Birdwatching and other pandemic distractions.
I don't know about you, but I can't concentrate on a thing lately. I start reading a book, and my attention is immediately taken by, well, anything. I wander around my house and yard, aimlessly looking for a task that my attention span will allow me to finish. I've decided to take my dog's lead, and I've begun focusing on squirrels instead. Yes, you read that right. Squirrels.
It all started with the birds that congregate in our backyard. Fascinating creatures, birds. They lead dramatic, violent, passionate lives.
The lives of these birds are multilayered and complex, and just as I've begun filling their feeders for winter, in come the squirrels.
One in particular.
He taunts me from the bird feeder. He's rather chubby and would be considered cute if he was a more human-acceptable animal, like a dog or a cat.
But he's not a dog or a cat. He lives outside, and so I respect the rules: no petting or photographing for Instagram, no feeding.
Yesterday, my daughter let our dogs out to do their evening business when our Yorkie, Paco, took off across the lawn after a squirrel.
After The Squirrel.
I felt conflicted as Paco was berated for chasing the squirrel since I knew he had learned the behavior from watching me.
I take off after that damn thing every time I open the door.
This obsession made me realize I have some lingering curiosity about squirrels that I had to satisfy. As long as you're still here, come along for a deep dive into all things squirrel.
They are taking over!
Is it just me, or are there a ton of squirrels? They are everywhere! Creepy little things seem to be plotting a neighborhood takeover. I wouldn't put it past them, with their tiny hands. I bet they'd start by taking out the power lines....but I digress.
I was curious if this seeming surge in the squirrel population was real or perceived. It turns out there really are a ton of squirrels this year!
Apparently, 2018 was a bumper year for acorns, the primary food source for squirrels. These well-fed and amorous squirrels lived and loved well, resulting in a baby boom.
What we see this year is this baby boom generation reaching adulthood and stepping out on their own. Since humans have been home and outdoors instead of the office or school, we have noticed this increased population.
Try to see the good in our furry friends.
Every creature has good qualities, and it should be easy to find the good in squirrels. They are cute and furry. We are halfway there already.
It is harder to judge bad behavior when you understand the reasons behind it, the whole "walk a mile in someone else's shoes" mantra. So let's start with the most detested squirrels' behavior.
Squirrels often chew power lines, causing outages, or get into vehicles or attics or sheds and chew electrical wires. Squirrels chew because their teeth never stop growing. They need to chew to wear them down, so they don't grow through their jaw.
It doesn't entirely make up for that time your power was out for 10 hours, but you can forgive them a little.
Another good quality squirrels possess is that they are expert gardeners. Squirrels like to bury seeds before they eat them, but they are a bit forgetful. All those seeds that they forgot where they buried help redesign forests.
Squirrels are also full of personality and display their attitude, chattering at other animals or even at you if you get too close.
Are squirrels harmful?
Squirrels are wild animals, and you should not approach them. They could bite or scratch and possibly carry disease. It is also detrimental to the squirrel if they lose the fear of humans.
Squirrels can be harmful because of the need, as mentioned earlier, to chew. They can cause problems by chewing electrical or telephone wires. In the winter, they may chew their way into homes or attics and can cause damage to siding or insulation.
In these cases, it is necessary to seal off all areas that may allow the squirrel access or call a professional pest removal agency.
Dog vs. Squirrel
It's not a mystery that dogs love to chase squirrels. It all comes down to their instinct to hunt and their stellar sense of smell. Certain breeds of dogs have a harder time overcoming this instinct and responding instead to your commands. Instinct will take over, and they take off.
Consistent training is helpful, and when all else fails, use a leash or fence in your yard to keep your precious pup safe.
Squirrel-proof bird feeders
Here's a link to some bird feeders that are guaranteed to keep out squirrels! Just kidding, there seems to be no such thing. There are plenty of good options for bird feeders that make it more difficult for squirrels, but if you have a determined squirrel with time on his hands, he can probably get in anything.
Most feeders advertised as squirrel-proof have features that throw off balance with a squirrel's weight but not a bird. Other options have a spinning hook design to send the squirrel spinning off of the feeder. The Humane Society recommends just giving a little to the birds and a little to the squirrels. It never hurts to show a fellow-creature a little kindness, and they are cute, after all.
Why can't we all just get along
The idea for this story was born while researching squirrel proof bird feeders. I came to the conclusion that I will save my money, and I think you should too.
Yes, some of the feeders will keep the squirrels out for a time. But squirrels are intelligent little buggers, and they will figure it out. And then you will be shopping for a new design. And then he will figure that one out.
Save yourself and the squirrel some trouble. Toss out a little extra birdseed. If a squirrel gets some, well, good for him. It's not his fault 2018 was the squirrel autumn of love. Blame his hippie squirrel parents.