Thursday, May 12, 2005

Squirrel Haven: A Thing of the Past

As promised in the preceding post, an explanation of how the birds' suet basket achieved its indefatigable pinnacle.

Our home is on a large-ish lot within town lines, but close to municipal woods and reservoirs. It's just like living in the woods. The whole neighborhood used to be a hilly treeless property that, historically, was dairy and farm land that fed the prosperous city of Hartford. Now it's a haven for birds, squirrels and chipmunks, and the neighborhood cats who seek them for snacks.

Wacko, that's what squirrels are. Sometimes baffles work to keep squirrels off the poles leading to the bird feeders, but squirrels are not easily discouraged. [Understatement much?] Last year, for the first time, I decided to try hanging a suet basket. First, I hung it using the chain it came with, the hook of which I attached to an outdoor light just under the eaves of a two-storey high stone porch.

The squirrels jumped from trees to porch roof, hung by their back legs off the roof, navigated the chain, and grabbed the wires of the basket. They pulled the basket toward themselves (upside down!) and fed heartily from the suet cake. Squirrels one, homeowner zero.

Then, I hung the feeder fairly far away (by human standards, anyway) from the wrought-iron post that supported the porch. The squirrels immediately climbed the wrought iron, brazenly jumped to the basket, and ate the suet to the last seed.

Next time, I moved the basket, hanging it from a wrought-iron hanging-pot hanger meant to go over a tree branch. I hung this from a gutter.

The squirrels came down to the edge of the roof, hung from their back feet, and grabbed onto the hanger, gingerly working their way down to the basket.

What did I try next? I can't remember, precisely, except that it was the dumbest--as well as the best in terms of gags--solution. It provided the biggest riot ever. It was so good, I almost want to do it again. Only I can't remember how it was rigged.

This time, the squirrel placed his bet that he could just hang from the basket itself once he attained access. He climbed right onto it and started gobbling the suet. At some point after, I'd say, he was fairly sated, he had to move down to nibble what gravity had allowed to remain at the bottom of the basket. Fatal mistake? Well . . . the squirrel grabbed on to the bottom of the basket. This would have worked, had the squirrel positioned himself on the other side of the basket. But he was on the side that has two small clamps at the top of the basket that fit over the wires, and hinges at the bottom. The basket opened and swung out over the gravel two storeys below. The traditional squirrel became a flying squirrel, and plummeted to the ground.

Of course I rushed out to see if he'd survived. (I'm not really evil enough to have wished him dead. But I admit I was laughing hysterically.)

This squirrel wasn't off his game for long. The fall had been totally worth it! Not only had the squirrel fallen, but so had the frustrating remainder of the suet cake. He rolled right over, got up, found the cake without dizzy wobbling, and gobbled up all the final bits.

After this, I realized that my whole approach to the problem had come from "inside the box." When I thought outside of the box, I saw some opportunities to wedge something inside the casing that held the aluminum beam coverings on the porch ceiling. Between "boards" that weren't really boards but simply molded metal, there were indented spaces where I might hang something. A thick wire? No. A small dowel cut to fit? Yes.

I set to work measuring the space and cutting a dowel I already had. A length of cut dowel was slid into the space with the basket's hook already over it (along with a whole new suet cake). Because the squirrels had found this porch to be an easy mark, they continued trying to conquer the suet basket for days. This was an excellent prank! They attempted every technique they had already used successfully--evidence of some intelligence, even if all they are is rodents. They tried everything else they could come up with, but they just could not access the suet. Too low for them to hang by back feet from the roof or gutter. Too far between cast-iron pillars for them to jump on it. Too far from the benches, railings or porch to leap from below.

For a while, it drove them crazy. Very satisfying to witness. But--my loss-- after a couple of weeks, they gave up, accepted that the venue was no longer available, and moved on to easier finds.


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