Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Naughty Squirrels

It isn't only birds that show up at birdfeeders. Oh no. Anybody who's ever poured sunflower seeds into a plastic tube and hung it on a tree limb knows that squirrels love them, too.

The squirrel who frequents our garden is even fonder of the suet feeders. This fellow enraged the flickers and bushtits by perching on the backyard suet feeder and hanging upside down from it as he fed.

I bet he picks all the best stuff out of the suet; if he were a person, he'd be the sort who bites off the bottoms of all the chocolates in a box to see what's inside, then puts them back if they're not to his liking and looks for another.

(Yes, there are such ghastly people. They're usually kids.)

But he's got better manners than squirrels who've lunched at our feeders in the past. One year, a trio of squirrels attacked the tube feeder, pulling out all the perches and finally hauling the entire feeder to the ground, where they mauled it and tore apart the plastic tube before devouring all the seeds.

They weren't Squirrels from Another Planet, but they were invaders of a sort. Squirrels in our northwestern city are Eastern gray squirrels, which were imported here back in the day. The native Western gray squirrel lives in oak-conifer woodlands and, according to my field guides, is intolerant of humans and hence unlikely to be staring saucily through your windows as it chows down on seeds.

Nor would it ever climb up your jeans-clad leg and demand food, like the squirrel who lived in the backyard of our first home 21 years ago. Having had a lifelong dread of rabies (inflicted by too much hypochondriac reading as a child), I didn't encourage this squirrel's boldness, but did settle for allowing it to sit close by and accept peanuts tossed to it.

The particular squirrel who shares our garden lives a life frequently punctuated by games of Chase-the-Squirrel initiated by Luna the Labrador. Sometimes she bounds into my office to beg to be let outside because she's spied him up in the birch tree.

She hasn't got a prayer of catching him--the garden abounds in branchy escape routes--but she enjoys the chase. I don't think the squirrel is impressed, but I don't think he's terrified; he tends to retreat up a tree to finish his snack, casting disdainful glances at Luna as she circles the trunk and dances on her hind legs.

"Just you wait."
Interestingly, I just read in the definitive work "Squirrels of the West" (what, you don't have a copy?) that Eastern gray squirrels, though ardent buriers-of-nuts like many other tree squirrels, aren't the little Johnny Appleseeds that these other squirrels are.

If they forget about one of their caches, it's not likely to renew the Earth with a fresh crop of saplings, because the little devils "determinedly nip off the germinating end of the nuts before burying them."

Who knew! Methinks it's time for the oak trees to doublecheck the fine print in their contract with the squirrels.

Still, I don't mind having our squirrel around. I'd much rather have a squirrel on the feeder than a rat. Yeah, that was a pretty sight one wintry morning two years ago: sit down at the dining room table, sip a nice mug of coffee, glance outside to see what pretty birds are on the snowcapped feeder--only to see a big ol' rat huddled on it. Give me squirrels any day.