In honor of February being National Bird Feeding Month, and last weekend in particular the Great Backyard Bird Count, my Garden Group hatched a plan to make bird feeders as lures. This seemed like cheating to me – would these birds come to your party without the bribe? Are you really that popular? Our gal Sally had a simple design for us, made of a paper plate in a plastic holder, smeared with peanut butter, sprinkled with birdseed, and suspended with three pieces of cord from whatever likely spot there was to hang it from.
All very well, but the real problem with bird feeders is the gate crashers. Squirrels. Ann Arbor, a city proudly full of trees, abounds with native Michigan Gigunda Squirrels. These guys are the heftiest, fattest squirrels I’ve ever seen – I suspect them of being cross-bred with woodchucks. For unknown reasons, and in spite of their short legs, small ears, and lack of grace, they are called Fox Squirrels. I put my bird feeder outside my window and waited.
First to find the goods were the chickadees. Beside themselves with joy, they blasted in and out of the seedy landing pad, which barely swayed under their weight. Then the fox squirrel showed up. He climbed the little shepherd’s crook with only slight trouble, but when he went for the paper plate it tipped up, swung wildly, and though he attempted to recover through some impressive acrobatics, dumped him on the ground. It was really entertaining, and he tried twice more before giving up. As planned, the peanut butter kept the seeds on the plate for the birds.
But soon after that a small red squirrel came along, and being about half the size of the Gigunda was more successful. Time for plan B. I reloaded the plate with seed laced with red pepper flakes. Mr. Red snuck up, grabbed a pawful, ate it, ran off, and did not come back. Chili peppers taste like that so mammals will leave them alone, and let the birds, which can’t taste hot pepper, disperse their seeds far and wide. The chickadees seemed happy to collaborate in this scheme. I don’t know how happy the squirrel was.