Monday, May 12, 2008

When Squirrels Go From Cute To Pest

The most often asked question of me today is not "What bird is that?" but "What can I do about squirrels?"

The squirrel, of course, is a rodent, a cousin of rats , mice, moles, muskrats, beavers and all gnawing creatures with sharp chisel-like teeth.

Most bird watchers who keep feeders filled with seed for the birds are exasperated by squirrels. Nuts and acorns, the fruit of forests and woods, have been for eons the basic diet of squirrels. But bird watchers have changed that. Now I think we can safely say it is sunflower seeds, at least for the city-bred furry creatures.

Squirrels will eat buds, fruit, berries, insects and even young birds. They attack the young bird in the head region, cracking open the skull as if it were a nut.

We know of its fondness for buds. Early this spring we transplanted a red maple. As the buds appeared the squirrels ate them, stripping the bark and limbs off a 2-foot section of the trunk. They almost girdled the tree. Of course, with the cambium destroyed, the tree would die.

Being prolific breeders, squirrels observe two breeding seasons, spring and summer. They are active throughout the winter. Squirrels used to rely on stored food to get through the cold months. Today they rely on bird feeders, that is, again, the city fellows do.

But now, how to squelch squirrels? We learned from an Aiken friend of a product called Squirrel Away that is guaranteed to do the job. All you do is mix the product with bird seed and the furry creatures will shake their fuzzy tails at you for ruining their banquet. Squirrels hate the taste. Birds love it. We have used it and it does work. Follow the directions carefully. Here's a link to the company's website: .

Nurseries and hardware stores sell other products claimed to be squirrel proof. Nature magazines have many products that are advertised as squirrel proof. Scan the ads in magazines and then go have a look at bird feeders and other products in stores and make your choice. But don't raise your expectations too high . . . I haven't seen a product yet that is 100% squirrel proof.

The following suggestion was gleaned from Birds and Bloom: A creative young fellow drills a small hole in the bottom of plastic soda bottles. He then strings them together on a wire hung between two trees. With six bottles on either side of a feeder hung on the middle of the wire, he says when the squirrels try to walk the wire, the bottles roll and throw them off.

Squirrels . . . are they demons or darlings? When you have only one or two on your lawn they're darlings. When you have a band of five or more eating all your seed, they're . . . well you say it!