When we moved into this house 22 years ago, there was a birch tree off the corner of our front porch. After we had lived here awhile I noticed that it handled a lot of bird traffic. A bird feeder hanging on the edge of the tree would be easily visible through the front window while sitting on the couch. I figured we could afford one bag of bird seed a month for our viewing pleasure.
I found a small cheap tube feeder and within three days I had birds lined up in the tree waiting for their turn to eat. Of course, some of them weren’t content with waiting, so we also had some very noisy squabbles. It was obviously the center of activity.
The following spring I was looking out of the window and saw something peeking over the edge of the roof at the tree. I curled up and sat very still. Eventually the tiniest, scrawniest squirrel I ever saw creeped slowly to the edge and then jumped into the tree. I was somewhat concerned. The squirrel wasn’t just skinny, it was bony. And it’s fur was blotchy with naked patches. Was this squirrel sick?
I watched him eat and his appetite was good. He was very alert and was quick to seek shelter. But he looked awful. Even though I wasn’t real thrilled about feeding squirrels, I decided to leave him be and warned my husband of the possibility of having to murder a squirrel. A couple of days later his coat had smoothed out somewhat and he was becoming bolder about running the birds off. Huh. And then he brought a friend to the tree. And that squirrel was even smaller and looked as bad as he had. No danglies were present, so I assumed a ‘she’ squirrel.
Over the next week as the squirrels got plumper and fur grew back, I realized I had a pair of red squirrels. I then proceeded to read up about them and found out that they were having habitat issues and were declining in some areas. These, apparently, were starving. *sigh* But they were getting comfortable around the house and their antics delighted my young daughter and made me smile as well. Alright, I decided, I would feed the damn squirrels. They were small, how much could they eat?
A lot. The little suckers were piglets. And once they realized they were safe here, they took to running the birds off in a very rude fashion and even had the gall to yell at me when I would come out of the house. And when the food would run out, which it did every day with the squirrels plus many birds, they began chewing on the feeder. I would go out and take it down, but shortly it was toast. So I bought a feeder with metal around the openings. That lasted awhile. Till they figured out they could just chew right through the sides. Grrrrr.
Time to think. How would I fix this? I didn’t want to get rid of them even though they were making me crazy. They had blossomed into proper red squirrels and I loved watching them make our back yard, which has lots of trees, their home. But they were harassing the birds, which made them twitchy. And destroying feeders had to stop. So, separate feeders.
I liked watching birds in the tree outside the kitchen window at breakfast. I would love some sort of feeder out there. But the squirrels were happiest in the trees, so it would be their feeder out back instead. The kitchen window was one story up, so it would have to be put on a pulley. I then went shopping for a feeder and was pleased to find there was actually a ‘squirrel feeder’. It was cedar with a clear plastic front that sat clear down on the wood with a small ledge in front of it. No gap for food to slide out. It had a lid on hinges. The squirrels were supposed to sit on the ledge and open the feeder and take out the food. Peanuts and corn were recommended, but we couldn’t afford all that. So seed it would be.
We took down the feeder in the front of the house and hung the feeder in the tree. The squirrels were not impressed. Much running of the tree and chittering, chasing birds, and yelling at humans ensued. It took them 5 days to find the feeder in the back. Another two to quit being afraid of the lid. Another week and we had another problem. The squirrels were so small they fit inside the feeder. And apparently they have no problem with peeing all over their food. At which point they would begin jumping in and out and in and out and banging the lid each time. And then they would dig, dig, dig in the seed. I assumed looking for something edible. There was a major waste of seed. So I took the feeder down and pulled the staple above the plastic out and put it below the plastic front making it like a bird feeder with the seed coming out of the bottom. I had my husband nail on wood strips to make the ledge in front a tray for the seed to sit in. And then added a simple eye hook to hold the lid down. Ta Da! The tray is small enough that if they have to pee, they can just stick their butts over the edge. Many, mostly pleasurable, years have passed and our population of red squirrels grew.
A couple of years later we realized we had other squirrel denizens feasting at our feeders.
(Trying to get a decent picture of these guys was impossible. There were 4 of them vying for feeding rights and it was all grab and run. I took over 30 pictures, most of them empty. No squirrel. By the time I pushed the button, they were gone. -damn camera- I started pushing the button as soon as I saw movement. This picture was the best I could do.)
For all these years, these were the only two squirrels I had to deal with. occasionally, a grey squirrel would wander in and we would chase it off and it would stay gone for that year. Not anymore. Last July/August a mother with two young showed up and nothing we did would keep her gone for long. Later, of course, the youngsters would come in on their own. We don’t want them, but we don’t want to kill them either. But grey squirrels have been known to run the red squirrels out of their territories.
When Saver of Bugs was home for spring break, another much larger squirrel showed up. We discussed the possibility of a Red Squirrel/Grey Squirrel hybrid. They do occasionally cross-breed. But it just didn’t look quite right to me. So I went looking and it turns out we now have a fourth type of squirrel. Meet the Fox Squirrel.
We’ve hit these guys with soft BB’s and air soft pellets trying to scare them out of the yard. They keep coming back. After having such a wonderful time watching the population of red squirrels growing and expanding, I now worry that they will be driven off and/or cease to be. They are still coming to the feeder, but not in as many numbers, nor are they as vocal. I worry for them.
I also wonder what has happened around here that has brought (or driven?) these squirrels so suddenly into our yard after all these years. I do hope a balance can be reached. I would hate to see the little red squirrels disappear.