NEW EBOOK NOVEL
The Uncommentator: Story of the Day
My School for Squirrels
March, 2017–When I recently noticed six squirrels in my driveway under the bird feeder at the same time, I realized they were there to attend class. It started many years ago when I first hung a bird feeder from an overhanging tree branch there.
The original feeder consisted of a clear plastic tube with apertures and perches at intervals. I laughed the first time I saw a squirrel extend a tentative paw toward a concave barrier that prevented him from sliding down the tree branch to the feeder. When the barrier wobbled, it clearly discomfitted the squirrel, who quickly withdrew his paw.
But it didn’t take long for squirrels to figure out that they could jump to the feeder from the tree trunk and hang upside down by their hind feet while extracting seed with their tongues.
At first, I didn’t mind. After a while the squirrels would leave and give the birds their turn. But the squirrels going and coming eventually broke the handle.
I try to stay neutral in the struggle for survival among species. Baby bunnies are cute, but so are the little foxes for whom the mother fox hunts rabbits.
So I didn’t mind buying seed for squirrels as well as birds. Both provided entertainment outside my kitchen window. But it did annoy me that squirrels were like careless tenants: they broke stuff.
Watching this, I mentally designed a hinged bird feeder that would somehow block access to grain when triggered by the weight of a squirrel while allowing small birds to feed. It turned out not to be an original idea. The hardware store had one on the shelf.
So I bought one. It worked too well. Frustrated squirrels got at the seed by chewing holes in the plastic. Next came a feeder protected by a metal screen. Squirre;s pried off the filler cap and threw it contemptusly on the ground . Four times.
Finally came an all-metal top-of- the- line feeder. The squirrel’s weight forced a bar to drop down and cover the feeding tray. The sides were made of unchewable metal. But when the feeder was used, the squirrels worked one side of the handle loose so that the feeder hung down sideways, spilling all the seed to the ground.
I realized that what I was doing was creating a series of challenges for the squirrels. They mastered each type of feeder and moved on to the next like students in a physics class.
Now they’ve graduated. My consolation is that my squirrels are probably smarter than your squirrels.