Man vs. Squirrel: an epic battle for feeder supremacy
'Larry,' 'Curly' and 'Thurman' give the author all he can handle
Receiving a "squirrel-proof" bird feeder for Father's Day opened up a can of worms for an ESPN producer in New Jersey, who went to great lengths to insure that it stayed "squirrel-proof."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Don Barone is an ESPN feature producer in New Jersey who received a "squirrel- proof" bird feeder as a Father's Day gift. Around here, we pretty much know that there is no such thing as "squirrel-proof," but the author went to great lengths (and spent quite a bit of money) to make sure his bird seed really went to the birds. This column originally appeared on espn.com.
It has come down to this. I'm currently the high bidder on eBay, for coyote urine.
Someone in Kansas outbid me on the red fox whiz.
Bobcat tinkle has no bids. I've got it bookmarked.
I've never seen a coyote in my life, but suddenly I'm desperately bidding $20.50 for 16 ounces of his No. 1. And it's even in "a convenient spray bottle."
Blame my wife, and Father's Day. Maybe Home Depot too, but I'm afraid that someday I might need an orange extension cord, so I'm leaving them out of this.
For Father's Day, my wife bought me a "Squirrel Proof" bird feeder and 25 pounds of something called "oiled sunflower seeds." It had a cardinal -- feathered, not St. Louis -- on the bag.
The squirrels have been having a free banquet in my backyard ever since.
It only took me two 25-pound bags of Home Depot bird seed to figure this out. How in the world were six-ounce birds eating three pounds of seed a day? And still flying?
Then I saw it. Perched on my state-of-the-art, just-for-birds feeder, a squirrel, casually eating away, knocking down some of the $10.99 seed to a couple of his friends on the ground.
Not being an "Animal Planet" kind of guy, I had no idea squirrels ate bird seed. I figured, if anything, they ate squirrel seeds. And some nuts.
Of course, I remember the nursery tales of squirrels storing nuts and seeds for winter -- I just had no idea they got their food from squirrel-proof bird feeders. Mother Goose left that part out.
So the battle began. Me against the squirrels. And like any guy on a me-vs.-them mission, I started out full-bore, giving it everything I had.
I dialed up Google.
Rodents got no chance when you have broadband.
Type in squirrels ... bird feeder .. problems ... wait .003 seconds. Up comes my answer, with 307,812 hits.
Squirrels it seems, don't need broadband.
SQUIRREL DEFENSE FUND: $21.98 (50 pounds of seed, gone) Two hours later, and a few more pounds of seed lost to the squirrels in the backyard, I find that of the 307,812 pieces of insightful Gooooooooogle advice boils down to this:
The squirrels, not Google.
I sense PETA problems.
While searching eBay for "NWT Squirrel Gun," I'm thinking two things: I don't actually want to harm the squirrels, I just want them to go eat in my neighbor's garden; and my wife will never let me buy this "Buy-It-Now New in Box Spring Loaded BB."
Back to Google, with no need yet for PETA to picket my backyard -- although the crowds might help keep the squirrels away.
Click on ADVANCED SEARCH, type in: squirrels, problems, bird feeder, minus gun, bullets, kill, animal rights.
Up pops ... pepper.
Google is now telling me I can get rid of the squirrels with a condiment.
All I've got to do is to get the squirrels to sneeze, and they'll leave. I can do that.
But it has to be cayenne pepper. Squirrels know pepper? Down the stairs, spin the Lazy Susan, stop at this bottle of pepper that's red. Off with the top, I look in, and being a guy, I sniff.
This is bad. It's not about squirrels sneezing, it's about lighting them up. Since my wife has never actually heard me spin the Susan before, she's now in the kitchen, and through my watering eyes and running nose, I put the now empty bottle of fire-pepper down and say to her, "I need your Stop & Shop card."
Experience tells her that this is not going to be good.
In the spice section, wife waiting in the minivan, I'm doing food-aisle math. I've got 25 pounds of premium seed, and cayenne comes in tiny little cans.
I buy 12.
In the backyard, my wife Barb hands me a white plastic Home Depot bucket and then, inexplicably, hurries inside.
In goes the seed, in comes the cayenne. Since the cans are small, and I have two hands, I do four cans at a time.
