Ask the Ark Lady: Rebel Rodent & Squirrel Negotiations

Question: I am having a terrible time with the squirrels near my home. Can you give me any tips on how to handle their destructive habits?

Squirrelly Over Rodent Rebels

Answer: Learn the fine art of squirrel negotiations!

Trivia of interest:

· 20% of all gas grill owners have to replace squirrel chewed hoses.

· Squirrel proof bird feeders have spawned a multimillion dollar industry (4 million was the figure released in 2000).

· Squirrel invasions include destruction of wood structures, plants, gobbling up large quantities of bird food, and these rascally rodents sometimes even bite the hands that feed them.

I don’t have room to list all the strategies involved in “squirrel proofing” but you can check with the local stores that specialize in squirrel proof products. It is always fun to watch the entertaining footage of squirrels attempting to overcome various challenges, too.

Here is my story—it does have some insights hidden within.

My relationship with the local wildlife has been a good one. Since my move to a smaller mountain community, above the lake and adjacent to the national forest, the savvy squirrels and I developed an agreement. The symbiotic relationship has worked well throughout all the years I have lived here…until recently.

Other than trying to get me to veer off the road during their roadway Olympic dash competitions, the squirrels have not been much trouble. I’ve managed to avoid those highway events successfully. I believe the activities are really cleverly disguised sacrificial strategies: Keep the coyotes busy clearing off the road kills so the faster and more adaptable squirrels don’t have to worry about predators.

I don’t normally feed wild animals but my new home has traditionally catered to the avian clans. The antique feeder erected here was graced by flocks of feathered friends who rotated feeding times and shared. Each species patiently waited their turn for birdie snacks by sitting on the antler perch, branches of the nearby pines, or on the railing of the deck. (Bird dramas do occur away from the feeder.)

My contract with the squirrels was that in exchange for leaving the bird feeders alone, they would be rewarded with small rations of sunflower seeds and peanut hearts. Life was good. Then it happened, the squirrel delinquent arrived. Adolescents are a challenge, but rest assured that this rodent rebel was a real rule-breaker.

First, he broke the dish that dispensed the squirrel snacks—dashing it to bits as he dumped it off the deck and onto the rocks below. The motivation as to why he destroyed it, when the other squirrels had not, may never be revealed.

I talk to animals–so I informed him that his behavior was not acceptable. However it did not keep me from honoring my agreement with the other squirrels and I simply placed their treats on the railing nearby. The lecture didn’t help–the rascally rodent ignored those treats and instead began tossing the seeds out of the bird feeder. Not just a little bit mind you, he actually dumped over five pounds of bird seed onto the ground (the feeder holds ten pounds easy).

This ruse was disguised as a quest for his favorite food—which happened to only be on the railing and not in the bird feeder. I suspect he made a deal to feed the other rodents in the area, because mice and rats love bird seed. However, I believe this was really a strategy to keep the rattlesnakes fed so they wouldn’t pose a risk to him. After all, rattlers like to follow the mice and rats into areas where bird feeders attract them. The ample food supply turns the mice into plump tender morsels considered a delicacy in the reptilian world. The best part, from the snake perspective, is that this motivates the rodents to all congregate in one area and soon the area becomes a regular snake smorgasbord!

When all the squirrel delinquent’s efforts failed to reap the benefits, (favorite treats were never found in the bird feeder) his actions quickly extinguished. In retaliation, he gnawed the feeder and damaged the wood so that the Plexiglas siding dropped down and prevented the distribution of seed to everyone. It was then that I recognized that he really was a selfish little so-and-so.

During this process he understandably developed the impression that I was an idiot. In his frantic efforts to help me get a clue, he began to cart whole peanuts down my hillside (44 stairs at last count) and onto my deck. There he would sit until he attracted my gaze. Once he gained my attention he began to repeatedly thrust the peanut toward me. He wanted me to get the message, “I want squirrel snacks, I want squirrel snacks.” I already knew he wanted whole peanuts–but the animal trainer in me refuses to reinforce bad behavior.

Now savvy people know that you can reduce garden digging, and prevent the destruction of vent screens, by caching critters simply by distributing peanut hearts instead of whole peanuts. The real criminal of the neighborhood is the uninformed part-timer who hands out those peanut missiles. The human miscreant is creating havoc by creating bossy rodents who now demand premium handouts instead of being happy with what they manage to forage–or charm from the other residents.

If that were not enough, the rowdy rodent then began the destruction of the antlered perch–once so loved by the birds. I am sure it was to get even—and perhaps to get some minerals into his system. Alas, he then began to further scratch and chew the feeder and that was the last straw. The big antique feeder now sits empty and has been that way for months.

Instead, I now only use the bird feeding cylinder that hangs from the branch of a nearby pine. At first the delinquent dropped by daily to check to see if I came around to my senses. Then he pondered how he might get to the new feeder. Nutkins discovered that he couldn’t jump from the railing to the feeder. He also can’t climb up the tree and down the bough. Nor can he reach the suet feeder placed nearby. This really made him mad.

I discovered his temper when he tossed a green pine cone onto the windshield of my truck and cracked it. At this point we both called a truce. I no longer parked under the pines and he seldom drops by. But once in a while he traverses the stairs and appears on my deck—with a whole peanut…and another attempt to see if he can get through my thick skull. I gotta say I admire his tenacity!

Summary:

-Wildlife feeding creates many problems for humans and animals.

-If you insist on feeding birds, make sure your feeders are on perimeter areas to avoid rodent infestations.

-Keep hedges and plants surrounding feeders low or clear to avoid or prevent danger from rattlesnakes.

-Peanut hearts help reduce garden digging and caching (storage) of food items.

-Avoid endangering others by veering over the double yellow line into oncoming traffic during squirrel Olympic events.

-If you hit a squirrel, remember that road kills are the predators’ version of fast food.

-Squirrels have sharp teeth and can chew up many things. They can also inflict serious bites.

-Some tools that have worked to deter squirrels include: baffles, shock, sheet metal, Slinkys® or plastic bottles over wires and poles, inverted pots, grease and a wide variety of hot peppers and related items. Some people trap and move the squirrels to the residences of their enemies.

-Switch to less squirrel attractive bird food such as safflower seed, niger (thistle seed) and suet without the added goodies.

Thanks for your questions. Keep them coming!

Diana L. Guerrero is known as “The Ark Lady.” Guerrero lives in the mountains of southern California and is an animal behavior consultant, speaker, and author. Questions for this column may be submitted via www.arkanimals.com or sent via mail to PO Box 1989-215, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315.

About Ark Lady

+ArkLady is a cyber-jungle trailblazer, author & speaker. Join thecyber-jungle explorer email list or connect via ARKlady website.