Saturday Single No. 225

I really should do some research about gray squirrels. My main question would be: Can the number of squirrels in an area be estimated somehow by counting the trees in that area? Because I would really like to get an idea of how many squirrels we have in our rather large yard. There seem to be a lot of them.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind them being around. I find them fun to watch. Like furry gymnasts, they leap, twirl and sometimes tumble from branch to branch, making their ways from tree to tree. During summer evenings, as we’ve sat outside with a cold drink, we’ve seen squirrels go from one end of the yard to the other and never come closer to the ground than twenty feet.

And as we sit outside during the summer, we see the gray rodents running in more distant areas of the yard. It always looks as if they’re playing tag, but I’m sure the chases we see have their sources in either romance or territorial defense. Whatever the causes, we’re amused.

It’s easier in some ways to watch them during the winter, as there are no leaves in most of the trees – most of the trees in our yard are oaks; there are only a few conifers – to block our sightlines. Thus, we can see more acrobatics during the winter than we can during the leafy months, but sitting outside for long periods isn’t so comfy. That’s where the bay window seat comes in, and the Texas Gal and I perch there frequently to keep an eye on our gray friends outside.

As do the cats. Noses to the window and tails twitching, all four of the catboys spend plenty of time in the window seat, evidently dreaming of dinner. As none of the four is allowed outside unsupervised, the squirrels are safe from feline appetites, making their reconnaissance futile. Still, the cats do like watching. And since we installed a bird feeder not far from the window, the squirrels are much easier for the cats to see.

The feeder we installed last summer was an inexpensive plastic model, and the birds liked it just fine. The squirrels did, too, once they learned to climb the thin metal pole from which the feeder hung. One morning, not long after we’d installed the feeder, I saw one squirrel hanging precariously onto the plastic device with three or four of his fellows waiting on the ground. As they – and I – watched, the hanging squirrel used his teeth to enlarge the hole through which birds were supposed to be feeding and then swung the feeder so bird seed cascaded to the ground through the larger hole. He then dropped down to join his pals in the feast.

We didn’t mind too much. It was a cheap bird feeder. We told ourselves that we’d get a sturdier one for the winter. Besides, it’s not like we hadn’t already been feeding the squirrels anyway. All year ’round, we tear up bread crusts and toss them into the lawn or on the sidewalk. Once we go back inside or – during summer – sit still in our chairs, the grayboys approach cautiously and then scamper back to their perches with chunks of bread in their mouths.

As this winter set in, we did get the sturdier feeder, one made of metal, and along with seed for the feeder, we began to keep on hand dried ears of corn just for the squirrels. We thought that if we provided them their own treats on the ground, they’d leave the new feeder alone.

Not a chance. Within a day, the squirrels – rather bright rodents that they are – had learned that even though they couldn’t chew through the new feeder, if one of them got on and swung it hard enough, seed would fall to the ground in enough quantity to provide a good meal for four or five of them. We do get some birds stopping by, which was the original plan, but not as many as we’d hoped. There might as well be a sign on the bird feeder that says “This is Squirrel Town. Have a snack, but then move on!”

Okay, so we’re primarily feeding the squirrels. Who are we to argue with the natural world? We keep the feeder filled and every other day or so toss four ears of corn under the nearby pine tree, where the snow hasn’t gotten too deep. The squirrels run off with the ears of corn fairly quickly, but it takes them three to four days to empty the feeder. And then, if we’re busy or if it’s numbingly cold out, the squirrels have to wait.

I was in the window seat the other week on one of those bitterly cold days, sitting with our orange cat, Cubbie Cooper. The bird feeder was utterly empty, and there was no trace of corn under the pine tree. And we saw one of the squirrels make his way up the chimney where the vines grow thick during summer. He climbed the branches of the dormant vine, pausing frequently to pull off and eat dried berries. Cubbie’s ears and tail were twitching madly as the squirrel came down the side of the chimney. Then the rodent stopped, head down, right next to the side of the bay window, no more than two feet from where Cubbie and I sat on the other side of the windowpane.

A berry in his mouth, he raised his head and looked at us, black eyes glittering in the pale winter light. And I could pretty much read his mind as he asked me “Where’s my damn corn?”

I fear we’re raising a generation of welfare squirrels.

And that puts me in mind of the classic tune “God Bless The Child.” Here’s the version that Blood, Sweat & Tears offered up on its second, self-titled album in 1969. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

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3 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 225”

  1. Kiddie Corner Kid says:

    Sipping my Sunday morning coffee, reading EW, relaxing. With the weather turning warm. Those grayboys have turned into a swarm.
    Up the tree then down, cross the street and back. Who knows what they’re up to? Last week we had a new guest, a ringnecked pheasant! Took up roost in the bows of our evergreen. We put out bird feed but the visit was short lived. Later in the week I saw him again scampering down the ally. It seems the neighbors had corn cob cuisine.
    I’m pretty sure, 2011 is the year, we scan the trees and fences,
    the year of the grayboy census.

  2. This all sounds so familiar.

    We put out scraps on the kitchen window ledge (we live on the second floor) for the squirrels. The cats sit and watch and the squirrels, well, sometimes they peer in or even rap on the window if there isn’t anything out for them.

  3. David Young says:

    Michael Jerome Browne (roots musician extraordinaire – check him out if you can) refers to those critters as rats with good p.r. they break into your house and just wreck everything.

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