Unlike my kitchen, my deck has a breeze. Barb, I guess, sensed this.
I'm in a cloud of cayenne ... the sunflower seeds are still mostly black. I need walls, but Barb has already locked the door.
In the garage, sneezing, I mix in seven cans, holding one out for an emergency. Seeds and hands are now turning red. Mix, sneeze, mix, sneeze, back out to the feeder.
The sunflower seeds are now the same color as the Cardinal on the bag. Google and chat rooms have told me birds can neither smell nor taste this stuff. Sounds right to me -- on a diet of worms, I'm not sure I would want those senses to be highly evolved either.
Up goes the bird feeder with red seed. For good measure, I sprinkle the entire branch leading to the tree with the one leftover emergency can.
Birch trees look good in red.
Back on the deck, crouched behind the Char-Broil grill, I wait. Let the sneezing begin.
A tap on the window. My wife is pointing toward the white and red birch. Peering around the propane tank, I watch three bounding squirrels approach.
Knowing I've beaten the rodents with the business part of a burrito, I look back at my wife, proud hunter I am. She's laughing.
One squirrel is on the branch, two are hanging from the feeder. Not a sneeze to be heard.
To my horror, squirrels like it hot.
SQUIRREL DEFENSE FUND: $45.98 (add 12 cans of pepper) ADVANCED SEARCH 2: Same as before minus pepper, spicy, burn, sneeze.
Up comes ... soap.
I'm thinking, great, now I've got to wash them. I read on.
People, who actually use the word varmint in a sentence, say soap works. Slivers of it.
From what I'm reading, squirrels think we stink. Especially so when we put on the soap that's supposed to make us NOT stink. Dial will do it for my squirrel problem.
The family is asleep. I make bathroom raids.
Unfortunately, we must not stink too much. Every bar of soap is brand new. Not a sliver in sight. Sneaking back into my wife's bathroom, I see, in all its pink glory, a half-filled bottle of Estee Lauder BEAUTIFUL bath lotion.
Lotion ... soap ... same thing. And it has an easy pour spout.
Down the stairs, out the door, to the bird feeder. At dawn, I walk around the tree, using the easy pour spout to make a big, smelly circle of BEAUTIFUL. I rub some on the branch; the cayenne pepper helps it stick.
Back on the deck, I wait. In time, bearing coffee and the morning paper, my wife joins me. Leaving out some of the key details, I tell her that the squirrels are mine.
And here they come. Four today. Bounding toward what must be a circle of stink to them.
And right through it. Two up the tree, two running around on the ground. Four very sexy-sexy smelling Estee Lauder squirrels eating my bird seed.
SQUIRREL DEFENSE FUND: $90.98 (add in $45 replacement bottle of wife's favorite shower lotion) ADVANCED SEARCH: Same as above minus Eau de, perfume, Macy's.
Duh ... put something between them, the tree, and the food. Block the squirrel-through lane.
This I get. "Barb, I need your Home Depot card."
An hour later, I'm back with a huge, gray, plastic dome-like thing that conveniently fits between the squirrels and their dinner. And it's guaranteed to keep them hungry.
Since this is serious, I skim the directions. This goes here, that goes there, and the squirrels go flying off. Breaking only one key plastic part, I mount it above the bird feeder. I'm so sure it'll work, I even add a little seed. Come and get it, squirrel boys.
Back on the deck, smelling of peppery perfume, I wait.
And for not long.
Two squirrels up, one squirrel down. I get the sinking feeling they've seen this before. The squirrels are now triple-teaming me.
Suddenly, the dome tips, left, right, big dip, and then, sliding down the squirrel-proof dome, comes a squirrel.
One paw grabs the squirrel-proof feeder cage, swings around, and the squirrel clamps on with all four legs. Hanging upside down, he starts dishing out the seed.
I need a bigger baffle.
And it's sitting on my neighbor's front yard -- a big, plastic, replacement-window home remodeling sign. Hey the windows are in, they don't need the sign.
And even better, they're at the Cape.
So in my best, neighborly head-down-scanning-the-lawn-for-dog-poop walk, I walk over, lean on the sign, look, rest, and then calmly walk away with the home improvement sign in my hand. Slick.
