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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
September 12, 2010

Every Day Is Special

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


The Saga of Orson and the Squirrels

I started trying to feed wild birds innocently enough -- a few little birdfeeders styled like Christmas ornaments that I hung in our yard one winter.

I only did it because I had a freestanding pole with four arms from which I had hung plants in my brief, abortive experience with upside-down tomato growing (hint: it only works if you prune the plants rigorously, which I didn't, and you have to water twice a day during the summer, so forget it).

The pole was still good, even if the plants were gone, so I moved it to where the hammock hangs during the summer and suspended little birdseed dispensers from three of the arms.

Within a couple of days, they were empty. Unfortunately, they were empty because squirrels had knocked them from the poles and unscrewed the lids. The war was on.

I bought a "squirrel-proof" feeder that enclosed the tube of seeds in a metal cage that birds could get through and squirrels couldn't.

And they can't, it's true. Still, they can hang from the cage and reach in to take whatever has spilled onto the catching tray at the bottom. And then they can shake the feeder so more spills onto the tray.

But why would they bother with that when they discovered almost immediately how to -- once again -- unscrew the lid and simply climb down into the tube, eating as they went?

A lesser (or smarter) man than I might have given up, but no. I went to Lowe's and bought some metal fasteners that I passed through the seed tube and over the top of the lid. This worked -- the squirrels couldn't open the thing and eat it empty in half an hour.

Instead, it took them a couple of days by shaking the feeder and scooping seeds off the tray.

I bought a finch feeder -- a tube with slick plastic sides and bird perches, for thistle seeds and other bird favorites. Now I hung the cage feeder and the finch feeder on two arms of the pole, and plant baskets on the others. Very pretty. But the squirrels could empty both feeders in a couple of days -- who knew that thistle seeds were tree-rat favorites?

Not only that, but they spilled thistle seed onto the ground. I was not thrilled with the profusion of thistles that started growing there.

On the theory that I would rather pay to have our brick patio water-blasted twice a year to clean off bird poop than to fight thistles growing throughout our yard, I moved the pole, feeders, and baskets onto the brick. Later, I removed the plants and hung a caged suet-feeder and a hummingbird feeder on those arms, so it's a bird-feeding station only.

Except for the squirrels. I had thought the squirrels were jumping onto the feeders from nearby walls or trees, so when I placed the pole in the middle of the patio, I thought it would keep the squirrels off.

I was forgetting that squirrels are not only smart and agile enough to unscrew metal lids, they're also champion athletes. They were up that pole in no time. The birds were barely getting anything.

It was time to get serious.

First, I bought squirrel food. Lowe's sells them -- lovely bricks of corn glued together (with some edible substance, I hope) and hung from a bungee cord. I placed this at the opposite end of the yard.

The squirrels do eat them, and it's fun to watch their agility as they do. But it doesn't stop them from going for the birdseed in the birdfeeders. It doesn't even delay them -- apparently the birdseed is easier and they only went to the official squirrel food when the birdseed was gone, or when other squirrels were using all the good spots.

Oh, and let's give credit to the chipmunks. They've been living in our yard now for decades, and they cause no grief at all. They can't climb the pole (or are nice enough not to try) and basically they scavenge what the birds (or squirrels) spill, helping to keep the patio cleaner. I like the chipmunks.

But the squirrels are bullies and chase them away when they notice them. This gives the struggle a moral dimension. It's not just that the squirrels are eating food intended for someone else (a.k.a. "larceny"), it's that they drive away other scavengers, from chipmunks to birds (a.k.a. "assault").

Squirrels are criminals, in short, and I am the only law enforcement available in the darwinian jungle otherwise called "the patio."

Winter is coming -- I can tell, because the low temperatures have finally dipped into the 60s -- and I want our patio to be a haven for wild birds all winter. So I spent all summer trying to find ways to foil the squirrels.

The smartest idea came early on: greasing the pole. I bought mineral oil and smeared it onto the pole and the plastic sides of the feeders. It was fun to watch the squirrels try to scramble up the pole and slide down despite their tightest grip. I reapplied the oil every week, and we started to get birds (finally) while the squirrels stayed on the ground.

Did I mention that squirrels are smart? Apparently the Einstein of squirrels lives in my yard -- or at least the Edison. Foiled for a while by the lubricated pole, Edison discovered that if he ran fast enough to the place where the braces attach to the pole, he could spring from there up onto the caged feeder and cling to that.

From there, he could climb to the top and get to the other feeders. And even though the sides of the finch feeder were lubricated, he could cling to the top with his hind legs and reach all four of the feeding perches. He was the only one who could do it -- but of course he sprayed the ground with birdseed and all his friends were able to join in the feasting. And while he was up there, the birds stayed away.

At Lowe's -- which takes its bird-feeding section seriously, I must say -- I bought three "squirrel baffles" -- inverted dishes that hang loosely. They block squirrels from above and below. I placed them directly on top of three of the feeders. When the squirrel tries to get over the baffle and reach for the food under it, the loose baffle tilts sharply and spills the squirrel off onto the ground.

