My wife, Jean, pops popcorn for the squirrels. If she sees a squirrel looking up at the kitchen window, she’s sure it’s saying, “Please make us some more popcorn.” So she pops up a double batch and puts it out in the yard under the bird feeders. (No salt, no butter.)
For many of us who feed birds, squirrels are our archenemies, our nemeses. Squirrels have nothing but time on their paws and an insatiable hunger. They’ve got all day to try various routes and techniques to reach the goodies on any given feeder. They persevere with a try-and-try-again technique, seeming to learn from each approach that fails. Several YouTube videos demonstrate this persistence and ingenuity.
There are a variety of defenses against these tree rodents. For my feeders that are mounted on a pole, I use a cone-shaped steel baffle around the pole about 5 feet off the ground. A squirrel will start climbing the pole, look up and see just the underside of the baffle—and it’s baffled. “Where did the feeder go?” Then it turns, head down, and slides back down the pole. I thought about greasing the pole, but that would not be good for any bird that happened to get the gunk on its feathers.
In the winter, when snow piles up on the baffle, it often tips it just enough so that an enterprising squirrel can crawl onto the baffle’s snow pack and get to the feeder. Then I use a double deterrent technique of knocking the snow off the baffle and spraying the pole with water. It freezes on contact and makes the pole slippery without being a hazard for birds.
I put a dome or shield over my hanging feeders to keep these furry bandits from coming over the roof and descending the chain. Guidelines for feeder placement suggest that the feeder be at least 6 feet off the ground and 10 feet or more from trees, fences, or other “launching sites.”
We have several feeders suspended from our 2-foot roof overhang. But the squirrels can climb up the stucco on the front of the house and leap to the feeders, so I’m using one feeder inside a wire cage with 1-inch squares and another feeder with a spring mechanism that closes if a squirrel gets onto it. I’m having mixed success.
Maybe the popcorn keeps them off the feeders.
One of the benefits of putting out popcorn is that it often attracts crows. They really seem to like popcorn. Some of them even try to fit three or four kernels into their beak at once. Then they carry them off to peck them apart and eat them in private, away from any competition.
Having crows in the yard gives me a chance to study them up close and personal. I think we’re getting a family group of four crows, two adults and two first-year birds. First year crows’ eyes change from a dark blue-gray into a root beer brown. Adults’ eyes are black. Youngsters also have a brownish hue to their necks and napes. When they come in for popcorn, I get a chance to observe those features of immature crows that are harder to see at a distance.
This family group seems to hang around our neighborhood, and they’re not very tolerant of any crow that intrudes from somewhere else. They usually rise up and drive it off, giving quite a show of chases, dives and swerves with accompanying caws and squawks.
The crows are, however, very cautious about any confrontation with a squirrel. If there’s a squirrel near the popcorn, the crow usually approaches “side-on,” side stepping toward the popcorn, showing its largest profile to the squirrel to see how it will react. If the squirrel doesn’t seem to notice the crow, then the crow will pick up a nearby kernel and hop away.
But if the squirrel comes at the crow, the crow will immediately leap into the air and flap away just enough to get out of the squirrel’s range. I think if a squirrel got ahold of a crow’s leg, it could bite through it or at least severely injure the bird.
I’ve seen a Cooper’s hawk take a dive at the popcorn-eating crows, but it was a juvenile hawk and I’d say not too bright. The crows all took off and chased the Cooper’s across the street and into the trees. It was not heard from again that afternoon.
Our next-door neighbor Larry told Jean that if she keeps putting out popcorn for the squirrels, pretty soon they’ll begin to expect a movie schedule. I’m sure she’ll find a way to get them one.
Clay Christensen lives and writes in Lauderdale. His book, The Birdman of Lauderdale, is available at local book and bird stores and online at BirdmanBook.com. You can hear Christensen talk about how to attract birds to your yard in winter on Monday, Nov. 10, at 6:30-7:45 p.m. at the St. Anthony Park Library, 2245 Como Ave.