My piece on red squirrels inspired more chatter than is usual for a column. Judging by what readers are telling me and emailing me, a lot of you are having sunflower seed kicked in your faces by sneering squirrels these days.
If I were a zoological researcher I might want to look into what appears to be an increase in red squirrels’ aggressive behaviour toward humans.
Anyway, good to hear about it when you get a good laugh out of these columns. Feedback is to me what black oiled sunflower seed is to Big Red.
Here’s the final product. You can see it on the Sault Star web page here:
I’m getting chirped a lot lately.
I should be used to it. As an oldtimer hockey goalie, I’ve been chirped by many of the same ill-mannered forwards and defencemen for well over three decades.
Exchanging good-natured barbs is a big part of the fun of playing hockey. As we get older, we become a lot better at poking fun at each other than we are at poke-checking the puck.
But these days I’m being chirped by the animal kingdom. Tamiasciurus, to be precise. Members of the rodent family. Red squirrels.
One or more of the little buggers — it may sound speciesist but I can’t tell one red squirrel from another — sits brazenly on my bird feeder and chirps me every time I venture on to my deck.
Those of you who have a “bird feeder” know that is too narrow a term. In truth you also have a squirrel feeder.
You could spend your income tax rebate on a “squirrel-proof” bird feeder. But all you would be doing is installing the squirrel equivalent of a Sudoku puzzle, one they can solve before you have time to crumple up the sales receipt and toss it angrily into your fireplace.
Might as well put up a sign saying, “This Feeder is for Birds Only” and hope the squirrels have taught themselves to read English between meals.
So, long ago I gained the wisdom to accept what I cannot change: that I am dispensing many kilograms of black oiled sunflower seeds to squirrels as well as birds.
I also accept that squirrels are bold and noisy critters, whether they’re chasing each other or teasing dogs. They’re seldom silent unless they have their mouths full of my birdseed.
But lately they’ve become in-your-face arrogant.
They practically scratch at my patio door to complain when the feeder runs out of food. Seriously, I’ve caught them peering in through the glass.
Or they’ll let loose with a long, loud lament as if they’re victims of caregiver neglect, to guilt me out if I glance out the window while I’m preparing my own dinner.
I half expect to be scrolling through Twitter one day and find myself targeted for squirrel abuse under the rodent equivalent of the #Time’sUp hashtag.
Over the years the squirrels and I developed an informal protocol, much like cold war combatants that feel a need to rattle their sabres without actually going nuclear on each other.
This allowed both camps to maintain the pretext that squirrels were unwelcome at my bird feeder, while they filled their bellies at will.
If I ventured onto my deck I would stomp loudly and perhaps let loose with a primeval growl. When you live by yourself in the bush you can do all sorts of things that would be embarrassing in a subdivision.
The squirrels would dutifully leap from the feeder to nearby snowbanks in simulated fright, then scamper into the cedars. Then they would scold me like the chorus in a medieval morality play.
After a respectful interval, they would return to the all-you-can-chew buffet.
To add variety to the routine, I might trigger their retreat by tossing a snowball in their direction like a Kim Jong Un missile. Occasionally I might hit them, though a rotator cuff that’s as frayed as an old work shirt made that a rarity.
These days I practically have to make like a Newfoundland seal hunter to get a squirrel off my bird feeder. Not that I would club a red squirrel to death on a snowbank, though it might be fun to have Brigitte Bardot, Sarah McLachlan, Pamela Anderson and Gwen Stefani screaming “Save Our Squirrels” on my deck while I barbecued.
On the way to the woodshed the other day I stomped to scare off a squirrel. It didn’t budge. I cursed it in Primeval. Still no response.
I waved my wood box at it. Nothing. I eyeballed it at close quarters, pulling back only when I recalled the scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when the squirrel races down Clark Griswold’s back. Still nothing.
I reached back and threw a mock punch, stopping inches from its pointy snout and recoiling in pain because of that non-rotating rotator cuff. Squirrel stuck its nose down nonchalantly to grab another mouthful of seed.
Finally I poked the feeder hard enough to send Rocky to a snowy canvas.
But instead of retreating to a respectful distance for, say, 10 seconds, it scampered back on to the feeder and gave me the raspberry. I could almost feel the spray.
This in-your-face posturing by the squirrels seems to parallel society’s growing culture of entitlement, in which those already obscenely rich are no longer even mildly apologetic when they grab still more wealth from the middle class.
At the risk of anthropomorphizing like Disney, ascribing human characteristics to the animal kingdom, I might suggest one squirrel at my feeder has a distinctive orangey tinge and a huge comb-over.
A Squirrel-to-English translation might revealed he chatters about draining the feeder and rants that black squirrels migrating from across the lake are stealing his sunflower seeds and I should build a wall to keep them out.
I could take down my feeder and show him that seeds don’t feed squirrels — people feed squirrels.
But that would hurt the chickadees, finches and nuthatches that take sustenance from my sunflower seeds.
And as a few unkind readers have chirped over the years, I’m definitely for the birds.