In my backyard, I stick a screwdriver through it, and then hang it over the squirrel-proof dome, which hangs over the squirrel-proof bird feeder.
But it only covers one side. Back out front, I scan the street for more baffles. Nothing. All the other neighbors must have good windows.
Inside, looking up replacement windows in the yellow pages, I spot another baffle. It's in the sink.
A pizza pan. And the sauce will make it slippery. I bang the screwdriver through it, up it goes. Rube Goldberg vs. the squirrels.
This has to work. Between the rodents and the seed: a squirrel-proof bird feeder, a squirrel-proof dome, a borrowed home improvement sign, and a pizza pan with sauce and burnt pepperoni.
And it did. Twice. One slips down the replacement-window baffle, one down the cheese-and-pepperoni slide.
A squirrel heads back up the trunk, out the limb, paw out -- catching the squirrel-proof bird feeder in one paw, the other foot on the squirrel-proof dome, steady, eat.
Four pounds of junk in the tree only to discover I have the Wallendas of squirrels in my backyard.
SQUIRREL DEFENSE FUND: $130.97 (add $30 for squirrel-proof dome/feeder slide, $9.99 new pizza pan)
Paradise by the Google light, I hit delete, and go to bed. I dream of squirrels. Sunday morning, I sneak downstairs to make coffee and amends for the cayenne pepper/Estee Lauder experiment.
Almost to the coffee pot, one quick glance out the kitchen window. At exactly the same time, two squirrels on the squirrel proof feeder, look up together, and look right at me.
Please, not before the coffee and the sip of coke to wash down the vitamin. What little control I have hasn't perked yet.
So I'm out the back door in a 53-year-old shot. In one coordinated reach I grab the "Barb, come on, it's just 15 rocks" pile that I happened to leave on the patio table and hurl it at the bird feeder.
Having not thrown a fastball since the Carter administration, the mechanics were not quite right. The pile of rocks whistled 8 feet above the squirrels, rocketed straight through the red/white birch tree and crashed, loudly, into my neighbor Pete's garage. Loud enough, in fact, that the squirrels stopped eating for a minute, and turned in the direction of the echoing semi-attached garage.
I have gone out my kitchen door thousands of times, and other than squirrels, there's never been a living creature around. Never.
Until, this morning. Today, of all days, is the day my neighbor's youngest daughter, Sarah, goes off to college. Early morning send-off. Just 11 feet away is the whole family, wishing Sarah well. Maybe a dozen or so people, relatives from afar, mom, dad, grandmas.
Smiling at the soon-to-be college student, I look down to remember that I've come to say goodbye dressed only in blue boxer shorts. And white ankle socks.
From the crowd's point of view, they can't see the squirrels, or the squirrel-proof bird feeder. All they saw was a half-naked middle-aged white guy bolt out of his house and attack Pete's garage.
Sarah, if you are now in counseling at Marist, I'm truly sorry.
But there were squirrels there.
Walking back up the stairs to hide, I hear only stunned silence next door. Midway up, my son Jimmy shouts, "Dad ... the squirrels are back."
SQUIRREL DEFENSE FUND: $164.31 (add one-dish flower garden $25.00, six-pack of Corona $7.99, one lime 35¢, for Sarah's parents) ADVANCED SEARCH: Everything above minus rocks, pitching control, garage vinyl siding, therapy.
And there it is again, SHOOT THEM.
Closing the window to block out the noise of the sign, pizza pan and squirrel proof dome slamming into the squirrel-proof bird feeder as the squirrels climb on board, I click the "shoot them" link.
Fat squirrels and hungry birds made me do it.
I close the door -- just me, Dell and semi-automatics. Typing as quiet as I can, I dial up eBay, and type in GUN.
I'm in luck -- only 107,343 hits come up. I lock the door.
Type in BBs and "Don't actually want to kill the damn thing," and now only 36,011 hits. Next, I type in SQUIRREL. And there before me, 371 hits.
Someone beat me to this.
Dozens and dozens of guns that don't hurt. All of which say, "Don't use this to shoot squirrels." Perfect.
I bid. Next day at 2 a.m, I win, outbidding a guy in Ohio for some sort of spring-loaded, 10-shot, P-338 thing that "looks like the real thing."
