As much as I scheme and improvise to keep squirrels off our bird feeders, they win so often that I can't help but admire their determination.
Still, I don't smile. I scowl, curse them through a window and send our dog outside with shrill commands: "Squirrel! Squirrel! Get the squirrel!" Paige then bursts out the door and chases them off. Don't worry. She's no threat. I doubt the squirrels ever think, "Whew. That was close." They return soon enough, their nerves intact.
That's fine. I no longer have the heart to shoot them, and I suspect Paige isn't trying hard to catch them. Time has taught us that for every squirrel killed, three attend the funeral. And their fat butts never leave without eating.
Even so, I admit laughing when watching YouTube videos that show unsuspecting gray squirrels getting launched from bird feeders as if they're clay pigeons at a skeet range. Maybe you saw that video. When squirrels sit on a feeder rigged with a trap-throwing device, the homeowner triggers the thrower, flinging the squirrel through the air like a detached helicopter blade.
A reader from Monona devised a friendlier deterrent. His invention, the Twister Seed Feeder (www.gochipmunk.com), is a capped PVC pipe you hang from a tree branch. Its attaching wire includes a heavy-duty fishing swivel, so when a squirrel jumps onto the feeder, it spins from the weight and sheds the squirrel. Most squirrels don't give up right away, but they eventually find easier grub to grab.
Unfortunately, I didn't keep the swivels cleaned and lubricated on my Twister Seed Feeders, so they failed this winter after several squirrel-spinning years of deterrence. These days, squirrels often hang upside down beneath the feeders, clinging to the lower perch as if wearing suspension boots.
But their freeloading days are numbered. (Insert evil laugh here.) I picked up two stainless steel ball-bearing swivels designed for muskie fishing. Once I attach the swivels, the squirrels will learn not to ride that bull.
One place they won't turn to next is our main bird feeder, a large, log-cabin style feeder mounted atop a cedar post. When we first installed it, squirrels had no trouble getting up there and hogging the sunflower seeds while repelling cardinals, juncos, chickadees, redpolls and mourning doves.
After tiring of their unappreciative freeloading, I took a 5-gallon plastic bucket, cut a hole in its bottom and slid it down the post beneath the feeder. Success! But only temporarily. Within three winters, the squirrels chewed through the bottom to regain access. Duct tape dissuaded them, but it kept deteriorating and required upkeep.
We needed a better solution. Last spring I bought a 6-inch diameter PVC pipe, dug up the post, slid the pipe over it then moved everything far from the nearest tree. No way can squirrels leap onto that feeder.
Neither can they scale it. The result was smiles of schadenfreude, i.e., taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. We can tell when new or transient squirrels show up. They eye the white post, sometimes circle it then leap to test their skepticism. Sure enough, they slide back down, their little claws finding no purchase on the PVC's smooth surface.
Eventually they give up and resign themselves to picking through ice and snow for husks and shells dropped by birds. The birds seem generous with their table scraps, and the squirrels look plump, so we aren't starving them.
Other deterrents probably work, too. For instance, some folks slick their feeder's metal posts with grease or vegetable oil. Others mix pepper into the feed, which doesn't seem to bother birds. Still others rig baffles or steel stovepipes.
I'm sticking with the PVC because it never rusts and squirrels don't chew it. That's no small consideration when you're dealing with delinquents. It's bad enough they try to horde all the food. They vandalize you in the process.
Still, things could be worse. At least they aren't packing spray paint.
Patrick Durkin is a free-lance writer who covers outdoor recreation for the Press-Gazette. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.