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February 10, 2012

Up On Hawthorn Hill: Bird Feeder?

Bird feeder is a relative term. At least that is the case around here. A few mornings ago we spotted the first rabbit to visit the feeders. Normally, all we see during the winter are rabbit tracks crisscrossing the gardens.

This rabbit just sat there nibbling on feeder droppings impressively indifferent to the blue jays that plopped down beside it from time to time – and equally nonplussed by the various species of squirrels that monopolized the main feeding station just 10 or so feet away. We have red squirrels, gray squirrels, and the occasional black squirrel. There are times when the feeding station looks more like a squirrel jungle gym than a bird buffet.

There are so-called squirrel proof feeders. I have one, but it depends on which species one is referring to. The red squirrels, nimble little gymnasts, fit through the mesh easily and enjoy sitting there nibbling on sunflower seeds feeling quite protected from the more rambunctious birds, having discovered over time that the self-incarceration approach works quite nicely.

The gray squirrels feed at the base of the tree when I have been thoughtful enough to pile some seed there to make life easy for them. However, as soon as they lay that store bare, they scramble up the tree, cling to the feeders and utilize various methods of dislodging seeds from behind the mesh they are to big to squeeze through. They manage to eek out enough to make the effort worthwhile.

Every once in a while one is ingenious enough, or lucky enough, to get the top off the most accessible feeder, the one with the non-screw top, and stick its head down far enough to plunder all the black gold it can.

There are ways of ending these visitations. But I have no intention of doing so. One old codger suggested spraying fox urine around the base of the tree. I am not sure where to get such a lovely elixir, although I have been told that one can find anything on the Internet. I think I’ll pass. There are days when it seems as if we are hosting a squirrel Loya jirga. I admire their tenacity and their willingness to use whatever means necessary to get their winter grub. When they start bedding down in the house that will be another story. That would get me to cleaning the .22 and setting up shop on the deck in the Adirondack chair to get in some wintertime target practice. That might just be a way to get me to finally sample some squirrel stew. No hurry at this juncture. Fact is, they really do not eat all that much and their shenanigans are fun to watch. Watching them chase one another is a treat. Out West squirrels are sometimes called flickertails and there are few amusements equal to watching an especially furtive gray or red sit there flicking its tail to and fro as if keeping in time to some primal rhythmical pattern.

I have thought from time to time that I might get one or two of those saucers that are supposed to prevent them from getting at the feeders, but I never do. It is a combination of procrastination, cheapness, and an honest fascination for, and appreciation of, the entertainment they provide.

Early on this winter I strung a wire between two trees and hung two of the smaller feeders in the middle, thinking that would keep the squirrels at bay. One morning breakfast table I looked out and saw a red scramble up to the hook holding the wire at one end.

It sat there for a few seconds, obviously gauging the effort required for a leap. After a few flicks of the tail it took off, landing close enough to grip the bottom of the closest feeder with its claws. An amazing bit of gymnastics.

All I could do was sit there in awe. A week or so later I took the wire down, put the feeders back with the others, and resigned myself quite happily to being a feeder of squirrels and birds. We never banked on a rabbit joining the dining club. It has been here twice and we have no reason to believe once a nearby eatery is discovered it will be spurned. We just hope the word does not spread too far. Ever since reading Watership Down I have had a warm spot in my heart for rabbits. Just hope they do not take advantage. I do not mind feeding a few; a whole warren is out of the question.

Gabby still gets her jollies by barking and scraping her front toes on the windowsill when she sees squirrels. Her serious squirrel chasing days are over – and they know it. But the old girl still gets her dander up and that is reassuring. Despite her geriatric state I am sure she still has squirrel dreams.

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