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Rocketing Rodents

Kung Fu Panda has nothing on my backyard squirrels.

Like many homeowners, I enjoy watching birds at my bird feeder in the winter months. All season long, we have an abundance of feathered visitors – chickadees, nuthatches, finches; ground feeders like cardinals and juncos; and many sparrows and starlings. They perch in our neighbors’ junipers and flit to the feeder, although some of them just hang right on and gobble the sunflower seeds until they’re full.

With the feeder right outside our dining-room window, we can sit at the table and enjoy the birds’ company. It’s a calming pastime, and one our whole family enjoys. 

Of course, where there is birdseed, there are squirrels. Over the years, we’ve tried a number of techniques to keep the furry rodents off our supposedly squirrel-proof feeder. We settled on running a wire between two corners of the house and hanging the feeder from that. It’s hard for the squirrels to walk on the thin wire, although they do manage sometimes. 

What we didn’t count on was their ability to self-launch from the ground level. 

Say what you will about squirrels – how they’re really just rats with fluffy tails; how they’re a greedy nuisance; how they’ve overrun the suburbs – but I will give this to them: no finer opportunists exist in the animal kingdom. 

The feeder is too high for even the most nimble squirrels to reach with a jump from the ground. This has not stopped them. Last fall, they simply began launching themselves at the dining-room window screen, where they held on for a breath and then jumped to the feeder. 

Ah-ha, I thought. I’ll fix you, you rotten little rodents, and I took the screen off the window. Nothing for them to hold onto now. Right? 

Wrong. 

As it turns out, our particular breed of backyard squirrels share many of the traits of Spider-Man, including being able to cling to a vertical plane. No screen? No problem! Now they just hurl themselves at the glass, somehow manage to get a split-second foothold and spring to the prize. 

Sometimes they miss, of course. I am certain there are a few who are nursing concussions from their missteps. They’re so resourceful, however, that I wouldn’t be surprised to see them wearing tiny helmets, to protect their little noggins during takeoff and stage two. 

Although annoying by day, squirrels rarely haunt my nights. It’s a good thing, because I don’t think I could take listening to collisions with the window all night long. 

Unfortunately, other sounds can disturb my sleep. Oversensitive home security systems; loud music from our nocturnal neighbors; children suffering from insomnia (and therefore parents suffering from the same ailment). But the doorbell at 2:30 one morning was a new one. 

I started awake. Who rings the doorbell in the middle of the night? 

I lay there in bed, thoughts racing. I certainly wasn’t going to answer it, but wondered if I should at least take a peek. What if someone were really in trouble? What if it was a precursor to a home invasion, and the creeps were just checking whether anyone was home? What if a gang of ne’er-do-wells was standing outside, ready to murder my family in our beds? 

In the end, when the bell didn’t ring again, I went back to sleep, somewhat fretfully. And in the morning, like so many problems that seem unsolvable in the dark, it all became clear. 

As I watched the squirrels in their acrobatic quest for breakfast, it dawned on me: the doorbell in the night was obviously the work of a ninja squirrel.

Mollie Maloney April 28, 2011 at 01:36 AM
I enjoyed your article. It made me laugh, I think the squirrels are very clever, I also wish they would not eat so much and share with the birds. I recently had a robin that arrived every morning to sit on the wreath at my back door, and peck on the window. I took pictures and no matter how close I came to him he just sat there looking at me. Even when I went out on the porch he would not fly away. He eats all the berries on my holly bushes. I rather enjoy watching him. Mollie Maloney
Julie Fay April 28, 2011 at 10:47 AM
You had a pet robin! That's great. The squirrels are leaving us alone for a while, courtesy of no seeds in the bird feeder, and ground red pepper sprinkled around our flowers (they devoured my crocuses before we could get the pepper out there.)

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