Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Squirrel tales

By Karen Youso, Star Tribune

Thanks to readers who generously shared their squirrel tales and short stories. I had a great time wading through the offerings. I wish I could publish them all, but here is a hearty sampling:

Squirrels trap Minneapolis woman
; police fail to respond I live in south Minneapolis and have a batch of squirrels apparently taking up residence in my back yard. I have planter boxes and different pots that I plant. As soon as I get them potted up and watered, the squirrels are in there digging them back up — and they don’t just toss them on the ground; they take them with them. So I figure they must have the most beautiful planted nest ever. The other day, though, I headed out the door to go to work when lo and behold, a squirrel ran right by my feet and ran up the side of the garage and sat on the roof, staring at me. Then another squirrel ran by me in close proximity. I screamed and jumped into my truck. As I’m sitting in my truck going “Whew,” I put on my eyeglasses, and this is what I saw: a squirrel lounging on my potting bench, a squirrel in the bird bath, a squirrel on the fence, staring at me. And, three squirrels chasing each other and a squirrel on the roof of my garage. HELP! I called 911. They didn’t take me seriously, either, and gave me to animal control, who also laughed at my dilemma. Michele McMullen

Squirrel in a dandelion patch While waiting for the traffic light to change, I looked at the yard near the curb. It was covered with dandelions gone to seed. A squirrel was very busy chipping each stalk off. Then, holding the white-headed dandelion in its mouth, the squirrel would blow the seeds off, then chomp down the stalk. I would have enjoyed watching longer, but the driver behind me was getting impatient. Monroe P. Killy, Minneapolis

New generation turns on them It all started when my neighbor and I found four baby squirrels in our yard with their tails tangled up. We worked together to get them separated and they were free. The four stayed in our yard and would go after my husband’s bird feeders. After many different attempts and feeders, we decided if you can’t beat ’em, feed ’em, so we got special squirrel feeders, a bungee corn feeder and many bags of peanuts and corn. They were ours. We even named a few, such as Pudge and Dots. It worked well for a few years. We lived in harmony with our squirrels. We watched them play, eat like pigs. Our neighbors enjoyed the squirrel shows. We even had other squirrels coming from different yards to partake in the peanut and corn feast. When we ran out of food, they would kindly let us know by coming up to the deck and place paws on the sliding doors looking in to tell us, “Hey, we need more food out here!” And, “Our feeders are empty.” Then out we’d go and refill. This went on for more than two years, until this year, when the squirrels turned on us, or, at least their new batch of baby squirrels did. They dug up our yard, ate newly planted perennials, chewed all my spikes, got under one fenced-in annual and took the whole bulb. “That’s it,” I told my husband, “no more.” These new ones are not right in the head. They are jumping around and eating everything, including the food that is just for them. Mom and Pop squirrel forgot to tell their young ones that there are rules to follow in the Menke yard: they feed us, we leave their garden alone. Oh, and leave the cable wire alone, too. So out went the food, down came the feeders. You rascally squirrels are on your own. Alas, we do miss the show. Maybe in the winter we will bring out the food, for a good show. Deborah and Steve Menke, Burnsville

Do Twin Cities swap squirrels? I live east of Lake Nokomis. We have tons of squirrels in our neighborhood, doesn’t everyone? I have a very sweet neighbor, a retired man, who traps the squirrels (live trap) with peanut butter. Then, he releases the squirrels near Hidden Falls Park in St. Paul (or at least I think that is where he is releasing them). I’m thinking how funny it would be if some person in St. Paul was doing the same thing and bringing them to Minneapolis. Megan Miller, Minneapolis

How to squirrel-proof feeder for bears I have a bird-feeding table made out of a sheet of heavy aluminum. It is about 2 feet square, with an aluminum cylinder 5 inches in diameter welded to the center of the aluminum top, that’s standing 4 feet above the ground. The squirrels cannot get their “arms” around it to climb it, and cannot jump high enough to get on it. It is perfectly squirrel-proof. I dump sunflower seeds on top of the table. When the bears come in for the seeds, they just swipe the seeds off into their mouth and don’t bend or break the aluminum pole. It is effective in keeping the squirrels off and is not wrecked by the bears. Also, the feeder is not near any trees, so the squirrels can’t jump on it. In winter, I shovel back the snow if it gets deep enough for the squirrels to jump up on the feeder. Darrel Mathieu, Luck, Wis.

