Observing nature’s creatures is always interesting
The Alpha Squirrel and Me
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Living at the city’s edge is wonderful. There are large native trees and shrubs, some with fancy flowers in spring, such as cottonwood and catalpa, and lots of wildlife. Among the latter are deer, raccoons, rabbits, foxes, skunks, opossums, groundhogs, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, shrews, and others. In summer, the air is full with colorful swallowtail and monarch butterflies, fancy moths such as the luna and sphinx, and a large assortment of birds, including chickadees, gold finches, cardinals, juncos, warblers, wrens, woodpeckers, ruby throated hummingbirds, and even the occasional raptor.
Observing nature’s creatures is always interesting. Some are hesitant to step out of the forest’s shadow into bright daylight as there are natural enemies. At least there used to be. Top predators, such as bears, are relegated to more remote corners of the wilderness. Still, for smaller creatures, dangers abound, mostly from the neighbours’ cats roaming the area.
Of course, there are plants and flowers, azaleas, spireas, yuccas, cedars (Thuja sp.), yews, forsythias, day lilies and other common garden plants. While we are no avid gardeners by any standard, we also like to have a few evergreens around, just to see anything but drab grey in early spring before nature re-awakens with a vengeance in early May.
Some of the wildlife has a different opinion about our backyard. It appears they look at it simply as a steady source of food. The deer forage on the flowers and shrubs and the raccoons and skunks regularly dig up the lawn for grubs. But the squirrels own the place and there are lots of them. Grey, black and red squirrels (the black is an introduced color variant of the native grey squirrel). When we hung a bird feeder off a shepherd’s hood, it took about five minutes for the squirrels to find a way to get to the seed. Undeterred, some baffles were added to the system and, after several unsuccessful tries, the squirrels were content with simply foraging for seeds on the ground. We had won or so we thought.
A few days later, a couple of deer appeared on the snow covered ground. I had not been aware before that sunflower seeds in bird feeders are one of their favoured foods. Of course, they could not refuse that delicacy. Moreover, they did not even need to stoop down, it was right in front of their nose, ready to be licked out in a few minutes flat.
After due consideration, involving the appropriate amount of mulled wine and assorted cookies, we decided to hang the birdfeeder from a walnut tree branch, about 15 feet above ground. It would foil the deer for sure. In order to be able to refill the feeder, a small pulley was attached to a loop around the branch, and a long 1/8th inch braided nylon line to the porch allowed easy lowering and lifting for refilling. Problem solved, so we thought.
The squirrels thought otherwise, especially the one we call the Alpha.
There is no obstacle the Alpha squirrel has not been able to overcome. Whenever I modify the system, it goes up on nearby branches and studies the arrangement carefully from all angles. Then, after having contemplated the situation for a while it gives it an attempt. With different baffles and other obstructions in its way, it does not normally succeed on the first try and falls to the ground. Undeterred, it tries and tries again until it gets to the bird feeder. Replacing the section of rope above the feeder with a thin wire did not help either. Even one of those battery-driven, weight-activated twirly gadgets does not help. I think the Alpha actually enjoys the free carousel ride.
Yesterday, the alpha was sitting on the branch above the feeder and studying the latest contraption. It was sitting a long time on the branch where I had hung the loop to the pulley from. We finally had won. While I was relishing with glee I heard a strange noise: the whole system, pulley and all had come crashing down. The Alpha had simply chewed through the nylon cord.
Back to the drawing board (and more mulled wine)!