First birds, then squirrels, now deer. What next?

It soon became evident that Bill, too, is a "birder," of sorts. Shortly after he moved into the apartment downstairs, feeders began sprouting up in various places on this sprawling acreage we share, holding every type of bird food imaginable, even for hummingbirds. I've yet to see a hummingbird on this East Coast island, and if there were one, I'm not sure how it'd sip frozen syrup. But minor details don't bother Bill, a dropout from seminary studies. He's the kind of guy who'd give you the shirt off his back, even if you weren't sure you needed one.

So I didn't have the heart to discourage his efforts by warning him about our local squirrels. He's a grown man, the owner of a construction firm; he'd figure it out.

It didn't take long. One evening he phoned to say it was a good thing I'd been gone that morning. While he was eating breakfast and watching birds, a persistent squirrel had "pushed his button." Forgetting himself, he'd run out in his undershorts with a BB gun.

Horrified, I cried out, "You can't shoot the squirrels! You might hit Mr. Squirrel!"

Then, of course, I had to tell him about the wild squirrel that had adopted me last August. Our friendship had begun cautiously, but it has progressed to the point where now, if I leave my kitchen window open, he'll hop in, confidently walk past my glaring cat, then jump into my lap and leisurely eat the peanut I have waiting. I told Bill this little guy is my best friend. Furthermore, a story about him had appeared in a newspaper, making him famous as well as greatly loved by neighbors and friends. Shooting Mr. Squirrel was out of the question.

Bill, relenting a smidgen, asked how he could tell him apart from the other squirrels. I told him that somewhere along the way Mr. Squirrel had experienced an unfortunate incident involving his tail. It was considerably shorter than other squirrels'. He's easy to spot.

The next evening there was a knock at my door. My humbled neighbor stood there with two heavy bags of expensive squirrel food. "Here," Bill said, heaving them. "You take care of the squirrels; I'll take care of the birds."

Though he pulls up every night in a silver BMW, Bill has no qualms admitting he'd once been homeless. Perhaps that explains his sympathetic heart. His feeders are always stuffed to overflowing. But once while gazing out my kitchen window I noticed cardinals and sparrows animatedly hovering under the barren lilac bush. I had no idea lilacs dropped anything of interest to birds, so I investigated. Chuckling, I saw that Bill had dumped an entire bag of seed there, next to a bowl of steaming water.

Meanwhile, he rigged a complicated contraption, something with guards and wires, supposed to deter squirrels. It definitely deters me from going to his front door, as more than once I've tripped over ropes and stakes. But from my upstairs window I daily peer down on a smug squirrel that's mastered the jungle gym, gratifying himself with fat sunflower seeds. Bill admitted trying out his BB gun one more time, carefully avoiding Mr. Squirrel.

But those harmless stings have utterly failed to discourage our bushy- tailed friends, so Bill tucked the gun away. I knew he would.

With that problem still unsolved, we've moved on. Early one morning as I let my cat out, she made an abrupt about-face. I looked up and caught my breath. There stood six deer not 75 feet away. Excited, I called Bill.

"Get outta here!" he shouted in disbelief.

"No, really, come see for yourself!" I countered.

I hadn't known he'd just stepped out of the shower, but within seconds he was standing in the snow with only a yellow towel wrapped about his waist, squinting into the morning sun. Except for the buck, the peaceful creatures ignored us. (In my four years here, I've only sighted one or two deer, maybe once a year.) In awe, neither of us spoke. I should have guessed what Bill was thinking.

A few minutes later, Bill, now fully dressed, hopped into his car and followed the deer up the hill. He came back and reported there had been nine of them. "Not a good sign," he lamented. "Means they're hungry."

I began to gather that the whole world, according to Bill, was hungry.

The next morning I spotted something unusual out on the field. Puzzled, I checked it out. Sometime during the night Bill had trekked out there and placed a bucket of homemade "deer food," a granolalike concoction with raisins and dried bananas. The squirrels loved it.

That afternoon he confessed his plan to buy two bushels of apples and a bale of hay. The apples and hay have yet to appear, and I suspect he thought better of the idea after I reminded him that it was very unlikely the deer would show up again. (Though I'd secretly looked forward to making apple pies.)

Now he's got me wondering what we'll be feeding next. I know there are raccoons out there, but I pray he draws the line at skunks.

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