When ‘old-manning’ the squirrels isn’t enough

Posted 5/15/20

My reputation among the squirrels in my yard has taken a pretty good beating these last couple of weeks.

They no longer fear me. Mockery, instead, is the new reality.

I suppose I’ve gotten …

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When ‘old-manning’ the squirrels isn’t enough

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My reputation among the squirrels in my yard has taken a pretty good beating these last couple of weeks.

They no longer fear me. Mockery, instead, is the new reality.

I suppose I’ve gotten what I deserve. The large birdfeeder we hung a couple of months ago on the outside of a support post of our screened porch has, up until recently, brought me endless color and delight. Bird after beautiful bird arrives, one after another, to feast on the seeds within. I’ve been an appreciative audience of one. Most lovely are the cardinals — my mom’s favorite, as well as our state bird — but it’s satisfying to have any of the species visit and partake, and to know the large bag of bird feed we’ve been using to refill it is being savored.

That porch is my stay-at-home-order “office” three or four days a week now. I’m often on the porch (where I’m writing this now) as early as 6 a.m., wrapped up in a blanket with my laptop in the cool morning air, and you can usually find me there at 6 p.m., too, as the day winds down. Our central Carolina spring has been exceedingly gorgeous, which has added to the pleasure of it all.

It was inevitable, however, that the squirrels would show up, uninvited.

Their forays to the bird feeder — they easily crawl up, down, sideways, and even occasionally jump from the screen to the ground — began slowly and gingerly at first. In short order they became more brazen.

Since they make a mess and hog the food and keep the birds at bay, I naturally attempted to dissuade their pursuits.

A typical exchange: Squirrel hops down from a tree, across the yard, nose toward the feeder. Squirrel begins the ascent, sometimes eyeing me warily. “GET DOWN!” I say. The squirrel scurries down the screen; I see him pause in the yard. He hesitates, then begins another climb. I pound the arm of the wicker chair I’m in with my fist. The noise, or the vibration, gets his attention. But it’s not enough of a deterrent. He continues the climb, inching again toward the feeder.

“GET DOWN, STUPID,” I say, this time more emphatically. It seems to work momentarily — but I feel like an idiot. Get down, stupid? I’ve been reduced to calling the squirrels names?

Sometimes I throw the soft neck pillow I use in my chair, or a pair of winter socks or a wool slouch hat I’ve been keeping on the table near my chair for cold mornings, at the screen. Once I threw an empty Starbucks cup. The projectiles work — but usually only for a few minutes.

Over the weekend, my wife Lee Ann walked onto the porch from the kitchen to see what the fuss was, catching me in the act of yelling and waving my arms. She was on the phone with our daughter and gave her a play-by-play of the action.

“Your dad is old-manning the squirrels,” she deadpanned.

On a few occasions I’ve walked onto the porch from the kitchen and two or three or four squirrels are already on the feeder, chittering away and noisily cracking open sunflower seeds. This happened Monday, and two squirrels scampered away when I walked outside to confront them in person — but one stayed on the feeder, just a few feet from me. I was so dumbfounded I couldn’t say anything, and when I edged closer he finally ran down the screen and back to his tree — almost grazing my foot as he went by.

Reflecting on the futility of my mostly verbal lamentations took me back a few years, back to when Lee Ann and I were in the midst of raising and training our three children. One of the most valuable lessons we learned then was of the folly of the “threatening, repeating” parent — the parent who gives warning after verbal warning to misbehaving or disobeying children, but never follows through on the threat of punishment. The threatening, repeating parent thus reinforces for the child the notion that mom or dad doesn’t mean what she or he says, and that verbal admonitions mean nothing.

Websites I scoured in response to all this are full of good advice about how to keep squirrels away from bird feeders. None involve verbal threats, of course. The most interesting I read: Use seed laced with hot peppers. Turns out that capsaicin, the compound in hot peppers that sets our tongues ablaze, only affects mammals — not birds.

I’m not sure I’ll go that route, though — but it did remind me of the time I used Tabasco sauce on one of my children as a punishment for talking back to their mother. (One time is all it took.) A better solution: feed the squirrels separately, giving them corn and sunflower seeds in a separate part of the yard.

Maybe doing so will give this “old man” a bit of peace on the porch.


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