There was a time, in the distant past, that I loved squirrels. Having been fed squirrel propaganda all my life, I envisioned squirrels as tiny, fun-loving animals akin to Rocky the Flying Squirrel. They were full of antics, friendly, and possibly given to wearing colorful hats. Of course, the truth is a far cry from the cartoon reality. I don’t believe I ever saw Rocky pull up a bed of tulips and take one dainty bit from each helpless bulb. Nor, did he enjoy ransacking birdhouses and destroying birdfeeders. Rocky was, despite his hijinks with Bullwinkle, a law-abiding squirrel. The squirrels in my yard are a law unto themselves.
And, of course, with every tale, there is a villain. Since we haven’t been properly introduced, let’s just call him the Rat Squirrel or R.S. for short. R.S. is not like other squirrels. He fears nothing. He scoffs at squirrel-proof feeders and cats and dogs are only nuisances to him. Even the menace of Ryder, my previous neighbor’s fat, yellow tabby only slowed R.S. Not only is he the biggest, baddest squirrel on the block, but he has the distinction of having absolutely no fur on his tail. He has, in short, a rat’s tail. Whether this is some genetic fluke or the result of really bad luck, I guess I’ll never know. But, having a denuded tail has, in no way, improved R.S.’s temperament.
I’m not really sure how long squirrel’s live, but R.S. made his appearance about two years ago. I walked out on my deck to find a slice of pizza lying on my doormat. Now, since I don’t usually leave old pizza crusts on my door mat, I found this odd—especially since I distinctly remembered putting last night’s pizza box in my trash can and securely latching its lid. Yet, here was the pizza, on the mat, on the deck. And, there was a squirrel, sitting nonchalantly in one of my floor barrels unearthing herbs and throwing them roots and all onto the deck. I looked at the squirrel and he looked at me. Then, he jumped up onto the overhanging branches that surround the deck and was gone. My last sight of him was his hideous rat tail. This was our introduction.
Since that day, R.S. has led his minions on many merry adventures in my garden. He likes to get up early, so that he can either dig in the barrels on my deck or check the trash for dainties. Sometimes he puts things in the barrels; sometimes he digs things up depending on his moods. He won’t stand for birdfeeders or birdhouses of any sort. He’s not fond of wind chimes either and sometimes pulls them down. It’s a 50/50 chance as to whether he’ll let them stay or not.
Squirrel-proof feeders and houses don’t even slow him down. He can pull one down within an hour’s time—sometimes with the help of his crew and sometimes alone. The other squirrels follow him or at least imitate him. And, he’s a chewer. Advice on boarding up holes to keep squirrels out of eaves and attics would seemingly work, but I’ve seen the holes that he leaves behind. Since I never catch him at work, I don’t know how long these excavations of his take. He may start work as soon as I pull out of the drive. I know that was Ryder’s usual M.O. He actually would lurk in the witch-hazel bushes until he saw my car pull out and then make a run for the rabbit holes. It may be that R.S. learned a thing or two from Ryder, his previous nemesis. With Ryder gone, R.S. fears nothing. Honey, our neighborhood dog, is safely enclosed in her electric fence and Fionna, Ryder’s apprentice, is no match for the power and glory of the Rat Squirrel.
Case in point, I was given a glorious birdfeeder. This wasn’t just any birdfeeder, but the Barbie Dreamhouse of birdfeeders. It has towers, a veranda, and a miniature mailbox—should the birds ever need to send tiny missives to each other. It has multiple levels for different types of food and a painted garden. This is the kind of birdfeeder that birds, if they do chat to one another, mention as a landmark. “Fly south for about ten minutes and cut right at the glorious birdfeeder. You know, the one with the steeple and tiny mail box?” It was a beauty and with R.S. in mind, I hung it by a coated wire hanger far from the trees and the deck with no, to my mind, possible way for R.S. to gain entry. I placed it bright and early Sunday morning.
By noon, the birdfeeder is utterly destroyed. R.S. has led his minions in chewing a gaping hole in the wood. I came outside to find him sitting like a king in the ruins of the birdfeeder that is now on the ground. Somehow, he and his cronies had chewed through the rubber-coated wires. Wires?! They chewed through wires. With the different types of birdfeed and suet scattered everywhere R.S. and his flunkies were having a merry feast. The crows sit cawing in the trees waiting for them to clear out. I resolve at that time to thwart him somehow. . . This has become a game of spy vs. spy played at its highest level. But, somehow, I keep ending up on the losing side.
But, how is it possible to stop the Rat Squirrel? I’ve consulted with the wildlife specialist down the road—she is the park guide at our local nature park and cares for injured animals that folks bring by the Nature Center. Currently, they have a hawk, two bunnies, and a large, belligerent skunk. She recommends feeding R.S. (I laugh and laugh since he is the best-fed squirrel in the county!) And, she also recommends putting birdfeeders on poles and then greasing the poles with Crisco. This seems a good plan to me. But, I suppose I chose the wrong sort of poles since R.S. and his cohorts managed to knock them down with help from the large, bossy crows. I’ve also tried putting feeders higher and then lower, using reflective and glowing yard decorations and encouraging Fionna to chase squirrels. The hose does work, for a minute, or until my back is turned. Apparently, only eternal vigilance will control the rampages of the Rat Squirrel.
One of my neighbors actually feeds squirrels. She still believes they are cute little woodland critters—the type taken to perching on Snow White’s shoulders. I have tried to explain to her that the R.S. is evil, but she continues to make homemade suet for him and his brood. I’ve included the recipe below, in case you would like to offer bribes to your squirrel population. I choose not to encourage R.S., but then, endorsement or admonition seems to be all the same to him. Seemingly, the Rat Squirrel and I are at a stalemate. Yet, hope springs eternal.
Yesterday, I saw Patrocles, the brown tabby feral I’m hoping to tame, eyeing R.S. Pat is small and skittish, but I can tell he has a lot of moxie. It could be in a few weeks or months, he’ll challenge the Rat Squirrel’s authority. Until then, I’m only biding my time. Outside my window, I can hear the chitters of the squirrels and I know that R.S. is out there somewhere, waiting and watching. I refilled the chewed and battered birdfeeder and rehung it (again) only an hour ago. It will soon be empty and the R.S. will be once again hungry and on the prowl. But, Pat is waiting and watching and growing.
Advice on deterring Squirrels (not effective on Rat Squirrels):
- Buy squirrel-proof feeders – metal ones are the best as squirrels can chew through plastic quite easily.
- Hang birdfeeders on poles (metal if possible) and grease with Crisco. Hanging feeders on branches or on fence posts only encourages squirrels.
- Feed the squirrels. Fat, happy squirrels are “less likely” to ransack birdfeeders. Squirrels like many foods, including critter mixes, suets, dried apples and berries, peanutbutter, peanuts, nuts, sunflower seeds, stale bread, and beans. They apparently enjoy pizza crusts as well.
- Faux predators, such as plastic owls, and shiny reflective glass beads and lights are endorsed by some. However, my squirrels knocked down the owl and chewed him a bit. Clearly, they were not impressed.
- My advice is learn to live with the squirrels. There is, possibly, no getting rid of them. They may accept bribes. See below:
- 1 ½ cup chunky peanutbutter
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ dried berry fruit (cranberries, blueberries, etc.)
- 2 tbsp. Cornmeal
- ¼ cup assorted nuts
Mix together until berries, raisins, and nuts are well distributed and then put in feeder. If you happen to have suet dough (available at most garden stores) you can mix it in too. Experiment. Squirrels have different tastes, but I haven’t notices that they turn down much.