I won it for 99¢, with only $10.00 shipping and 3-5 days of waiting.
My weapon comes USPS, in a padded envelope. It's plastic. It shoots plastic BBs. My bullets are orange.
I leave positive feedback anyway.
My wife does not.
She's not happy I've got a gun in the house. Plastic or not, orange BBs or not. "You better not be thinking of shooting those squirrels," she says. My son is on the couch, laughing.
In the weeks of my backyard battle, an unforeseen event happened. My family named the invaders. The squirrels have names.
No longer rodents, they are now Curly, Larry, and Thurman Thomas (my son, a Bills fan, picked that one).
Suddenly, they're family. And I'm about to put them in my plastic sights.
Walking up the stairs, I hear my son ask, "Was dad a geek in high school?"
The answer favored Curly, Larry and Thurman Thomas.
Late that night, I load my plastic BBs into my plastic pistol, yank on the button a few times, pick the 10-BB clip off the floor, and leave it locked and loaded, next to the Krispy Kremes.
Next morning, completely dressed, making coffee, I watch as Curly, Larry and Thurman Thomas bound toward the tree.
I pick up my gun, wipe off the donut glaze, and begin the hunt, after finding my slippers and reading glasses.
Out the front door -- Curly is wise now to the creak of the back door. Slowly I creep around the front of my house, a John Wayne song about the green berets is playing in my head.
Yeah, it's early morning, I'm sneaking around the side of my house with a gun in my hand. Chances are, the neighbors don't know it's a 99¢ plus $10.00 shipping, plastic with plastic orange BBs pistol. If they see me, they will only know it "looks like the real thing."
I've got to do this before my quintessential New England small-town volunteer SWAT team gets here.
From behind the purple morning glories, I pounce. Curly, on the squirrel-proof bird feeder, looks up, seeds in mouth. Larry, the chubby one on the ground with seeds in both paws, sits up. Thurman Thomas is doing the 40 to a nearby tree.
With reading glasses in the mums, I see Larry perfectly. I aim the black fuzzy thing in my hand in his direction.
Plastic click. In a blaze of orange, the plastic BB soars out of the plastic barrel. Larry has stopped chewing.
John Wayne stops singing, and is replaced by my mother's voice screaming in my head, "You GEEK, you just shot LARRY."
And then, after 10 feet of light speed, the orange plastic BB falls straight to the ground. Larry, 15 feet from the dangerous projectile, drops his seed.
On all fours, Larry, now joined by Curly, bounds up to my bullet, and sniffs it. Thurman Thomas leaves the tree.
Somehow, instead of them running from me, they now think I'm feeding them. To squirrels, orange plastic BBs are seeds.
SQUIRREL DEFENSE FUND: $175.30 ($10 for postage, 99¢ for plastic gun now being throwing at squirrels) ADVANCE SEARCH: Everything above plus nothing is working.
And, I'm told, I need to buy pee.
It's descended to this. Scrolling down, I see that even if I could whiz in a cup and get it past my family and outside, it's not the right kind of pee.
Somehow I need to get a coyote, red fox or bobcat to pee right where I need them to -- on a tree limb and under the feeder.
Coyote, fox, bobcat ... and I'm allergic to dogs and cats. Can these wild animals pee on command? I can't.
Billy in 'Bama saves me. On a critter-ridder site, he says you can actually buy pee ... in my local Ag store. Billy's never been to Connecticut.
A few towns over though, we do have a Weed & Feed/Ice Cream Parlor Store. It's built to look like a barn. Load up the minivan, Barb and we're off to buy coyote urine.
And maybe some ice cream.
Hay bales in the parking lot, plastic flowers in plastic pots, wood floors, a painting of a horse ... we're in the country and we hear Musak.
It also smells like dog food, cat food, horse stuff, and Double Chocolate Peppermint Rocky Dough Swirl. And the store is filled with big guys, with big belt buckles. And John Deere hats.
Standing there in Comfort Waist for donut eater cargo shorts, and a fake Hawaiian shirt with colorful flowers, I don't feel so good. I pass on the taste of Triple Berry Latte Chunk Freeze sample offered from Sam. I need boots in this store.
