June 25, 2018
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Pesky squirrels make feeding birds a challenge

Bob Duchesne | BDN
Bob Duchesne | BDN
This gray varmint is one of many squirrels that have bedeviled Bob Duchesne by raiding his bird feeders.
By Bob Duchesne, Special to the BDN

I am in a battle of wits with squirrels. They’re winning.

Anyone who regularly feeds birds can tell you that squirrels are diabolical. They have all day to figure out how to beat your system. The battle for supremacy over the feeders is a war of attrition usually won by the squirrels. I began feeding birds three decades ago, so this is now the 30 Years’ War.

Circumstances are different for every household, so your experience may not match mine. If your neighborhood is full of hardwoods, especially oaks, then gray squirrels are inevitable. If you live among conifers, red squirrels abound. Lucky me, I have both.

I’ve tried baffles. These work for some people, provided that there is nowhere from which the squirrel can leap. Squirrels can jump vertically up to 4 feet and leap horizontally more than 10 feet. A neighbor has feeders hung from a line stretched at a distance between two trees. A series of pie plates and baffles guarding the feeder appears to dissuade the squirrels. I am not so fortunate, as there is no place in my yard suitable for stringing a line. I have bought tall stands from which to hang feeders, and these have been guarded by baffles. But the baffles were easily defeated by squirrels that were able to leap or scramble over them.

There are many feeders on the market that automatically close under the weight of a squirrel. I bought one of those counterbalanced feeders many years ago. It worked for a short time. Then the squirrels devised two successful strategies. One squirrel would sit on the balance bar behind the feeder while the other sat on the front and ate his fill. Then they would switch places. After awhile, individual squirrels learned to climb down from the top and stick a foot into the crevice before the door closed, holding it open enough that the other paw could reach the seeds. By the same method, they defeated one spring loaded feeder that I tried.

Angered, I splurged on a high-tech feeder: the Droll Yankee Flipper. It operates on a rechargeable battery. The weight of a squirrel causes the perch to spin, flipping the squirrel off. Aside from a little dizziness, the squirrel is unharmed. Many people swear by this feeder, but my luck was not so good. The battery failed on my first feeder. One day, when the battery on my second feeder was fully discharged, the feeder was assaulted by a phalanx of squirrels who managed to knock it to the ground, breaking the perch clean off. There is no indicator to show when the battery is getting weak. Since they retail for $149, I decided not to try a third time.

I tried bribing the squirrels. I put out commercially available corn cob products that are supposed to provide them with a preferred alternative. I think the squirrels sincerely appreciated the variety, but it did not keep them out of the sunflower seeds. It merely provided additional food sources to encourage more squirrels.

All is not lost. At long last, I tried the Duncraft Squirrel Buster Plus. This feeder also closes under the weight of the squirrel, but the springs and mechanisms are internal, out of reach. The feeder tube is long enough and wide enough that the squirrel can’t get a good grip. They challenge my feeder several times a day, but quickly give up in defeat. I am elated. Since the squirrels will only eat Nyjer seed when they are very desperate, and I’ve never seen them try suet, I am pleased to announce that the squirrels now spend most of their time on the ground under the feeders where they belong. I am content that the war is at a stalemate — for now.

All of my feeders are relatively new. Six years ago, a bear — just out of hibernation — destroyed the old ones. I expect the subject will come up next Friday night, Feb. 1, when the Penobscot Valley Chapter of Maine Audubon stages another event at the Sea Dog Restaurant on the Bangor Waterfront. A big crowd showed up for the Whales and Ales event three weeks ago.

This next one is called Bears and Beers. It features Randy Cross, the chief bear biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. He has been following bears into their dens and tagging cubs for 30 years. He’s got stories to tell. The 7 p.m. talk is free. The beer isn’t.

Bob Duchesne serves as a Maine Audubon trustee and vice president of its Penobscot Valley Chapter. Bob developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at www.mainebirdingtrail.com. Reach Bob at duchesne@midmaine.com.


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