Sunday, November 8, 2009

Of squirrels and feeders

Our back deck is, admittedly, a bit of a mess most of the time. At the moment is has two mostly dead basil plants, three plant pots, a stack of firewood, a wooden deck chair that is probably twenty years old, a metal deck chair that is only four years old, a bucket of potting soil, a bucket of duck food, and a bag of squirrel and jay food.

The squirrel food was on the deck because it is not well tolerated sitting on the kitchen table and besides, Buddy is likely to get into it if it is left inside. During the rainy season it is safe on the deck, even left on the ground, because Buddy only goes out when he is forced out to go to the bathroom, and even then he stays out only as long as absolutely necessary. This being the case, I was a bit surprised today when I went out and discovered two or three new holes in the bag of squirrel food, and a good amount of the food scattered all over the deck. I figured that the dogs had managed to get out during a break in the rain and get into the bag. (Squirrel food is, apparently, a delicacy to dogs. But then again I have noticed that dogs think a good many less than desirable - or even completely disgusting - things are delicacies.)

I scooped up the biggest of the mess and dropped it into the squirrel feeder and then went in to have breakfast, leaving the rest of the mess for later. Which is just as well, it turns out, because what I mistook as a mess was in reality, apparently, an all-you-can-eat buffet. It wasn't long before I noticed first one, and then two and finally three squirrels making their way along the fence, moving towards the deck. It was not the dogs that caused the mess (for once), but the squirrels. Apparently they got tired of waiting for someone to fill up their feeder and decided to help themselves to as much as they wanted.

The squirrel feeder itself is out on the dog run fence, next to a redwood tree so that the squirrels can move safely from the tree to the feeder and back again. When we first got the feeder it was a box with a hinged lid and a front made of plastic that slides in place along grooves. The clear front allows both people and squirrels to see how much food is in the feeder, and the hinged lid allows the people to fill the feeder, and the squirrels to lift the lid and take food out. This worked quite well for a while but eventually the squirrels tired of going to the trouble of lifting the lid to get to the food, so they pulled the plastic panel out and dropped it on the ground. We found it and put it back in. They pulled it out again. We replaced it. They pulled it out and chewed the wooden top off so that it couldn't be replaced, thus ending the Window Wars. Squirrels, 1; humans, 0.

The feeder still functioned without the plastic, except that you couldn't put as much food in because it would start to spill out the front. But the squirrels accepted this reduction in food as an acceptable trade off for the convenience of being able to sit on the feeder ledge and eat the food without doing any work to get to it. Actually, the squirrels preferred the feeder this way because on rainy days they can sit inside the feeder, under the lid, staying dry while snacking. Aside from the feeder's reduced capacity, the windowless feeder also allows the jays and chickens to land on the feeder (the jays are considerably more graceful at this than the chickens are) and snack on the food as well.

Because of this increased traffic at the feeder, the food runs out a lot faster than we manage to refill it. Which is why, when the squirrels discovered the food on the deck, they overcame their fear of being near the house (and, as a result, near the dogs) and turned the food bag into a small bistro: not a lot of selection, and it's all self-serve, but you can't beat the price.

I suppose I'll have to clean it up eventually, but at the moment - what with all the mud in the yard and the frequency with which we have to walk through it to refill the feeder - it's as much a convenience for us as it is for the squirrels.

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