Walking with my wife on our eighth circuit of the store, I'm praying, "Please let me find the urine aisle by myself ... don't make me ask." Aisle P only has pet food.
I need to ask. "Ah, sir," I say, to a guy with a Deere hat and Craftsman buckle, "Do you sell coyote urine?" Please dear Lord, let it be right behind this guy.
It's not. Pulling on his Agway Feed T-shirt, he bellows across the store, "HEY, BOSS, DO WE SELL COYOTE PISS? THIS GUY HERE NEEDS SOME."
Barb, jumping in to save me, says, "We have a squirrel problem, we just need to buy some pee."
"BOSS, THEY HAVE A SQUIRREL PROBLEM. THEY NEED PISS FOR THE SQUIRRELS."
Over at the Ice Cream Parlor, Sam has stopped serving. Looking right at me, I know she's thinking that the guy in the Gap Hawaiian shirt needs to buy pee!
From the horse-feed section, the boss finally answers, "WE DON'T SELL PISS. JUST TELL HIM TO SHOOT THEM."
Holding open the door for Barb as she walks quickly through the trucks to the minivan, the feed sales associate leans over to me as I'm trying to leave, and in a whisper says to me:
"Use a 22."
Leaving the parking lot, I hear, "Don't even think of it." Barb wasn't talking about ice cream.
On Froogle, you can buy pee. Froogle gods prefer to call it "urine." "Whiz" just pulled up cheese spread. "Piss" got a report sent to Microsoft.
Coyote, red fox, bobcats, and something that makes deer horny. Having enough animal issues, I went with coyote pee. In a box.
On eBay, you can bid on coyote pee in a bottle, $11 plus shipping. Since I know the mailman, I went the urine-in-a-box route. With small-town mail, better the box than the bottle.
Three-to-five days insured. Coyote urine in the mailbox. Into the kitchen, on the island, open the envelope, take out the box, rip open the top, and ... OH MY GOD ...
To Barb's horror, I've just brought the Bronx Zoo into her kitchen, and it's on her new countertop.
We are downwind of the backside of the world. Coyote smelly. It's the gym lost-and-found room in August, it's a pack of wet dogs, it's getting skunked. I've opened up a box of the powdered smell of the Middle Ages.
Even a teenage boy, a species known to create and relish smells, has left the room.
This is Hall-of-Fame stink.
And the directions say I need to squeeze the packets to release the "bouquet."
My eyes are watering, my nose is running, and the STUFF ISN'T EVEN TURNED ON.
I'm beginning to hate birds.
Outside, my son's batting glove on the one hand I can afford to lose, I squeeze. And the smell gets worse.
I've now set the pee alive. It's the fish-market dumpster, the child-care poopy pail, the monkey house with the windows closed.
And I need to tie it to the tree branch.
With a twist tie. I have the smell of hell, in a baggy.
Curly, Larry and Thurman Thomas, your sinuses are about to be cleaned.
Coyotes are a squirrel's worst nightmare, second only to all-weather tires. One sniff of coyote pee, and they will be off my tree. That's what the package says.
And it worked. For 48 hours, no squirrels, or neighbors for that matter. Just birds -- a woodpecker, doves, and finally, a cardinal, just like on the bag.
I order a book on birds of Connecticut, and one for birds of Massachusetts, in case they get lost. I buy binoculars, and to see them even better, a gazebo. Screened.
I am a birdwatcher. Happy Father's Day, three months late.
"Dad, they're back." My gut tells me, it's not the neighbors.
In my 12-months-interest-free gazebo, binoculars on high, I see Larry, sitting on the coyote pee pouch, eating seed. Curly and Thurman Thomas are on the ground, hoarding seed.
They've figured out coyotes don't live in trees.
SQUIRREL DEFENSE FUND: $5,337.29 (two bird books $12, binoculars $24.95, Gazebo, screened, $5,125.00) ADVANCED SEARCH: All of the above plus Motion Detection Ultrasonic Directional Squirrel Sound Blaster, Desert Storm gas fired semiautomatic laser sighted BB pistol and they win.
Don Barone is a feature producer for ESPN. Squirrel or human, you can reach him at Don.Barone@espn.com.
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