We set up the bird feeders outside the cabin windows in early November when I noticed three pine grosbeaks hanging out in the trees. We participate in a winter-long civilian scientist program called Project Feeder Watch. The program asks participants to monitor their feeders every few weeks and submit a summary of the bird species seen during those times to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This year I had high hopes for active feeders. I’d had visions of chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and grosbeaks instantly flocking to the feeders when I filled them with sunflower seeds.
Instead the first critter to belly up was small, brown, and furry. It had a big bushy tail. It was Mr. Squirrel.
Squirrels are coincidental beneficiaries of the feeders, yet they don’t see things this way. They take the feeders for granted. I think I deserve a little respect as the all-powerful provider of sunflower seeds. But the squirrels don’t give me the time of day. They just look mildly irritated when I step outside and disturb their grazing. I’m just their little minion who will continue to fill the feeders until springtime.
Squirrels’ attendance at the bird feeders is anything but unexpected. Where there is bird seed there will be squirrels and here at the cabin we don’t bother with trick feeders or other tactics to dissuade squirrels from clamoring up to the feeders. It just seems too inevitable that the squirrels will figure out a way to get the seeds no matter what sort of tricks we try to pull on them.
Still, I find myself hoping for better behavior out of the squirrels. Sometimes it feels like my backyard has been overrun by some small hybrid creatures whose mentalities are a curious mix of toddler and old married couple. The squirrels don’t share well and they bicker endlessly, chasing each other up and down trees while sending bits of bark flying beneath their little feet.
The first squirrel who found the feeders assumed they were his and only his. He chased every other squirrel that even looked at the feeders off into the trees. He liked to start each morning by staring into the cabin’s kitchen window and letting out a loud yodel. I thought it was rather nervy of him to demand his breakfast, but he’s since lost his battle for ultimate feeder dominance. Now there are at least five squirrels running around the backyard every day, alternating between fighting and gorging themselves.
While chickadees politely flit about, selecting a single seed from the feeder and flying back to their perch, the squirrels like to sit smack-dab in the feeder, stuffing their checks until all the seeds are gone. I don’t want to encourage poor body images, but the squirrels’ butts are getting really big.
The birds are well accustomed to the squirrels’ piggy ways. They worked their ways to the feeders during those brief moments in the day when the squirrels aren’t fighting over sunflower seeds. I suppose if the birds can’t be bothered by the squirrels than I shouldn’t be either. But I’m still struck with the squirrels’ nonchalance.
Just today I caught a squirrel sitting on the cabin’s deck railing staring at me through the window. It seemed the beady stare the squirrel had fixed on me said: “Look lady, the seed are getting a little low out here. Do you mind?”
It’s good to be king.
Airdate: December 8, 2010