Forecaster Forum: Man versus squirrel, with a little help from the crows

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I’ve received a Fatwa from the Squirrel Liberation Front making me fair game.

Why would a peaceful, mild-mannered, bald, 63-year-old non-litigating lawyer find himself so violently threatened? It’s the birds of course.

Here’s the back story.

Over the years I’ve taken to feeding the birds that are hearty enough to hang around and not go to Florida for the winter. Good strong stock like most Mainers. You’ve got to have some respect for these critters. So every day or two I fill up my little complex of bird feeders and I watch the birds.

First to show is the big blue jay. He stands on the top of the feeders, does a quick 360-degree turn squawking at all potential intruders and then jumps down and has his fill. A smaller female and four fledglings then show up.

Then the big red cardinal perches on the feeder. Clearly subordinate to the jay, he is the second-ranked critter and he eats only sunflower seeds.

Then come the titmice, the chickadees, the yellow finches, the sparrows and most recently the red crested woodpecker. (I keep my field guide on top of the cabinet near the breakfast table to quickly identify any newcomers.)

Then there are the birds that stay on the ground and pick up what the others leave. Most welcome among them are the two pairs of mourning doves who have been coming around for years. This year instead of two pair there are a pair and a widow (or widower). It’s sad because doves mate for life and it’s clear one now is alone.

Then come the crows. They are sleek, black, incredibly smart birds who have an endless winter food supply of garbage and road kill (mostly squirrels, but I’ll get back to that point). They dive bomb the feeders, hitting them with their feet and starting them wildly swaying so that seeds fall to the ground. Then they come in, drive everyone else away and feed. While these creatures are nominally birds, they do not come within the ambit of my generosity because they have multiple alternatives, and preferred, food sources. (I’m trying to feed the needy here.)

So here’s the really big deal. There is a flock of 18 wild turkeys in the neighborhood. Been here for years. Often we would see them leisurely crossing the road between two patches of woods, single-file in a long straight line. But this year they tend to cross the street directly into our yard, peck around for a while and move on to the woods behind the house.

This year they discovered the bird-feeders and almost every day two or three of them amble over to the feeders and peck around on the ground for seeds. When disturbed, they spread their wings (probably a 5- or 6-foot wing span) and hop, skip and fly a few yards away. They are not a majestic species, with ugly bald heads and a red floppy thing in the middle of their faces. After all they are just turkeys, but my wife and I are enthralled watching them perambulate around the yard.

So I know it’s been a long prologue, but it leads logically to my squirrel issue. When I first put up the feeders I did not think of taking any squirrel countermeasures. I thought they would be happy with the thousands of acorns that fall out of the oak trees that border our yard. I know acorns are their favorites. But soon I found squirrels eating the bird seed right out of the feeders. Not only that, but they draped in all sorts of poses, making a true spectacle of themselves. I was incensed and began taking unfortunately aggressive reactions.

The first was to try to shoot all of them using a couple of high-power automatic compressed air pistols my son had left in the basement. But I had no discipline and soon had broken a window in the side of the garage, the glass front piece on our gas grill and put a dent in the door of my son’s new car, which was innocently parked in our driveway. These actions were expensive both in terms of money and sleeping for more than a few nights in a metaphorically very cold teepee.

I got smarter. I bought what turned out to be a long series of allegedly squirrel-proof feeders. They were not squirrel proof. One had a cage around it that only birds could get into. Not so much. Another had a squirrel-proof baffle on the bottom of the stand from which the feeders hung. They ran right up. Another, hung from the soffit on the side of our house, had a squirrel-proof mushroom shape. It failed. They all failed. The squirrels must have a sophisticated R&D department, because they didn’t miss a step or a meal at my expense.

My wife took pity on me and bought me an ingenious device with a pressure-sensitive bottom perch that would start spinning wildly when compressed by the weight of a squirrel. For a day or two this device worked like a charm. The squirrels stepped on it; it began to immediately turn, rapidly spinning the surprised squirrel until centrifugal force sent the stupefied rodent into the air. But they must have sent in their squirrel ninjas to eat through the mechanisms in the middle of the night, because after a few days the mechanism never worked again.

My next weapon of choice is a single-shot BB gun. It’s accurate, but rarely powerful enough to deliver a mortal wound, more of a discouragement. Soon after instituting this effort, I received a manifesto from the SLF branding me an enemy of all squirrels and putting a price on my head (not the rest of me, just my severed head). So what choice did I have but to protect my home and myself from these devil-spawned rats with bushy tails?

Now, with a little better aim and a little more powerful air gun I’ve actually killed seven or eight of them, but I know that for every one I kill, I create at least one more radicalized member of the SLF. So here’s my solution.

I have recruited my former enemies, the crows, into what I call enlightenment councils. They are great fans of carrion flesh and I provide it to them. They in turn keep an eye out for me and squawk a warning when the squirrels are heading for feeders. I hide, shoot one or two and lay out the dispatched terrorists for my crow allies. Occasionally, I even let them eat on the ground under the feeders. I even give them string (crow money).

It’s a win-win.

Cumberland Foreside resident Jamie Broder is an attorney at Curtis Thaxter Stevens Broder & Micoleau in Portland. He can be reached at [email protected].