Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 45

November 7-14, 2002

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Squirrel Proof, at Last

Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.
— Attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson in an 1889 lecture.

I don’t figure Earl and Jackie LaBatt are expecting a crowd at their hilltop home in the shadows of Red Mountain in Arlington, Vt., but they have come up with an idea with as much appeal for those who tend backyard bird feeders as a better mousetrap would have for those who host mice in the pantry.

Seeing that squirrels, like mice, are rodents, perhaps there’s an association between a trap to catch the latter and a device to thwart the former. For ages, both deterrents have been long sought by the populace.

A squirrel is as persistent, ingenious and successful in feasting on seeds in bird feeders as the mouse is in dining on cheese and anything else in the household larder. To rid the premises of both is indeed a challenge, take my word for it. I’m currently fighting both.

As I recall from my boyhood days in New England, an early, massive and continuing invasion of field mice is a harbinger of a severe winter. If so, we’re in for a humdinger. Daily, I’ve trapped at least one mouse among the stores on the shelves in the basement.

And, when in Vermont for eight days recently, each day I carted from Aunt MiMi’s house mice of various sizes that had moved in for what they thought would be a comfortable winter. MiMi catches her mice in a Haveahart trap, which means each one caught alive had to be taken as far from the house as possible for release to ensure it doesn’t return.
Since I returned to Riviera Beach in North County, neighbors and friends tell me they, too, are battling marauding mice in numbers not seen in many years. So if more mice does mean more snow, ice, blustery winds and cold, we’re in for an old-fashioned winter.

Those of us who faithfully feed a variety of songbirds over the winter months realize a bad winter with lots of snow means those other pesky rodents with mouse-gray bushy tails will be more active than usual in their pursuit of seeds within bird feeders. This is where Earl and Jackie LaBatt come in, which we’ll get into in a moment. But first …

Burton’s Brainstorm
Regular readers know the Burton spread on the shores of Stoney Creek has long been a haven for bushytails. Not infrequently a dozen of them can be seen at one time romping around the east lawn — when they’re not aloft snatching sunflower seeds from bird feeders, many of which are erroneously advertised as squirrel proof.

Like MiMi 400 miles away in southern Vermont, I have black walnut trees in the lawn, and the nuts from these trees are a staple for squirrels both here ‘n there. But whether here or there, squirrels prefer sunflower seeds, possibly because they’re opened more easily for their meats. Of course they don’t have the walnut’s green, bitter casing.

Both MiMi and I learned long ago that walnuts have to go, preferably via the squirrels, and at a distance. If squirrels chomp their way through the green coating on a cement or stone walk, their scatterings leave practically indelible stains from the soft, dark brown inner side of the exterior green.

To combat this, we periodically gather the nuts in a bushel basket and put them in nearby wooded areas where they’re still available for squirrels to eat or store for the winter. It’s a tiresome task, for it involves much bending.

Last week, I had an idea. I withheld the usual daily ration of peanuts for the squirrels and placed sunflower and other seeds only in the more squirrel-proof bird feeders. Know what? Five days later, nearly every black walnut was gone, cached away by bushytails that obsessively have to gather food for winter.
So much for my latest brainstorm.

Why Didn’t I Think of That?
Now to the brainstorm of Earl and Jackie LaBatt, who live next door to MiMi, enduring the presence of squirrels galore as they feed songbirds. They had an idea to keep squirrels out of the feeders — and it works. It’s a classic one of those “why didn’t I think of that” things.

The LaBatts hung a guy wire 10 or so feet above the ground and strung it horizontally with clear plastic two-liter soda bottles as one would with pearls on a string. At a few places on the guy wire, they hung bird feeders that had been consistently raided by squirrels. Gone now are the squirrels — but not the birds nor the seed left for them in feeders.

The whole shebang works on a simple principle, and you can make it as long as you like if you have enough bottles. The squirrel climbs a tree to which one end of the guy wire is attached, then tries to venture out to the feeders. But when it reaches the bottles, its weight makes the bottles turn — and off squirrel goes. Squirrels can’t tightrope the bottles as they would a bare guy wire.

Between each bottle is a spacer, which can be a three-quarters-of-an-inch piece of plastic pipe or a thin slice of old garden hose. Drill a hole in the center of the bottom of each bottle and also the cap. String them; then, by fashioning a sturdy piece of wire into a hook at each end, you can hang as many bird feeders as you want.

It’s good-bye squirrels at the feeders, but let’s not forget them. Scatter some corn and seeds to keep them around. They’ve got to eat, too. In the meantime, it’s quite a show to watch squirrels try and try again to navigate the bottles. You’ll have the best of both worlds.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly