Where there's a willing squirrel, there's a way

I walked into the store with my duplicate Christmas bird book. For days I had been thinking of what I might exchange it for. I made my way past fountains, a huge variety of bird feeders, racks of books and bird-song tapes, and ... hmmm ... squirrel feeders.

I already had two squirrel-proof bird feeders filled with thistle and black-oil sunflower seed. I even had a plastic squirrel baffle, which wasn't entirely effective with suet cakes. I had always felt a little sorry for the squirrels, though.

A few years earlier, I had fastened a wooden chair-type squirrel feeder to the black walnut tree closest to the kitchen window, and supplied the spike with dried corn cobs. A whole family of squirrels had descended, although it seemed that one particular squirrel was getting very, very fat.

Thinking of the four squirrels who took second-place to the fat one, I was drawn to a new type of squirrel feeder - a sort of gymnasium. Three dowels radiated from a central block of wood. Each dowel had a spike at the end to hold a corncob. I bought it and mounted the pinwheel on a porch railing so we could watch the circus from the kitchen window.

The squirrels soon discovered this strange new device, and quickly learned to climb down to the lower corncob instead of out to the upper ones and suddenly swinging to the bottom. But their added weight also caused the corncobs - and the squirrels, I presume - to slip off the spikes and fall to the ground below. So I drilled a small hole through the end of each dowel and wired the corncobs on.

This worked fine, and we could watch the squirrels hang upside down by their toes, grab kernels, and then scramble onto the porch railing to eat. However, one day I ran out of corncobs. And so did the nursery and the hardware store. None of the usual stores had any.

But the nursery had a new item. The ultimate corncob which, according to the package, would replace 10 or 12 real corncobs. It was yellow, waxy, and looked as if it had been molded in an orange juice can. It was designed to be threaded onto a long metal screw-eye and held in place with a large washer and nut. It could then be hung from a tree with another screw-eye.

Curious, and without other recourse for my squirrels, I bought one. Not wanting to drill another hole in the already hollow black walnut tree, I hung the ultimate corn cob from a five-foot-high iron plant hanger. Would any squirrel even reach it there? But just to be sure, I wired the screw-eye tightly to the hook.

No squirrel came near it for at least two days. Then I saw a squirrel had discovered it, and was hanging upside down, chewing on the corn-cake. A few days later we had a hard rain, and late one evening, I noticed that the ultimate corncob was lying on the ground. I just didn't feel like retrieving it.

The next day, the whole thing - waxy corn, long metal screw-eye, the large washer and nut - had disappeared. "How far can a squirrel drag something like that?" I thought. So I searched under the kitchen window. Nothing. In ever-widening circles I covered the whole backyard. Nothing.

I had to find it. "Maybe the squirrels tried to drag it to their nest," I thought. I headed for the small woods where they had lived in other years. But this year, they hadn't been coming from that direction.

Suddenly, I realized that I had seen a squirrel at the bottom of our hill, coming from the opposite direction. I decided to search the other side of our property.

There, near where I had seen the squirrel, on a small patch of unmelted snow, I found bright yellow sprinkles and a smatter of squirrel tracks.

A few steps further, I discovered more sprinkles and squirrel tracks. That was the only snow left in the yard, so I walked on, not knowing where to look next. I was already more than 100 feet downhill from where I had seen the corn lying the night before.

I eventually reached the bottom of our neighborhood storm drain, where balls, mashed juice boxes, and even a tennis racket have floated through the culvert and downhill around the rocks. I was nearly 200 feet from the house and had pretty much given up on finding the corn and the screw-eye. I spotted a bright round thing wedged in some rocks, half-submerged, and so I thought I'd rescue yet another tennis ball.

But it wasn't a tennis ball. It was the ultimate corncob, now considerably worn down. I pulled it from between the rocks and took it home. This time I mounted it on the single squirrel-feeder spike, and it was eaten in a day.

I did find one other small patch of yellow sprinkles and tracks near the first two. It was very near a fence and thick brush, so whatever dragged the corn must have given up at the barrier and tried another route. I can't say for certain that a squirrel moved the corncob all that way, but if it was, I'll bet it was the fat one.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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