They're vermin to some. Cunning adversaries to others. Squirrels have long been a source of fascination and frustration for gardeners and bird enthusiasts engaged in a near-constant battle to keep them away from the nuts and seeds put out for birds.
Greased poles. Loud music. Motion-activated sprinklers.
Bill Adler, Jr., has heard all the strategies. And tried many of them.
The 57-year-old humor writer has been collecting tips to keep squirrels from avian meals for three decades, and recently updated his 1988 book, Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed From Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels (Chicago Review Press), for a third edition.
The most important thing to know? While technology has changed, squirrels still have little else to do all day but strategize.
And they're good at it.
"There's no one technique that works for everyone," Adler says.
Try a few different strategies, and be willing to change.
Most of all, Adler says, don't sweat it too much.
"I have to admit, I care a little less [these days]. I care in a different way," he says of his squirrel strategy.
Squirrels still eat more from his birdfeeders than the birds do, but "I don't mind that I personally don't always win.
"I enjoy outwitting them, I do. But these days I win the battles and not the war."
Here are some tips (some serious, some not) from Adler and others to bring a little harmony to your backyard:
Resigned to the fact that squirrels are going to call his Washington yard home, Adler puts out some unsalted mixed nuts along his steps.
"If you feed them, they will tend to leave the birdfeeder alone," he says.
Squirrels also love corn, so if you don't want them invading your feeder, keep your birdseed corn-free.
You also can try filling your feeder with safflower seeds, which are high in fat and protein.
"Many favorite backyard birds favor safflower seeds, but squirrels typically do not," says John Schaust, chief naturalist for Wild Birds Unlimited.
These days, there are motion-activated outdoor cameras if you want to monitor your feeder, and even motion-activated sprinklers to douse offending squirrels.
"Squirrel-proof" birdfeeders abound. The best, according to Adler and other experts, are those that sit on a 5-foot pole and are covered with a plastic dome or "baffle" that's hard for squirrels to cling to.
If you want to get even more high-tech, there are weight-activated feeders that actually cover up the feeding ports when a squirrel latches on.
"Squirrels are foiled, but not harmed in any way," Schaust says.
While some particularly wily squirrels have been known to scratch up the pole and baffle enough to gain access, bird enthusiast Barbara Bergin of Austin, Texas, has a slippery solution: petroleum jelly.
She actually greases the pole her feeder hangs from with Vasoline every now and then, and says it works like a charm.
"As a bonus, it's also fun to watch the squirrels slip off the hanger," the 60-year-old orthopedic surgeon quipped.
Adler devotes a chapter of his book to his own misadventures with squirrels, dating to his bachelor days, when he first moved to Washington from New York. Wanting a pet in an apartment building that didn't allow them, Adler invested in a birdfeeder.
"The next day I got a squirrel, which was not part of the instructions," he says.
He tried yelling, coated the bricks of his building with Teflon, squirted the squirrel with water, even rolled out some stainless-steel spikes.
After hearing similar stories from other frustrated bird lovers, Adler decided to pen the first edition of his diatribe against the rodents. Also included in the book are feeder ratings, ways to attract certain birds and 101 "cunning stratagems" to keep squirrels at bay. Some are practical. Most are hilariously ludicrous.
Some of the more entertaining:
- Dig a moat around your feeder. Fill it with piranha.
- Trap squirrels and send them to Antarctica.
- Encourage your neighbors — and what the heck, your local government — to use drones to monitor and, ahem, deal with squirrels.
- Buy a squirrel costume. Parade around your yard wearing it. Squirrels can't figure out what in the world is going on and it drives them away.
- Buy some lasers and set up a hologram show in your yard. Make holograms of cats and hunters.
- Cry. Maybe the squirrel will feel sorry for you and go away.
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