Healing hurt squirrelI have a squirrel encounter at least twice a day! Friend, not foe. His name is Chipper and he must live pretty dang close. He comes for food, company and even medicine. Last year he must have gotten into a pretty good fight because he had an open wound on his back that would not heal for more than two weeks. So one morning I decided to see if he would let me touch him, and much to my surprise he did not get too scared. I got an antibacterial cream and put some on his back where the wound was. When he came back the next day, he let me do it again, for a total of five days straight. Well, it healed very well although he still has a scar in the middle of his back. Some days in the winter he sits on the fence with his legs dangling on either side and watches me in my hot tub. This year he even came by with his pregnant girlfriend and now we have babies running around. They are not as friendly yet. But I have no doubt they will see me as a good and trustworthy food source, just as Chipper did. My friends and neighbors think I am nuts (no pun intended) for encouraging this furry rat, but I actually enjoy his company. John Heller, Minneapolis

Squirrel head appears on carpet I live on the third floor of an apartment building with no nearby trees and my windows have screens. A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to get to sleep, but I kept on waking up. I felt my extra pillow fall on my cheek and I shoved it aside. I then managed to drift off again but felt something run across my comforter over my legs. It felt similar to my fiancĂ©’s cat walking across the bed. I kicked my legs and fell back asleep. I then awoke to a “thunk” at the bottom of my bedpost. I was wide awake by then, and turned on the lights. I heard a “scurrying sound” and rushed into the living room. I flipped on the lights and saw this thing hanging over my picture window. I couldn’t tell whether it was a bat, rat — but it looked at me and started to run across the top. I realized it was a squirrel. It stopped at the end of the window and turned to look at me, then jumped across the room at me and landed on the floor (about 10 feet). I screamed and ran into the bathroom. After regaining some courage, I came out of the bathroom with a broom and started to move tables, chairs, bookcases, rugs and even turned over the sofa. I couldn’t find the darn thing. I called my property manager at 5:30 a.m., but was told this isn’t an “emergency call” and would send someone out in the morning. I packed up my things and went to work. After four trips to my apartment with no sign of the squirrel, the management company just said to keep an eye out. I decided to sleep over at a friend’s that night. The next morning, I came back only to discover that pictures were off the wall and candlesticks knocked over. I spotted something furry in the corner of my bedroom. I turned on the lights, but it was still a bit dark. I grabbed a flashlight and saw a head — no body — just a head. I looked around to see if I could find the missing part of the corpse, but no blood, no fur, no nothing. I figured it may have been decapitated by the ceiling fan. I got a huge pile of paper towels and leaned underneath my vanity to pick it up. It was squishy as I tried to pick it up. It wouldn’t move. I then grabbed the flashlight and shone it on my prey. The squirrel’s head was stuck in a hole in the carpet. The rest of the body was underneath the carpet (which is wall-to-wall carpeting that is glued down to the floor). I decided to leave the removal of the body to the maintenance men. I left them a note with an arrow pointing to the head. When I got home, there was a note saying that the “head” had been removed. … They seem to think that my window air conditioning unit had a space that was big enough for the squirrel to climb into my room. The unit has now been secured tightly into my window. Hopefully nothing else will happen. The property manager said it was a flying squirrel. Nancy Teel

Look out! The squirrels have backupWe have bird feeders, so therefore we also feed squirrels. Over the years, the population has grown and we can usually count anywhere from 10 to 14 squirrels in our yard at any given time. Recently, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of birdseed falling onto the ground. One night about 3:30 a.m. I was awakened by a crash on the deck, so I went to investigate. I found my plant stand knocked over and all three plants spilled out on the deck. On the deck railing were two large raccoons who were busy stuffing their faces with birdseed. I can’t seem to win for losing because now the squirrels have the raccoons on their side. Barb Stanley, Apple Valley

