I was dropping Juno off at doggy daycare recently when I received a strange, wildlife-related text message from my husband.

It was a photo of a red squirrel that appeared to be stealing seed from one of our bird feeders. My first thought was: “We see this happen every day, Derek. Why are you sending me this photo?” Then I noticed what was unusual — perhaps even alarming — about the photo.

The squirrel wasn’t clinging to the side of the bird feeder or balancing on top of it, as it does so often. Instead, the poor animal was inside the bird feeder, trapped between metal and transparent plastic walls.

A red squirrel peers through a transparent wall after crawling inside a bird feeder in Dedham. It soon escaped on its own. Courtesy of Derek Runnells

“Oh no.” I wrote to my husband in reply. “Help him.”

I was concerned because a friend of mine had experienced something similar just a few weeks prior.

Lisa Leonard — the mom of one of my closest childhood friends — arrived home from work early on Dec. 28, and noticed that something was different about one of her bird feeders.

“I’m always watching my feeder because I can see it right from the kitchen sink,” she explained to me on the phone. “I looked out and I was like: why is the feeder so foggy?”

Through the fogged up plastic walls of the feeder, Lisa identified the shape of a bird fluttering around. At first, she thought the bird was on the other side of the feeder. Then she put the clues together. The condensation on the feeder walls was due to the bird heating it up — from the inside.

“I thought: My husband is never going to believe me when I say there was a bird trapped in the feeder,” she said.

Perhaps he would have believed that part of the story. But what came next was pretty unbelievable. Good thing Lisa caught the whole thing on video, which is attached to this column.

The bird feeder was shaped like a four-sided lantern, but in place of a light was an empty compartment for storing seeds. The seeds spilled into trays through narrow gaps at the bottom of the lantern’s see-through walls.

With a mobile phone recording video in one hand, Lisa walked across her frozen lawn to the bird feeder, which was mounted on a pole. Inside, a black-capped chickadee fluttered wildly, hopping up and down on a shallow bed of sunflower seeds.

“Hold on little buddy,” Lisa said as she slowly approached the feeder, which had a heap of snow and ice atop its metal roof.  

With one hand, she popped the roof off the feeder and held it to the side. The chickadee immediately hopped up and perched on the edge. But rather than fly free, the bird began pecking at an icicle that hung from the feeder’s roof (which was still in Lisa’s hand).

“At first, I’m like: How long were you in there? Have you lost your marbles?” Lisa recalled. “Then I thought: Oh my God. Is he thirsty?”

Lisa tilted the feeder roof so the bird could access the softer snow piled on its top, and sure enough, it started gobbling up beakfuls of snow.

“I couldn’t believe he wasn’t scared, that he didn’t take right off,” Lisa said. “I think he was just so preoccupied with drinking some water.”

Lisa stood there, her arm growing tired as she held the roof of the feeder up to the chickadee like a cocktail server offering a platter of hors d’oeuvres. Peck, peck, peck. The bird scooped snow into its bill, tilted its head back to swallow, then went back for more. A minute and a half ticked by. Then, in a flurry of wings, the newly freed chickadee flew to the nearest tree and perched on a branch.

“I’m so glad I saw him because we were having really frigid temperatures that night,” Lisa said. “He probably would have frozen to death overnight not being able to get any kind of shelter.”

Lisa thinks the chickadee got into the feeder by squeezing through a quarter-sized hole that squirrels chewed into one of its walls, down near the seed tray. She’s decided to replace the feeder to be on the safe side.

“It taught me that you really need to keep an eye on your bird feeders,” she said. “I would have been devastated if I’d gone out and found a bird had died because it was trapped.”

Now you can see why I was concerned about the trapped squirrel. How long had the furry creature been sitting in our bird feeder? I checked back in with my husband.

“Did you release him?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “It was already gone when I checked again.”

I guess squirrels are better escape artists than chickadees.

I think the squirrel entered my bird feeder through the top, by lifting up the lid. Maybe I can secure it with Duct tape or some sort of paracord and carabiner contraption. Who knew feeding birds could be so tricky?


Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...