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Outsmarted by a Squirrel

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By Ferida Wolff

I always knew that squirrels were smart but I didn't realize the extent of their problem-solving skills until my husband and I put up our first two bird feeders. Knowing that squirrels are great rooftop leapers, we put the feeders at each end of a freestanding T-pole about five-feet tall and set away from the house roof and any trees. Yet shortly after we loaded the feeders with seed, we noticed a squirrel perched on one of them, happily munching away.  It had run up the pole that suspended the feeders. What didn't it understand about "bird" feeders?

We decided we needed something more squirrel-specific.  There was this great new feeder at the bird store that had a thick cylinder with a bottom ring that would spin off (the video promised!) any squirrel that got on. We were impressed. Surely this would discourage those imps.  

 A few days later I looked over at the feeders and there was a squirrel hanging upside down, holding onto the metal hanger with its hind feet. It was reaching into the opening at the bottom with its dexterous little paws and helping itself to the seeds. It had figured out how to bypass the failsafe feeder system.

squirrel-on-bird-feeder.jpgObviously we needed another plan. We attached a large metal accordion-pleated disk baffle halfway up the pole. It was supposed to keep squirrels from being able to climb up to the feeders.

At first the squirrels ran up the pole as usual but came to a screeching halt under the umbrella-like barrier. We could almost hear them say, "Hmm. What is this?"  Each day for weeks the same performance was repeated and we started to think that we had solved the problem of squirrel thievery. Then one morning I saw a squirrel back on the feeders. How had it circumvented the baffle?

My husband and I took turns peeking out back. It didn't take long before we saw how the squirrel had gotten to the feeders. It stood about three feet away from the pole, then ran at top speed and flung itself partway up the pole, bounced off in an arc trajectory, and rebounded under the baffle to grab onto the base of the feeder. Then it pulled itself up and munched contentedly while we gaped in amazement.

"I wish I could have done as well in geometry," I said.

 My husband was speechless.

 Was it just one or two highly intelligent squirrels that were such creative problem solvers or were we dealing with a genus of geniuses? 

Squirrel foiling was becoming an obsession. Next we bought a tube baffle and saw the squirrels go into the tube and come back down. They would look up in confusion and repeat their attempts before finally giving up. No squirrel got to the feeders, though not for lack of trying. It seemed the ideal solution. But we weren't high-fiving yet. And good thing because before long the raiding returned. The tube baffle baffled them no more. We watched a squirrel go into the tube, turn around, and peek out the bottom. Then, as if it had gecko genes, it somehow shimmied its way up the tube, grabbed onto a feeder, and pulled itself up. 

This was unacceptable. These critters were scaring away the birds!

 Drastic measures were now called for. Weren't people smarter than squirrels? Certainly we would prevail. We put the metal tube midway up with the original disk baffle on top of it. Even if some really enterprising squirrel were able to get up the tube it wouldn't have a wide enough reach to get around the disk. And so it seemed.

As we sat down to dinner one night, however, my husband looked out the window and suddenly yelped, "I don't believe it. That squirrel jumped straight up!"

Sure enough, it was hanging by its front paws, the feeder swinging wildly with the squirrel's weight. It scampered onto the copper platform, reached in, and grabbed a sunflower seed. If there ever is an Olympic high-jump event for squirrels, this was the gold medalist. Intelligence plus brute strength won out over baffles.

We haven't tried to figure out any new ways to prevent the squirrels from getting to the feeders since witnessing out Olympian squirrel. It only seems fair that if they can come up with the answer to the problem of how to access the feeders, they should be allowed the reward.

I wonder if there is a Mensa category in nature for those with squirrel smarts.

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