Minnesota squirrel for Mexican bride My encounter with squirrels happened on my first visit to Minneapolis in October. I had seen squirrels before in Mexico City, but never so up close. My husband, who was my boyfriend at that time, gave me a nice sweet furry stuffed squirrel to take back home with me, so I would not miss them so much. We got married and I came to live in Minneapolis in February and since then I’ve been having a nice and funny relationship with squirrels. Our apartment is on the lower level of the building and our bedroom window is only a couple of feet above the ground. Every morning, I put some peanuts on the edge of the window, and a squirrel that I named Tita comes for food and to play. She likes to sit on the edge of the open window and starts to make noises at 5:30 a.m., just to let me know that she is ready for breakfast. However, I don’t get up until 6 a.m., so she waits to hear my voice and searches for me, wanting me to bring her some peanuts. As she is very excited about the peanuts, the first one is very difficult to put it out, I have to open the screen just a little bit. She wants to take it from my hand, but I’m afraid she might bite or scratch me. When I finally make her jump down from the window, I give her just one peanut, then I put out a few more. These experiences have happened since I arrived, and now I can identify Tita from other squirrels that come every day for peanuts as well. It’s so wonderful to enjoy these moments each day. MariaElena Lopez-Shetler

Squirrel is poor builderFor more than a week, we’ve had a squirrel apparently setting up a condominium in our very large old oak tree. He isn’t satisfied to have one nest. At last count, he’d created seven. We think that he is either not a very good builder or perhaps he enjoys wrecking them. Freshly chewed branches rain from the tree each time he builds, and after any wind. We’ve been collecting one to two leaf bags full of branches each day. We’re concerned that he could harm the tree or that a branch could fall on someone’s head, not to mention the headache of constantly picking up after him. Why is this squirrel doing this? Is there a solution to prevent him from cutting down so many branches? Should we be concerned about the health of our tree? [Fixit says: Horticulturists say that, in most cases, the pruning probably will not kill the tree. As with many squirrel behaviors, there’s not much you can do about it.] Teresa and James Thomas-Carroll

Anger management for squirrelOne of my squirrel visitors needs anger management — he won’t let another squirrel on the deck, let alone near the feeder. He chases them off, stops to chatter in anger and then takes a bite out of the wood railing and spits it out. Nancy

Squirrel unscrews corn cobWe have many squirrels in our yard, so several years ago I bought a Twirly for feeding corn to the squirrels. The ears of corn are screwed onto the Twirly, and if the squirrels want to eat the corn, they usually have to “take a spin” on the Twirly. I usually try to buy older corn so that the core of the cob is thoroughly dried out. One year I bought the current crop, which worked well until I noticed that a squirrel had the ear of corn in his teeth and was walking counterclockwise around the Twirly, unscrewing the ear of corn. After a few minutes he had his ear of corn and was last seen scurrying up the tree. Duane Heitz, Miltona, Minn.

Squirrel vs. Yankee FlipperI have an unusually dumb squirrel. He keeps jumping from the ground to my Yankee Flipper bird feeder, a “state of the art” feeder guaranteed to use cordless power to spin the squirrel off the perch. Dumb because he kept jumping on and spinning. First, spinning for one or two rounds before jumping off. One day later, he held on about eight twirls. That dumb squirrel was purposely spinning birdseed on the ground because as soon as he let go, he immediately ate his ground supply. Then, up again to twirl for more goodies. Dumb squirrel? Eunice

Squirrel chews bathrobe, dressI like to hang clothes out on the clothesline in the back yard to take advantage of the sunshine and fresh air smell it gives the clothes and bedding. A little red squirrel decided to perch on the top of the line and eat holes in the shoulders of my bathrobe and my daughter’s favorite dress, and claw and rip several parts of both garments, ruining both. The squirrel was in a frenzy clawing and chewing the clothing! What’s up with this? Now I am afraid to hang anything out and sad to miss out on using my clothesline this summer. Debra Palmquist, Plymouth

Squirrels vs. walkie-talkie My mom actually came up with this idea. Take two walkie-talkies, and put one in a bird feeder. When a squirrel or chipmunk jumps on the feeder, you wait a little, then scream, shout, or make a loud noise into the walkie-talkie. (They both have to be turned on before you begin.) Anyways, say something like, “HEY! You get off that feeder, mister, or you’ll be sorry,” or “WHAT are you doing? GET OFF THAT FEEDER,” or anything else you want. Make loud noises into the walkie-talkie until the squirrel is off. It is a little short-term, so make sure to rotate it around to different problem feeders when the squirrels don’t seem to mind the noise. Amy

