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THE TALE OF THE SQUIRREL-PROOF BIRD FEEDER

From Audubon.org website Let me explain why I was so determined to outwit the squirrels stealing birdseed from the wild birds I'd attracted to my yard. Of course they didn't see it as stealing. It's their natural right to snarf up anything they can. And boy are they smart. Ultimately though, I won this war.

Last year I was having an exchange with ardent birder Deborah Rivel who owns Wildtones (a company that provides ringtones of various animals and birds for your phone). We did not share a deep bird connection yet. We'd met several lifetimes ago at a South Florida radio station where we'd both worked. Fast forward a decade. We re-met in the elevator of the Manhattan apartment building where we were both living and have stayed in touch ever since. When I eventually moved out of the city, I'd kept a bluebird box in my various yards but that was the extent of my bird efforts. So now I was telling her that the bluebirds suddenly had no interest in the bird house that had always attracted them. Could it be old and leaking? Were there predators around that weren't here before? At one point she mentioned "The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds" by Julie Zickefoose. It was about the wild birds she'd rescued and known over decades. Deborah said, "I love this book. She's a good author and her illustrations are wonderful. You might enjoy reading it."

The Bluebird Effect

Enjoy? It changed my life. I became a Bird Nut. I soon attended the nearby North Carolina Wildlife Rehabilitaters annual conference and won a thistle feeder (to lure finches) and two 20 pound bags of wild bird seed. That "free" starter kit grew into a pretty blue glass bird bath, a suet square (the ones packed with sunflower seeds last the longest), a peanut butter feeder handmade from poplar that I bought at a farmer's market for $3, a brand new bluebird house from Wild Birds Unlimited with a baffle around the pole it stands on to keep predators away (way more than $3), and a hummingbird feeder with a place in the middle for water to repel ants (to my delight it also serves as a water source for the goldfinches and attracts butterflies).

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I even purchased a large tub of dried mealworms. I learned the live ones are "like candy" to birds according to a rehabber I spoke to, "but they'll eat the dried ones in a pinch." Um, not ready to make that leap yet but I won't be at all surprised when I do. What I needed for now was one more all-purpose feeder for the two bags of wild bird seed I'd won.

I went to my nearest Lowe's Home Improvement store and studied 75 bird feeders ranging from $3.59 to $119 until my eyes crossed. I tried this one made of cedar ($11.98).

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The squirrels were in it constantly. About twenty times a day I'd open my office window and yell at them to scram. Comical flying leaps off the feeder would follow--along with the feeder flying off its hook as well. It was destroyed in less than two weeks. And I wasn't getting much work done. At one point I looked out and counted no fewer than 12 squirrels on the prowl in my yard. I felt like Col. Nicholson at the end of "The Bridge on the River Kwai" when he realizes he has to destroy the bridge he and his men so carefully built. "What have I done?"

I wasn't ready to surrender. I bought a squirt gun at CVS that looked like it could launch nuclear weapons and promised to squirt 40 feet. Pfft. Not even close. Returned it the next day. On the net I found the Xploderz 2500 that's supposed to shoot water balls up to 100 feet. Hmm. Maybe I'd fill it with vinegar to be extra evil. I could also use it on the cats that have their eyes on my little birdies. To a Bird Nut this is all perfectly normal and acceptable. Wait. I'd have the Squirrel Lovers and Cat People after me. And I'm a cat person (I keep mine inside).

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I went back to Lowe's for this feeder by Garden Treasures . For $34.98 it claimed:

  • Squirrel-Be-Gone™ weight activated system prevents squirrels from feeding
  • Durable, all-metal construction with removable roof peak
  • Holds 12 lbs. of seed 

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It was cute, too. A little green metal house with windows made of sturdy plastic and a copper roof. What's not to like? I placed it as far from trees as possible while still affording me a view from my office. Once I filled it with bird seed, it was heavy and bent my shepherd's hook over. The squirrels attacked from every direction. Up the pole, leaping from tree branches. In combat mode, I greased the pole with vegetable oil. It was hilarious to watch them slide down it over and over. I finally figured out that vaseline doesn't have to be reapplied every other day. It also keeps out the ants. The squirrels still managed to leap from the trees. Just as the feeder was supposed to do, it snapped shut as soon as they put their paws on it. The birds were too light to activate it.

They didn't give up.

Once, when the bird seed got below where the side handles entered the house, they were able to pull out one causing the feeder to end up on the ground. They lapped up whatever spilled out. I was furious. I filled it back up with more birdseed so as not to exposure those handle thingies. There!

The next day I looked out and saw a squirrel with half of its body inside the front door of the house! That effer had managed to push in the piece of plastic that covered the front (creating the window effect). Muttering expletives, I found clear shipping tape and secured the plastic down from the inside. And re-vaselined the pole.

It worked! Either they've given up or the raptors have been picking them off instead of my birds, which I had asked them to do. As much as I'd like to think I have a special bond with nature like Julie Zickefoose does, I'm sure I have a long, long way to go. I still often stray from my work as I stare at blurs of red from cardinals and woodpeckers, yellow from the goldfinches, and bluebirds and ruby-throated hummingbirds. I even spied a rose-breasted grosbeak on its way south. But I have to say, things are kinda boring without those squirrels.

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