Feeder Tales: Re-learning life lessons at the bird feeder
By Scott Eshelman
Special to Living on the Lake
Quarantining has changed us all. For us it has made the large world almost hypothetical, while at the same time making the small world large. Really large. Take the example of our bird feeder. It has taught us to appreciate the small things, in particular, birds.
Judging by my behavior, my goal in retirement has been to find a bird feeder that was squirrel proof. Oh, we all know lots of feeders claim such, but, until now, at least temporarily, none have truly been ‘squirrel proof.’ Somewhere a picture exists of a big, fat squirrel engorging himself inside one of my so-called squirrel proof feeders.
And I have tried the usual tricks – spinning cobs of corn, obstacle courses designed to impede the progress of the smartest squirrels, hanging feeders suspended high between two tall pine trees, using baffles on poles, sprinkling hot pepper in the bird seed. Nothing has worked.
It’s not that I disrespect squirrels; I just loathe them. They steal things; they gnaw on other things; they bother the dog–at least they used to before age caused him to reassess their importance in the general scheme of things. That has yet to happen to me. I harass squirrels at every opportunity. But they are relentless in their pursuit of food, particularly this time of the year.
But we have had a bird feeder for a couple of years now, (knock on wooden bird feeders), that has yet to succumb to squirrel assaults. Shameless plug. It’s called the Eliminator and is sold at Wild Birds Unlimited.
Yes, the little furry rodents have tried to access the bounty within. But I see their evil little scratch marks on the exterior. And I can happily report that they have been thwarted. So far.
This has allowed for some unexpected experiences during quarantining that offers even more watching, waiting, thinking. For one thing we have gone through less seed. Between the squirrels and the occasional teenage bear, we keep the Feed Store in business all by ourselves. Now with the new feeder the squirrels seek their larder elsewhere and we take the feeder in at night to give the bear time to concentrate on our garbage, tear it apart and strew it about.
Our new, improved ‘squirrel proof’ feeder is positioned just off the deck and with a deck chair close by, they get used to a person quickly. One may watch these wonderful little critters and almost reach out and touch them.
We are fortunate to live where birds of all sorts stop at the feeder at all times of the year. Indeed one can tell what time of the year it is based on who is frequenting the bird station. And, I swear this is true, we can almost, almost identify individuals based on a variety of things, their eating habits, a wild feather out of place, or its general demeanor.
It is unusual for red-winged blackbirds to frequent our bird feeder. It happens of course, but it still surprises. Very early this year an awkward youngish male made an appearance and seemed surprisingly friendly. One morning as I was hanging up the feeder a little later than normal, he flew to the feeder’s perch and started in on breakfast before I got the thing suspended on the shepherd’s hook.
After a couple of subsequent visits I noticed that he seemed to be almost bald. The top of his head was flat as could be. In a burst of creative genius, I started calling him “Flat Top.” That, naturally, tied into numerous musical interludes including the lyrics “Here come ol’ Flat Top, he got . . . . .” [and by the way, if you don’t recognize those lyrics, you are too young to appreciate my retirement reveries, quarantined or not.]
I embarked on a journey of speculation: how had Flat Top acquired his flat top? Was he bullied by his siblings? Was he injured by a passing predator? Was he infested with some mysterious lice?
I ran through my theories with Ann, who calmly (and not very pleasantly) asked, “What do you mean? He’s just wearing the feathers off the top of his head sticking his head in the hole on your feeder!” Oh. Ah.
So our Flat Top is a glutton. And he gets proprietary while dining.
And what exactly are the life lessons here?
- Being quarantined is not all bad.
- Pleasure may be found in the little things.
- The simplest explanations are often the best.
And of course,
- It pays huge dividends to keep squirrels away from your squirrel proof feeders.
Alas, Ol’ Flat Top has moved on as we all must. He presumably has joined his colleagues who gather and gather some more before they make their next move.