Squirrel vs. Shirl the Squirrel KillerI came in for a break from yard work and was headed to the bathroom when I heard an odd sound. I also noticed a wet spot on the floor near the toilet, and I was concerned that there was something wrong with the plumbing. Then I heard another noise, this time from behind the door of the bathroom. I moved the door aside and saw a wet squirrel that had been swimming in my toilet bowl. He looked at me as if he were asking for a towel. I looked at him as if he were asking for an acorn souffle. I later determined that he had entered the house through a pipe; like James Bond in “Dr. No,” he had swum into the lair of his natural enemy, me, Shirl the Squirrel Killer. A chase ensued worth of the opening credits of a Bond film. His four furry paws against my two work-boot clad feet. He was quicker and obviously wanted a tour of the house. We went through the kitchen and around the living room. Along the way, I grabbed things, a wastepaper basket and a broom, you know, in case one of us made a mess. He went into the den. I shut the door, sealing him inside, and considered what to do next. One thing I probably should have thought of was plugging the space beneath the door. It is barely an inch wide, but it proved to be enough for him to slither out and the chase is on again. I followed him down the hall through my bedroom and into the master bathroom. There, he slipped into the tub and I thought I had him trapped. The tub is deep, the sides are slick and the beast has no opposable thumbs. I thought about filling the tub and drowning him, but I knew he liked water. He’d be more likely to ask for a loofah and a bar of oak-scented soap than to drown. While I was deciding what to do next, he somehow managed to get out of the tub. I still had the trash basket and managed to clamp it down over him; well, over most of him. His head was sticking out one side of the basket. I stepped on the basket and figured he would soon breathe his last. Unfortunately, he seemed to be one of those squirrels with a titanium trachea and wasn’t even rasping. … I couldn’t reach anything helpful without getting off the pail and setting him loose once more. I thought about using the broom, but outside of brushing his coat, I couldn’t image why I had carried it around in the first place. Finally I realized that I had what I needed with me all along. So I stomped the living daylights out of him with my work boots. A little blood, a crushed skull and it was off to the big oak tree in the sky. “Shirl the Squirrel Killer,” aka Shirley Gazzola, North Mankato, Minn.

Squirrel finds bread in kitchen My squirrel encounter began three weeks ago on a Saturday morning. Our house was built in 1949 so no central air — just window units. I awoke to the sound of someone or something trying to fiddle with one of the window screens. I walked into the kitchen to find a very brave squirrel sitting on my window sill, helping himself to some bread that was on the counter and then furiously chewing a hole in the screen to escape back outside. After he was back outside, I watched him walk along the side of the house, clinging to the stucco and checking out another kitchen window. From there, he sat at the top of the fence gate and stared at me for a few minutes before leaving the yard. Needless to say, I was quite surprised with his boldness, amazed that he would even try to gain entry to the house. A house with a dog, no less! At any rate, the air conditioner units went in that morning and all the windows were closed so there were no issues with Mr. Squirrel popping back in for a bite to eat. After a few days, the air was turned off and the windows opened and my husband was awakened by the sound of his glasses hitting the floor. He walked into the kitchen to find another package of bread chewed open and the hole in the screen just a bit bigger. We both knew it had to be the same squirrel. The hole in the screen was then covered with duct tape and the windows barely cracked so nothing could gain entry. Fast forward to Monday, July 2. I was getting ready for work and as I walked into the kitchen for more coffee, I looked out the window and saw a squirrel sitting by the apple tree, casing the kitchen windows. My first thought was, “It’s him.” I knew this was the same criminal who had already entered my home on two occasions and this was war. The live trap was set with, of course, bread. Tuesday morning I watched the varmint try to pull bread through the sides of the live trap and he even entered it, reaching over the trigger spot, careful not the set the trap door off. I must admit, he was a smart and brave little dude, but his days were numbered. The bread paid off because when I got home from work that day, we had a squirrel in the live trap. I felt bad for him, he was young and scared and had spent most of the day with our chocolate Lab knocking the cage around and barking at the poor fellow. I have always been an animal lover and I just couldn’t follow through and sentence this poor creature to death. So, I named him Scooter Libby and we commuted him to a public golf course about two miles from our house with the dog giving chase. I still have the hole in my screen and I wonder if squirrels are smart enough to find their way back or if he is passing our address out to all his new friends, telling them of the bread on the counter. If he is so smart to come back for a third time … he is going down. Teri Seawell, Columbia Heights

