Living With Squirrels in the Real World
Mention squirrels to most backyard birders and you’ll get a glazed over stare somewhere between amusement and terror.
When I started feeding birds in my backyard I too was concerned. After all, the property backs up to woods so I knew there was a potentially large supply of the little critters not too far away. Over the years we have come to an understanding of sorts. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean I’ll give you food if you leave my feeders alone. No, no, no! That’s pure fantasy. A squirrel will do whatever they need to do to get food and they are quick studies. Sure, giving them their own feeder station with a corncob feeder as well as a metal box with a lid for their wildlife mix does help. But anybody that believes they can be reasoned or bartered with is just fooling themselves. I’ve made sure to baffle all my feeders, locate feeders not within jumping distance from any trees and make adjustments based on their behavior. All in all, it’s worked out well for me. In fact, it wasn’t until a tree from the woods behind grew within jumping distance have I had any squirrels on my feeders.
Now, to the subject at hand: Why I Love My Squirrels
- They are a hoot to watch play.
- Their social structure is very intricate.
- They keep backyard feeding interesting.
Watching Them Play
Anytime I feel the world around me is getting to be too serious I need only stare out my office window. In no time at all, two or more of them will be chasing each other across the yard, on the fence and around the nearest tree in a terrifying spiral. I had no idea how agile they were. They can run around the bark of a tree as easily as they run on flat ground. And their antics at the feeder station are hilarious. Watching one squirrel try to replace the other in the food box can bring on a full blown belly laugh. Not to mention..have you ever heard a squirrel growl? It’s somewhere between a dog squeak toy and a duck call if you can imagine that. I’m going to make some recordings soon and post them on my site for you to hear. It’s just too funny to believe.
Their Social Structure
Like the birds I feed, the squirrels have definite rules for who can do what. While there is a natural tendency for young to respect their elders that only goes so far. Beyond that, it comes down to who makes the most noise and is ready to back it up. By back it up I mean who is willing to chase another thirty feet up, forty feet around and thirty more feet down a tree to keep them from taking their food. I get exhausted watching them. I think “Buddy, you’ve just used up twice what you just ate to do that.” Still, it’s how they establish a pecking order of sorts and it normally helps keep stability in their world.
Keeping Backyard Feeding Interesting
Like I mentioned about my tree, they help me keep my backyard in better order by reminding me when things have overgrown or when I’ve set up a feeder that just won’t work in my yard. They’re also very helpful at my main feeder station making sure nearly all of the seeds that are dropped by various birds do not go to waste. I clean under my feeders weekly and I can see how few uneaten seeds I actually throw away. I thank them every time dump a shovel full into a bucket. There’s no mistaking that hulls-only sound.
Tips To Help You Live With Your Squirrels
I’m currently feeding around seven squirrels and have had as many as thirteen at a time. Obviously, I can’t accomodate thirteen for very long. Normally, there is a natural selection of sorts. Once some of the outsiders see there isn’t enough food to go around, they move on to greener pastures.
Here are some of my suggestions:
- Feed them what they like and not what they LOVE-wildlife mix is relatively cheap and holds up well. Feeding them hulled peanuts only will turn your backyard into a nursery. And you’ll have to mortgage your house to keep up with them.
- Set up two or three feeding stations at most-the more stations you set up, the less competitive they become and competition is the cornerstone of that natural selection I spoke of. Be sure to separate them so they don’t always have to scrap to get fed but let their social structure work FOR you and not against.
- Don’t underestimate their intelligence and determination-if you find yourself asking “I wonder if that feeder’s too close to that tree” just go ahead and move it. They WILL figure out how to get to it. It may take a little while but they’ll get it for sure. Baffle anything they can climb too.
- Enjoy them-if you’re lucky enough to have some of these amusing pranksters in your backyard, consider yourself blessed and not cursed. Your attitude toward them sets the stage for successful interaction with them.
There is a book called Enjoying Squirrels More (Or Less) that will help you appreciate these little treasures even more.