Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Shades of Caddyshack: Outwitting Squirrels

When I was six I announced to my parents that I wanted a pet squirrel.  There was a coat closet under the stairs in our apartment that was under utilized and I was determined to turn it into a squirrel habitat.  Never mind that I had never seen a live squirrel in my urban neighborhood, ever, or that the closet habitat had no source of natural light, and that in my mind it would just live in the dark except for when I chose to visit it and occasionally throw it acorns I found at the park, I was determined.

Until I'd read Outwitting Squirrels I hadn't realized there was such a huge division between bird people and squirrel people, much like there are cat people and dog people.  Clearly, from the age of six, I knew which side I was on, and Adler does a pretty good job in his book proving that I chose the right side.

Adler admits to having casually set out a bird feeder, only to find it ravaged by squirrels due to easy access.  Then, like the maniacal groundskeepper Karl in Caddyshack, he purchases and mounts an increasing array of feeders designed to keep the rodents out... if he can only find the right place to do so.  Squirrels, it turns out, are true acrobats in the animal world, diving and climbing and jumping from incredible angles and dangling from various positions in their attempt at a good, free meal.  They aren't easily discouraged and, compared to birds, appear to be a lot smarter about using the tools at their disposal.  In all, Adler explains how he went through almost two dozen different feeders in his attempts to keep those furry little creatures from eating the seed intended for the winged creatures.

In studying his enemy, Adler learns and shares a great deal of information you would normally expect on a dry nature documentary.  But who would watch a dry documentary about squirrels when you could read one outrageous story after another describing how, in a matter of hours, squirrels have once again defeated Adler in his attempts to keep them away.  Then there are the facts. I had assumed (as many do) that squirrels keep a memory of where they bury their nuts.  Not true.  In fact, squirrels are communal animals, socialists if you will, who bury food for the community.  Come spring when they go rooting around for food, they are merely sniffing out the grounds where they suspect others in their community may have buried things.  They have territories, which they share, and they will chase away those digging in their food beds, but otherwise whatever they find is a question of luck, not memory.  Fascinating!

There is a rather dry section – a good middle third of the book – devoted to brands, models, and design features of specific squirrel-proof bird feeders.  The book is very serious in its subtitle.  But After reading it twice for fun I can promise that those pages about feeder brands can be easily skipped and the rest of the book enjoyed for its tales – unless, of course, the reader is truly interested in birding and finding the right feeder.  Then the book doubles as a valuable resource written by someone who has seemingly tested them all!

Practical, funny, short non-fiction.  Perfect for fall as the family Sciuridae is out and about, stealing from birds and acting like the socialists they are.

Outwitting Squirrels:
101 cunning stratagems to reduce dramatically the egregious misappropriation of seed from your birdfeeder by squirrels 
by Bill Adler, Jr 
Chicago Review Press 1988


tanita✿davis said...

I'm sure it's wrong that this amuses me so much...

david elzey said...

i also think the fact that the author has to go to such incredible lengths to outwit the squirrels actually says something about the lack of wit in birds.

at least he isn't advocating slingshot-like squirrel launchers that you see all over youtube.

Anonymous said...

This is the kind of really good book that most kids miss. Maybe a good book trailer of the squirrel/bird encounter would get them to read it.

david elzey said...

it would have to look like a discovery channel documentary, where the very serious narration is undercut by the wackiness. or maybe the doc is the study of the man dealing with "intruders."

oh, to be young, debt-free, and full of time to make films...

Sarah Stevenson said...

It's really the subtitle that gets me: the "101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels." Misappropriation of Seed! HA!

david elzey said...

yeah, and don't let christine o'donnell hear about that seed misappropriation either!