Ever higher, squirrel finds feeder I have put a thin wire about 9 feet off the ground. I have had to remove my bird feeder because the squirrels will walk the tight rope wire. They even do this in the winter. This was supposed to be a fool-proof method to keep them away. It is also about 5 feet from the tree or deck. I also have a window feeder. They would jump from the deck to the window. I moved it. It was 5 feet off the ground and they were able to jump up to the feeder that is attached to the window by suction cups. OK, now I moved it to the top of the window and it is about 10 feet off the ground. One day we saw them climb up the middle of our crank-out windows, which are closed, and get into the feeder. I am now ready to go to the second story and see what they will do. They are very evil! Sue Berke

Squirrel vs. Penn State student Although I am no longer in the Twin Cities area, I’m in graduate school at Penn State, I’ve had an ongoing war with the squirrels on my back patio for over a year when I lived in the Twin Cities. My prior attempts were so many that I made a picture book about them. After numerous unsuccessful attempts, I finally managed to make significant headway with a new “squirrel-proof” bird feeder. Although this feeder has significantly cut down my squirrel problems, there was still one squirrel that managed to find a way to eat from the feeder. At first I figured that I’d just let the one squirrel eat and leave well enough alone. I just couldn’t do it! That darn squirrel kept eating and I got more and more frustrated. I toyed with ideas about how to stop it, but I finally figured it out! I made a plexiglass sandwich with a square dowel in the middle of the sandwich. This sandwich fit over the hanging part of my bird feeder and prevents the squirrel from getting hold enough to eat the seeds. A week into the project and it’s still working — the squirrel hasn’t managed to figure it out. I’m extremely excited! If you would like to see pictures of what I’m talking about, I’ve posted my entire squirrel saga at the following address: www.personal.psu.edu/users/m/a/mat294/the-war_online.htm Now I just need to figure out the chipmunk. Maggie

Entertaining but chews metal We have a maple tree that has housed countless families of squirrels over the years. It is actually kind of fun watching youngsters play and try to hide from us on the stucco of the house. They figure if they quietly lie flat enough, we won’t see them. … Unfortunately, they love sharpening their teeth as they grow up, and with each new brood, they have damaged the garage trim and siding and some of the stucco. But their latest tactic is driving us crazy. They are sharpening their teeth on the chain link fence ties, chewing them down until they are completely cut through. We now have to replace all the ties on our fence! Anyone know how to make the ties distasteful? Barbara Lutz [Fixit says: The best advice I’ve heard is to apply repellent (commercial varieties are available at garden and home stores). However, it has to be renewed regularly. Depending on the size of the fence, that could be an expensive and time-consuming task, unfortunately. ]

He was a 12-pounder I’ve had squirrel problems ever since I moved to a wooded area of Fridley last year. One of our first purchases was a wire mesh bird feeder to attract birds. In the winter months, my family and I would turn off the TV and simply watch the birds. We would pull out the binoculars and a field guide to get a better look to identify these birds. After spring 2007, and the arrival of the newborn squirrels, we would often hear the chaos and loud commotions from the wire-mesh feeder. There was a constant struggle with the squirrels in the feeder. We had one that weighed upwards of maybe 12 pounds, which would dominate the feeder. The birds would simply stand by to get their turn. The other, younger squirrels would squeal and hiss to distract the big “12 pounder” in hopes to get their turn. We counted eight squirrels at a time trying to get to the feeder. The cost to fill that feeder began reaching the $20 mark weekly. The noises were disturbing and scary when you’re not ready for it. To eliminate the problems at the feeder, we decided to have the “12 pounder” evicted. We attempted to use a pellet gun. He was way too fast and sneaky. I would take aim and he would roll around the trunk of the tree totally out of sight. After a couple of attempts the big gray squirrel caught on. By the time I opened the door he was already well out of range and in the neighbor’s trees. These attempts were not effective. I don’t recommend anyone to use a pellet gun. So the noises continued, the birds were going hungry and the cost of feed continued to escalate. While shopping at the local lumberyard, I went by the live traps. I decided to make that purchase of a live trap. How hard could it be to catch a squirrel? He was big, but the trap was bigger. I made that purchase. I placed the trap under the tree with some peanuts as bait, and within minutes after taking down the wire mesh feeder, I caught the “big 12 pounder.” One after another, I caught each and every one. Daily I was making my rounds to the park near our house to relocate the squirrels. No more harassment from the feeder. Just the cardinals, jays and chickadees. Tony Rossi