When you place a baffle under the food, the squirrel simply can't get past the barrier. When he tries to climb around it or onto it, it tilts sharply again, and he spills off.

The trouble was, I couldn't put any of the squirrel baffles on the pole itself, because they had to be slid on from one end or the other -- and the pole I was using had wide spots at the top where the arms attached and at the bottom where the braces attached, so there was no way to get a baffle onto it.

The result was that while even Edison could no longer get to the finch feeder (partial victory), he could still jump up onto the caged feeder and from there to the suet feeder, where his arms could scrape fat and seeds from the outer 1/8 inch of the suet blocks.

So I decided to create my own squirrel baffle. After wandering through various stores, I finally settled on a plastic chair mat from Office Depot. I brought it home, cut off the under-desk tongue, cut a line to the middle, and then wrapped it around the pole and overlapped the two sides of the cut.

It worked until the sun's heat softened the plastic enough that (a) it no longer formed any kind of cone, but drooped like a flag on a windless day, and (b) was soft enough for the squirrels' claws to dig into the plastic a little. Now, instead of being a barrier, it was a highway.

I had already searched the internet -- but I didn't know the term "squirrel baffle" yet and so I kept running into the same array of squirrel-proof bird feeders. Finally, though, a search brought me to Duncraft.com, where one of their "recommended" items at the bottom of my browser gave me both the term "squirrel baffle" and the solution to my problems.

It's cone-shaped, like the other baffles I'd bought from Lowe's, but instead of having to slide from the top or bottom, it's completely open on one side, so you can slip it on at midpoint, then close the cone (which locks to itself). There's a bracket you can attach to the pole --whether it's round or square -- to set the height at which the baffle should rest.

I ordered it. It was on backorder. But when it came several weeks later, it performed exactly as advertised.

Of course, even the best product can't function properly when the customer is lazy and/or dumb. I opened the box and installed it after dark, and, being lazy, I simply looped the baffle around the pole and let it rest on the wide place where the braces attach.

The trouble was, the braces extend down at an angle, so that the rim of the baffle is closer, and while the other squirrels were (again) blocked, Edison got the idea almost at once and jumped onto the new baffle, springing from it up to the caged feeder.

But the solution was obvious. In daylight, I removed the baffle (already bedecked with feathers, seeds, and bird doo), attached the bracket a foot or so higher up the pole, reinstalled the baffle above it, and ...

And it's fun to watch Edison smack his little head into the bottom of the baffle.

Our birdseed is birds-only now, and the squirrels will have to make do with the squirrel food I put out for them at the back corner of the yard.

Duncraft is not the only useful source for wild bird products, however. I also buy things from Doctors Foster and Smith I have ordered from them before, since they sell a lot of fish and pond products that I've used over the years.

Since I'd like to add a bird feeding station to the front yard, I've ordered their Squirrel Stopper feeding pole.

This has a barrier in the middle of the pole that does the same job as the baffle -- or so they say. If they're wrong, then I'll just order another squirrel baffle from Duncraft.

Was my war with the squirrels worth it? To me it was, because when a dozen or a score of birds are gathered on our patio, we sit in our eat-in kitchen or look out the window over the sink and enjoy watching them. It's non-electronic entertainment, and we feel like we're making the world a better place for birds -- and even for squirrels, since they can still scavenge what the birds spill and I occasionally put out food for them.

Nobody starves in our yard this winter, or that's the plan, anyway. Now we'll just see if my birdbath warmer keeps ice from forming during the really cold times.

*

Don't miss our free production of The Taming of the Shrew on Friday and Saturday nights at the LDS meetinghouse across from Claxton Elementary on Pinetop Road. Starting at 7:00 p.m., the show is presented from my adaptation of Shakespeare's original -- basically, all I do is update the jokes so you can understand them at top speed. Oh, and the costumes are from 1900 Montana, since they fit the rough-and-ready spirit of the play.

The metal chairs are uncomfortable, but the price is right and the show is short (for Shakespeare), only two-and-a-quarter hours. Children from six on up have a chance of enjoying it; please leave the younger ones home. This is Shakespeare as Shakespeare intended his comedies to be: fast and funny.

*

Yeah, Obama's administration believes in freedom and the free market, and they're not out to take over the health industry Just in case you see only the Leftist media (though in that case, why are you reading this paper?), make sure you read this story from the Wall Street Journal on how Health and Human Services is threatening to destroy any health insurer that dares to tell the truth about how under Obama's health care laws they have no choice but to raise their rates.

In other words, Obama's administration is declaring war on business and on free speech. The public has no right to know -- and most of the American media agree with that view, apparently.

*

Justin James wrote it as advice to consultants, but "10 Red Flags That Shout 'Stay Away from This Project'" is also great reading for anybody in the business world -- precisely because the problems that make a project a disaster for a consultant are also reasons why many projects collapse without one. Read it at TechRepublic:


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