Squirrels. You either love them or hate them but no one feels neutral about them. Thousands of dollars are spent each year by bird watchers on a variety of anti-squirrel feeders and devices. Finding one that works for you is often just a matter of trial and error. The plain fact is that there is no feeder that is completely squirrel proof all of the time. If you have enough money and time, you can usually come up with a combination of devices that may slow down the raids on your feeder, but because of their agility and persistence it is pretty hard to defeat a squirrel. But before you decide to go to war, it is best to know your enemy.
Squirrels are members of the rodent family, the order of “gnawing animals.” The gnawed remains of thousands of bird feeders of all kinds is prima facie evidence of this fact.
Squirrels have only one thing to do all day … eat. It is estimated that only two percent of their energy is used in reproduction. That leaves 98 percent for assaults on your bird feeder. They have often been referred to as “land sharks.” Biologists estimate that an adult gray squirrel can eat one and a half pounds of nuts or seeds a week. That means they eat more than twice their entire body weight every week. One source claims that a squirrel can eat three ounces of food at one sitting provided you don’t run at him yelling and waving your arms while he’s trying to enjoy his meal. It is easy to see why Americans spend more than 2 billion dollars a year on bird seed.
In the absence of a handy bird feeder buffet, squirrels eat a variety of foods. Hickory nuts seem to be a favorite food for several reasons, For one thing, the hickory nut is 29 percent fat, an important element in building up fat reserves. Opening the hard shells also helps them to sharpen their teeth, and that helps them when they are ready to destroy your bird feeder. In case you haven’t noticed, squirrels prefer black-oil sunflower seeds to other types of seed while they are dining at your bird feeder. Only when the sunflower seeds are gone, will they eat other kinds of seed including thistle. Our little furry friends are actually omnivorous. That means they eat everything, including tree bark and even mushrooms. Once source reports that squirrels even enjoy such foods as apples, peanut butter (peanut M & M’s are a favorite snack), and corn on the cob … butter or unbuttered. Squirrels will also occasionally eat bird eggs, baby birds, and even insects. It is one way they get the calcium they need.
Squirrels can often be seen stretched out between a tree and a bird feeder, or hanging upside down from an overhanging branch to reach the goodies. Other times they can be seen busily gathering and burying nuts and acorns. Although squirrels spend a lot of time hiding nuts, they usually cannot remember where they have buried them for more than about twenty minutes. Most of the nuts an individual squirrel recovers will not be the ones it buried, but caches buried by other squirrels. They locate stashed nuts by a sharp sense of smell, and can even find them buried under several inches of snow. Scatterhoarding is the term used to describe the squirrel practice of burying nuts over a wide area. They can scatterhoard at a rate of up to 25 nuts per hour.
Perhaps after learning more about your enemy, you will decide that he is not really your enemy after all. He is simply an energetic animal trying to make a decent living just like the rest of us. You may as well learn to love them because squirrels are here to stay. In his book Outwitting Squirrels, Bill Adler, Jr. says, “Like most people, I started out feeding birds and fending off squirrels. But one day, in the words of Henry Mitchell, gardening writer for the Washington Post, ‘I saw that I would have squirrels forever, and therefore, resolved to love them.’ Things have gone smoothly since.” Questions or comments, contact the Cheatham County Master Gardeners at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Gardening!