Bird house becomes squirrel house In spring 2004 , I put up a birdhouse in our back yard. It was made of old barn lumber so it had a great weathered look about it. I was hopeful of attracting some song birds to this new house. The next spring, I noticed that we did indeed have a tenant in the bird house, but it turned out to be a squirrel. It took possession for the entire summer making necessary modifications to the entrance to allow for his larger body. How did we solve the squirrel problem you ask? After the squirrel’s alterations to the entrance, we learned to accept the things we couldn’t change and renamed the bird house to a squirrel house. David C. Johnson, Minneapolis,

Mothballs!!! After many tries to move the squirrel who set up housekeeping in our front door porch roof and before I was going to fill the space with concrete, a friend suggested I put a handfull of mothballs in the space. The squirrel has move and stayed away! Anonymous

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Keeping squirrels at a tail's length

As a protected species, squirrels can't be killed in urban areas unless they are doing damage. Even then, killing squirrels is not an easy task. You can't discharge a gun in the city, for instance. The best approach is to enjoy squirrels' antics while limiting their damage:

• Prevent squirrel entry into buildings by sealing gaps and holes. Install a mesh cover on the chimney. If they get in, trapping will get them out. You can release them outdoors, but don't transport them to another area and release them. Consider employing a pest-control company. A trail of peanuts or almonds also works, readers said.

• Use fences and covers to keep them out of gardens, but you might need to be creative. Place metal mesh in the ground to keep them from digging up tulip bulbs.

• Use squirrel repellents, available at garden stores. Or sprinkle areas with cayenne pepper or hot sauce. Repellents need to be renewed regularly.

• Some suggest offering food, such as cobs of corn, so they'll eat that instead of your crops. Supplying a water source limits garden thievery, some say.

• Don't feed birds in summer. Add a squirrel guard or use a squirrel-resistant feeder at other times of the year.

• Short of tying a dog to the trunk or nailing a metal baffle on the tree, there's no way to protect fruit on trees. Some say mothballs in pantyhose hung in trees will keep squirrels away. (The neighbors, too, probably.)

Triumph of the squirrels

So cute. So conniving. So harmless. So destructive. We humans have a love-hate relationship with our charming varmint neighbors, who sometimes get a little too close for comfort.

By Karen Youso, Star Tribune

Are squirrels little creatures that make us chuckle, or are they destructive, thieving critters that drive us nuts? A little of both, it turns out.

Those large almond eyes and bushy tails are attached to determined, hard-core rodents. Squirrels -- sometimes called rats with cosmetic enhancements -- scamper about innocently enough, but also clean out bird feeders, run off with apples and break into homes.

When I asked readers to share their squirrel stories, I received lots of "love 'em" letters, but also tales of frustration with squirrels and squirrel lovers alike. As one reader put it:

"Many people think that squirrels are cute, almost pets and they provide food for them, enabling them to multiply, spread disease and damage property."

Squirrels have a long history. Aristotle dubbed them "skiourus," or "shade tail," which eventually became "squirrel." And in the original French fairy tale, Cinderella's slippers weren't glass, but squirrel fur. (The reason for the change is unclear, but many French nouns sound alike.)

Today, they thrive in near paradise -- the mature trees, vegetable gardens and back-yard bird feeders of city and suburban neighborhoods, where the duality of being cute and aggravating produces the obvious results.

Some people love squirrels. They feed them and laugh at their antics, give them names and shoot pictures of them. Others hate them for the destruction they can wreak on house and garden. They'd just like to shoot the varmints, period.

Few readers offered solutions to squirrel problems, probably because there aren't many. Squirrels are legally protected animals, and they are smart. The part of their brains responsible for remembering details regarding food is well developed, researchers say. They also have well-honed survival skills, including how they raise their young.

"The mother squirrel carried her babies across the street to bird feeders and showed them where the food was," wrote reader Beverly Carlson of Brooklyn Park. "She brought them over, one at a time, hanging from her mouth, like a cat."

Bird feeders beware

Indeed, most of the stories concerned bird feeders, especially how brainy squirrels bested even the most exotic "squirrel-proof feeder." But when the critters branch out to a bigger menu -- tulip bulbs, tomatoes and back-yard fruit -- they can really rile.

Every year, squirrels spend two or three days picking clean the fruit trees in Bill Ferrell's yard in Excelsior, and burying their booty in the woods across the road. He laments that about 200 pears and hundreds more apples will just rot in the ground this year.

