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Great Squirrel War threat rebuffed

The Great Squirrel War ended about eight years ago when we installed a bird feeder that the crafty, furry critters were unable to climb.

Last month, it looked like our backyard squirrels were poised to resume the conflict. We watched in horror as long-tailed commandos made the jump from our catalpa tree, and shuddered when some landed on the feeder.

We should have known that such a day of reckoning would eventually come. We planted the catalpa in 2013 and it has turned into a big, healthy tree. That meant, inevitably, that the catalpa would branch out toward the feeder and that the squirrels, ever watchful, would seize the opportunity to raid the birds’ bounty of seeds and suet.

I’d like to think we are peaceful people who strive to live in harmony with our backyard wildlife. And, as victors in The Great Squirrel War, we get to set the rules for peace and harmony on what is supposedly our personal property.


Let me make this clear – we have nothing but admiration for our squirrel brothers and sisters, who we consider the most visible four-legged ambassadors of the world outside our door. We watch them constantly as they scurry across the yard and up the trees. They are great survivors and amazing gymnasts. We’d miss them if they were gone.

We just don’t want them on the bird feeder.

It’s painful to remember the constant skirmishes that marred the peace and harmony of our backyard before the installation of the squirrel-proof bird feeder.

I got our first bird feeder a couple of years after we moved to Flossmoor. It was a present for Patty and we hung it on the beloved ash tree outside our kitchen window. It was an instant hit as we discovered the vast enjoyment of having birds flock to a feeding area just yards from the house.

However, we hadn’t thought about the squirrels, and how they’d also like a major piece of the action. Before long, we knew that the squirrels considered the bird feeder to be their own personal food trough. 

“Wait a minute,” we said to ourselves. “Aren’t we the ones with the superior brains? How can we be constantly outwitted by small rodents that don’t go to school or pay taxes?”
The war, once begun, continued for a handful of years. Every morning we’d fill the feeder, a wood structure that looked like a house. Before leaving for work we’d sit down and look at the feeder, knowing full well that a parade of squirrels was ready to show up for breakfast.

A squirrel, a tree, a feeder. (Tom Houlihan/H-F Chronicle)

Sometimes we’d pound on the window and occasionally we’d go outside to yell at them. The squirrels would go away but not for long. It always led to the obvious question: who’s fooling who?

We asked around for advice on how to deal with the squirrels and visited stores that specialize in bird seed. We put a baffle over the feeder but the squirrels just scurried to the other side. We got some hot pepper that was advertised as a squirrel deterrent when added to bird seed. The squirrels kept munching away.

Patty pointed out that the squirrels would devour a day’s worth of bird seed in 10 minutes. That was infuriating to us, and a clear sign that we were losing the war. 

Finally, we got the squirrel-proof feeder. It has a baffle on the pole that truly prevents squirrels from climbing up to the feeders. We were able to declare ourselves the winners of The Great Squirrel War and have always been magnanimous in our victory. The birds are well-fed and the dozen or so squirrels that regularly run around our yard appear to be happy and healthy. They are welcome to eat any of the seeds that fall onto the ground.

Since the end of the conflict, we lost the ash tree and replaced it with the catalpa. It is already several times larger than when it was planted and its branches are moving closer to the house, a fact that the squirrels have obviously noticed. Little did we know what was about to happen.

A couple of weeks ago, Patty looked at the feeder and saw – here you can cue the dramatic music — a squirrel munching seeds on one of the platforms above the baffle. She went outside to shoo it away. Then, from the kitchen, she watched as the squirrel climbed back up the catalpa and onto a thin branch that was perfectly positioned for a jump onto the feeder. The squirrel launched itself from the branch onto the feeder. I’m guessing that it was an eight-foot jump.

She shooed it away for a second time then called me over. I watched as a squirrel climbed onto the same branch, then jumped. It missed the feeder. But moments later there was another try and this time it was successful. I got the distinct idea that more than one squirrel was jumping for the feeder.

At this point, let me say that it is pretty impressive to see a backyard animal make that kind of leap. I certainly would never try it. It also makes you wonder how they figured it all out. Was there some sort of rodent trigonometry being calculated high in remote corners of our property?

In any case, we knew right away that such aggressive action was a gross violation of the terms of The Great Squirrel War’s peace treaty, which we have been observing in good faith since 2012. 

Patty, who rose to field marshal rank during the last conflict, took immediate action to prevent further outrages. She went to the garage and got out a step ladder and a saw. She climbed the ladder and removed the offending branch. Some of the squirrels made subsequent jumps from two other branches. They’re gone too.

I took the accompanying picture after the squirrels attempted their jumps onto the feeder. This one was on our window sill, peeking into the kitchen. You can see the feeder and the catalpa in the background.

We sort of looked at each other through the window pane and I wondered if he (or she) was one of the long-tailed jumpers.

“Nice try, Buster,” I said, glad that peace and harmony had returned to our world.      

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