Wednesday, September 8

Outwitting Squirrels

101 cunning stratagems to reduce dramatically the egregious misappropriation of seed from your birdfeeder by squirrels 
by Bill Adler, Jr 
Chicago Review Press 1988

A very opinionated, wryly humorous approach to preventing squirrels from eating out of bird feeders, intended for serious birders, but chock full of amusing anecdotes and information about those pesky rodents.  

This might not, on the face of it, seem like an appropriate book for children, and indeed, it wasn't written originally with them in mind.  But for the teen who is beginning to take an interest in birding, and for the teen interested in learning more about the cunning of squirrels, this book makes for good reading.  Also, it's pretty funny.

When I was six I announced to my parents that I wanted a pet squirrel.  There was a coat closet under the stairs in our apartment that was under utilized and I was determined to turn it into a squirrel habitat.  Never mind that I had never seen a live squirrel in my urban neighborhood, ever, or that the closet habitat had no source of natural light, and that in my mind it would just live in the dark except for when I chose to visit it and occasionally throw it acorns I found at the park, I was determined.

Until I'd read Outwitting Squirrels I hadn't realized there was such a huge division between bird people and squirrel people, much like there are cat people and dog people.  Clearly, from the age of six, I knew which side I was on, and Adler does a pretty good job in his book proving that I chose the right side.

Adler admits to having casually set out a bird feeder, only to find it ravaged by squirrels due to easy access.  Then, like the maniacal groundskeepper Karl in Caddyshack, he purchases and mounts an increasing array of feeders designed to keep the rodents out... if he can only find the right place to do so.  Squirrels, it turns out, are true acrobats in the animal world, diving and climbing and jumping from incredible angles and dangling from various positions in their attempt at a good, free meal.  They aren't easily discouraged and, compared to birds, appear to be a lot smarter about using the tools at their disposal.  In all, Adler explains how he went through almost two dozen different feeders in his attempts to keep those furry little creatures from eating the seed intended for the winged creatures.

In studying his enemy, Adler learns and shares a great deal of information you would normally expect on a dry nature documentary.  But who would watch a dry documentary about squirrels when you could read one outrageous story after another describing how, in a matter of hours, squirrels have once again defeated Adler in his attempts to keep them away.  Then there are the casual-but-curious facts.  I had assumed (as many do) that squirrels keep a memory of where they bury their nuts.  Not true.  In fact, squirrels are communal animals, socialists if you will, who bury food for the community.  Come spring when they go rooting around for food, they are merely sniffing out the grounds where they suspect others in their community may have buried things.  They have territories, which they share, and they will chase away those digging in their food beds, but otherwise whatever they find is a question of luck, not memory.  Fascinating!

There is a rather dry section – a good middle third of the book – devoted to brands, models, and design features of specific squirrel-proof bird feeders.  The book is very serious in its subtitle.  But After reading it twice for fun I can promise that those pages about feeders can be easily skipped and the rest of the book enjoyed for its tales – unless, of course, the reader is truly interested in birding and finding the right feeder.  Then the book doubles as a valuable resource written by someone who has seemingly tested them all!

Practical, funny, short non-fiction.  Perfect for fall as the family Sciuridae is out and about, stealing from birds and acting like the socialists they are.

(This review, in a slightly different form, is cross-posted today at Guys Lit Wire.  Looking for books recommendations for boys?  That's the place to go!)

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