More troubling is the incessant, destructive chewing. Squirrels gnaw on lawn furniture, clothes drying on the line, even chain-link fences. Like other rodents, squirrels' teeth grow continuously. If they don't chew, their teeth will get too long to eat. (Pregnant or stressed squirrels chew the most and favor metal, naturalists say.) They'll munch their way into homes, even cutting through window screens to break and enter.

After Leah Lawrence of Minneapolis shooed away a squirrel from a kitchen window one morning, her 17-year-old son called her at work, hysterical. "The squirrel had gotten into the house and had come into his room, climbed up on his bed, walked across his back (while he was sleeping) then onto his head, and then ran out of the room."

These are the behaviors that create a sputtering Donald Duck-like frenzy in people as they reach for their shotguns. But they should stop. They need a license ($20), they need to wait for the season opener (Sept. 15) and they need to remember that it's illegal in most cities to fire a gun. (Satisfy all the requirements, however, and Squirrels in Cream Sauce and other fine recipes are at www.startribune.com/lifestyle.)

Damage control

Most people don't want to kill little creatures -- no matter how naughty. So they humanely trap problem squirrels and drive them 5 miles away to release them. Not a good idea, experts now say. The squirrels are taken from their nest and family and dropped into new, unfamiliar territory. Not only is their survival threatened, but they also put pressure on the new area's resident squirrels. It's just shipping the problem elsewhere.

"We took him to a park and just as we were letting him go, a woman came screaming at us from the house across the road, livid that we were one of several dozen people who seem to think we can move our squirrel problems into her neighborhood," wrote Michael Lewis Schrock of Minneapolis.

Victims of squirrel mischief shouldn't try for a squirrel-free life (only Hawaii and Australia fit that bill, I'm told). Even if every squirrel in the yard is trapped or killed, the offspring of neighboring squirrels will soon fill the void. So the advice of Marian Ziebell of Minneapolis is to forget trying to solve the problem and just watch them.

That may be best. If these cute, smart-aleck, determined little rodents ever get organized, it could be our worst nightmare. According to a 2005 BBC report, a stray dog in the Russian village of Lazo was barking at squirrels in a tree when a number of them suddenly descended and attacked, killing the dog. The squirrels ran off, some toting pieces of flesh, the report said. The reason the squirrels snapped was the dearth of pine cones that year. They were hungry.

Even after giving into peaceful coexistence, you can try to prevent or at least minimize squirrel damage by blocking their access to your home and garden goodies (see box on E1). But don't be surprised if you're not entirely successful.

Starting early last century, Bell Labs tested deterrents to prevent squirrels from chewing through telephone lines, which cost millions annually to repair. According to a news report, the company tried metal, paint, weasel scent, rabbit repellent and shock devices, everything nonlethal. After 50 years of trying, research stopped. The squirrel always won.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Each Wore a Tiny Trench Coat

From the BBC translators, an editorial by Saleh Eskandari headlined "spying squirrels," published July 10 by the Iranian newspaper Resalat.

"A few weeks ago, 14 squirrels equipped with espionage systems of foreign intelligence services were captured by [Iranian] intelligence forces along the country's borders. These trained squirrels, each of which weighed just over 700 grams, were released on the borders of the country for intelligence and espionage purposes. According to the announcement made by Iranian intelligence officials, alert police officials caught these squirrels before they could carry out any task.

"Fixing GPS devices, bugging instruments and advanced cameras in the bodies of trained animals like squirrels, mice, hamsters, etc, are among modern methods of collecting intelligence. Given the fast speed and the special physical features of these animals, they provide special capabilities for spying operations. Once the animals return to their place of origin, the intelligence gathered by them is then offloaded. . . ."

Always thought there was something squirrelly about those folks.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

From Overheard in New York

Hobo leaning over and talking to squirrels: Why are you a squirrel?! Why?!

--Washington Square Park

Monday, July 9, 2007

Squirrel Spys?

According to IRNA, the official Islamic Republic news agency, the national Police chief has implicitly verified the news about the confiscation of a number of squirrels, equipped with eavesdropping devices, on the Iranian borders. He has declined to give any more details, but, reportedly, when asked about the confiscation of 14 spy squirrels, he stated, “I have heard about it, but I do not have precise information”. IRNA adds, “These squirrels were equipped by foreign intelligence services, but were captured two weeks ago by the Police”.