Friday, October 10, 2014

Squirrelly Thoughts

With summer now gone and fall slowly taking over, the squirrels that visit our yard are becoming a bit more numerous and frantic. It's not that I blame them - the fault is entirely ours. For many years, as we fed the birds, we had at least one feeder that was an easy-access one for squirrels. We had not planned this, it's just that squirrels are nearly impossible to outfox outsquirrel. After a few visits by a wandering black bear in the last year or so, we've cut back on the bird feeders and rigged them so they are difficult for land critters to reach. This has frustrated the squirrels to no end and they have quit coming around so frequently, which is probably better or them in the long run. They are not really visitors; the Douglas squirrels, or chickarees, occupied this territory long before any of us were here and they favor native foods, especially seeds of the Douglas fir. Still, who doesn't enjoy an easy, free meal now and then? They continue to venture in to check the ground beneath the feeders. They need to store up some food for later, especially if it is a female who's expecting a second litter.
Abert's squirrel
NPS Photo by Sally King
I've always enjoyed watching squirrels. I have no recollection of them being in the town I grew up in on the high plains of Montana, but we always saw them on any trip to the conifer-cloaked mountains. After we married and moved to the woods of Colorado, we enjoyed watching the Tassel-eared or Abert's squirrels which are found in ponderosa pine forests in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the Colorado plateau. The longer tufts of dark hair covering the tops of each ear make them stand out from other squirrels and definitely up the cuteness factor. They mainly feed off of the seeds, tender buds, and inner bark of the ponderosa pines there, but they also came to our feeders. 

We lived for a time in the hill country of Texas where there are Eastern Gray Squirrels. Active year-round, they live primarily in trees and feed on a great variety of foods; they regularly pilfered all the seed in our bird feeder. My husband kept trying to out-smart them and once mounted the feeder at the top of a tall, narrow pipe in the middle of the yard away from trees. One squirrel learned to climb the pole so I greased it with Vaseline. I still can picture him running up about half way, and then sliding back down like a miniature, furry fireman. After a number of failed attempts, he got even by blatantly grabbing and eating the ripe peaches on the tree next to our kitchen window. I do believe he smiled the whole time...

There is much we can learn from squirrels. They teach us to plan ahead, to store our energy for times of need, to help us get through the bad times and to prepare for the future. Prepare for seasonal changes; in periods of plenty save a little something. The squirrel's stash is no guarantee, however, because sometimes others rob the goods or they forget where they hid them. And squirrels sometimes go way overboard with their saving; reasonable saving and hoarding are not the same thing. For anyone who, like a squirrel, has been hoarding things - be prepared to release and let go.

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provision in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
Proverbs 6:6-8

Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." - Luke 12: 15
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  1. The squirrels in Chicago seem to be especially frantic this year, too. In less than 24 hrs, they wiped out a suet feeder for the woodpeckers by hanging upside down to gnaw the suet out from behind the wire suet box enclosure. And either they have enlisted the local racoon as a strong arm bandit or the have learned to open our 2-gallon metal lidded container of birdseed.

    Indicators of a hard winter to come?

  2. I'd bet the lid job is the work of racoons. We had the same problem when we stored seed where they could reach it - raccoons will stop at nothing, but then I guess they also need to eat. We now store our seed in an outdoor cupboard that they cannot open... so far, at least. I put nothing past them. Nice to hear of your squirrels where you are - thanks for taking the time to comment!