray for an avian “piazza del popolo.” We’ve seen as many as six different species feeding together peacefully without any sense of threat – a White Bellied Nuthatch, a Brown Bellied Nuthatch, a Slate Colored Junco, a Purple Finch, a Gold Finch and the inevitable Chickadee. Conflict is certain when a second member of the same species intrudes. It becomes internecine warfare with ferociously beating wings and loop-de-loop maneuvers. Our observations gives the award for unrelenting belligerence to the female Purple Finch.
The feeder hangs from an inverted “L” shaped length of half inch steel electrical conduit – a three quarter inch piece of galvanized iron pipe driven three feet into the ground allows the conduit to slip into it to hold it upright. It also allows the whole apparatus to swivel.
So, that describes the court on which the game is played. The birds are only incidental to the game and make themselves scarce when the competition begins.
This time of year, October 18th, “When yellow leaves or few, or none / do hang upon the boughs which shake against the cold….” squirrels and chipmunks bend obsessively to the task of gathering and storing nuts and seeds. Setting traps baited with rancid peanut butter is a must to thwart the in-migration of mice to warm, dark corners of the house. But of all the adversaries, it is the maniacal Gray Squirrel who challenges our patience and ingenuity – not once or twice – but forever, or so it seems. It goes without saying that bolted halfway up the pole, a few feet below the feeder, we have a “Squirrel Baffle” looking like a Chinese peasant hat. It is essentially the same apparatus used on the mooring hawser of a ship to discourage rats from doing a tight-rope act onto the deck. To further discourage the “Sciurus Carolinensis” (Google) Gail has slathered a concoction of Cayenne pepper and Petroleum Jelly onto the pole as a repellent. The Squirrels seem to consider it a condiment.
Sitting at our breakfast table we hear a scampering on our roof and then……THE SQUIRREL – we know it intimately by now – in a ten foot Kamikaze leap of fur and blazing tail, lands on the horizontal bend of the conduit and onto the feeder. I rush out and scare him off. And so, a repetitive dance begins time and time again – sitting at table – scampering on roof – prodigious leap – running out the door with wild shouting and hand clapping. We sit and plan wildly impractical deterrents. Wired sheets of sharp-edge aluminum flashing, placed to obscure the pole, are battered out of the way by the furry missile. He did fall once and we caught our breath, perversely hoping he wasn’t injured. This morning we rigged an old fashioned wooden rat trap with a powerful spring – American made in Lititz Pa.- onto the horizontal bar. You know, the kind that is scary to set and makes you jump when you accidentally trigger it. He knows this trap well for he has avoided it for weeks. But will he initiate the leap from the roof before he realizes his mistake? It’s been eight hours now and no sign of him. We can only wait!