It's the middle of the night and you're flipping channels trying to find a boring program to make you sleepy. Happening upon a National Geographic nature program about songbirds native to the East Coast, you toss the remote on the coffee table, settle back in the cushions, and prop your feet up - this will have me yawning in five minutes!
But thirty minutes later you find yourself sitting up watching in fascination as the narrator describes these delicate, beautiful little creatures, and you know you're hooked. You need to get a bird feeder so you can do your own birdwatching.
You select a lovely cedar feeder with an overhanging roof to protect the seeds from rain and snow. You pick out a pretty wrought iron hanging pole about six feet tall, to protect your little visitors from pouncing cats and pesky squirrels. You bring home a huge 50-pound bag of sunflower seeds, the preferred food of a wide variety of birds.
You choose the ideal location for the feeder-right outside your kitchen window, where you'll have a great view while you eat breakfast each morning. Finally you're all set, and you await your avian friends with great anticipation.
It takes a couple of days for the birds to discover your new feeder, but once they do, you find it hard to leave the kitchen. The show is so entertaining that you wonder how you could have overlooked these little miracles of nature for so many years - until one day you glance out the window and see that the birds have scattered.
A big fat squirrel is sitting on top of your lovely cedar feeder, reaching over to snatch seeds out of the tray and weighing down the slender arm of your pretty wrought iron pole in the process. But the worst part is that the birds are nowhere in sight, and your sunflower seeds are disappearing fast.
In the second edition of his book, Outwitting Squirrels, Bill Adler, Jr., expresses his opinion that "squirrels are just common thieves shrouded in fur, with cute, fluffy tails. If you feed birds - beautiful, majestic, creatures of the wind - then you must also curse squirrels. And work to outwit them."
Given the fact that it's against the law to shoot squirrels inside the city limits, you have to come up with a foolproof solution to save your seeds, and make it clear to the pesky intruders that you've put up a birdfeeder, not a squirrel feeder. But how can you do that, if you don't speak squirrelese?
The easiest way to convince squirrels that they aren't welcome at your feeder is also a natural and environmentally friendly one. Squirrels and other mammals can taste the hot sensation of the capsaicin in chili peppers, but birds do not. One taste is all it would take for a squirrel to learn its lesson and move on to other feeding grounds.
There are commercially available capsaicin mixtures, or you can make your own potent additive using ground cayenne pepper. Just sprinkle the powder over the seeds and mix them gently before filling the feeder. But don't stir them vigorously or stand over the feeder while you pour them in, or you'll endure a cloud of hot pepper fumes.
Since squirrels are quite adept at climbing the poles from which feeders hang, several companies sell metal or plastic cylinders with a closed top that can be affixed to the pole so that the squirrel can only climb so far without being able to reach the feeder.
You can easily make one of these for much less by using a piece of 4" galvanized steel vent and a flat cover plate from the heating department of your local hardware store. Even an empty 2-liter soda bottle with the bottom cut off, clamped to the feeder pole, can be an effective barrier.
Other types of baffles include flat plates and wide inverted cones too wide for a squirrel to navigate around them. But with any of these types of baffles, you have to be sure you place them high enough on the feeder pole, because squirrels can jump six feet or more, straight up from the ground.
If you want to get a good laugh out of ousting the pesky critters, you can always invest in an electronic squirrel-proof feeder such as the Yankee Flipper.
The weight-activated feeding perch is calibrated so that when the squirrel's weight activates the motor, he suddenly finds himself on an amusement park ride as the feeder twirls around and sends the little interloper flying. With the Twirl-a-Squirrel Electronic Baffle, you can even use your own feeder.
Dozens of specialty feeders are available that have been purposely designed to outwit squirrels. Although they may be able to get to the feeder and lick their little lips when they see the seeds, they can't quite get to them.
A feeder with a weight-activated perch will cause the seed tray door to slam shut the moment a squirrel climbs onto it. Dual-grid feeders are designed so that the feeder and perches are cleverly surrounded by a metal grid with holes large enough to allow the birds inside to eat, while keeping squirrels out.
Counterbalanced feeders such as the RollerFeeder allow birds to perch and eat in peace, but if a squirrel climbs on top, the two-sided hopper stays upright while the exterior shell pivots around, unceremoniously dumping the rodent robber on the ground below.
Of course, you always have the option of embracing the idea that squirrels have to eat, too. After all, the question is just as valid in the animal kingdom as it is with people: Can't we all just get along?
You can either set up feeders specifically for the squirrels, offering them feed corn, peanuts, and other delicacies. Or you can let them take their turn at the bird feeder from time to time, and just knock on the window or yell at them to give the birds a chance. At least that would save you the time, trouble, and cost of squirrel-proofing your feeder.
But if you want to keep your feeder exclusive, there are plenty of options available that will help keep your birdseed secure and available to birds only. And then you can emerge triumphant, a winner from your war with the squirrels.