It’s hard for a gardener or anyone who is interested in gardening or nature not to mention squirrels. Lately a couple of bloggers I follow have posted about them. There was also a squirrel documentary on television showing their agility and cleverness. After all they are rodents with an excellent Public Relations department.
Squirrels in our garden ruined many bird feeders, dug out bulbs, and stole our beans and tomatoes when they had no access to seeds. As destructive as they are, I tolerate them most of the time and have fun trying to outwit them. Watching them figuring out our new feeder gadgets is always fun, especially when they slide off a feeder. So far, the only way to keep them off is to put a feeder on a pole far enough out of their jump range and put a dome guard underneath the feeder. But, during the growing season, they steal as much as they can from the garden in retaliation. I know it’s in their job description, they’re still rodents after all, and our garden is an excellent deli for them.
In winter, when there is not much going on in the garden, bird and squirrel watching is a fun and relaxing activity. There are two types of squirrels in our neighborhood, the common Eastern Gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) including its dark furred mutant (melanistic), and American Red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). Only the Gray squirrels and its mutants come to the feeder. The Red squirrels usually stay in the trees and hiss at me when I walk by. They are very unfriendly and the most territorial of all the squirrels around here.
A Gray squirrel on the job enjoying raiding our feeders.
The Gray squirrels usually chase the black ones away but they still come around when there’s plenty of food to share.
This time of year is the only time we, the birds and us, compete for fruits in our garden. We have wild cherry, ornamental cherry, white mulberry, wild raspberry, Golden raspberry, strawberry and blueberry on the property. We gave up on the wild cherry since it’s too tall for us to harvest; the birds always get the fruit first. Our neighbor used to put a bed sheet under one of the trees but what she got was the left over from the birds. We can only get the sweet, white mulberry from the lower branches but that’s enough. This year there are so many fruits that the birds and squirrels have taken longer to clean them up. So we are still picking mulberry.
Wild raspberry has not yet ripened. There will not be much fruit this year. I removed many of them early in spring because they were getting too invasive. Since there is no distraction now from the wild raspberry, I am more concerned with the Golden raspberry and am considering putting a net over them. I will have to cover the blueberries before the fruit ripens as well. The Gray Catbirds are pretty good at keeping their eye on the fruit.
We have been sharing strawberries this year since I have no time to cover them. What ever the birds missed is our feast.
Competing for ripe fruits in the garden doesn’t make us enemies. The birds still work the other part of the garden; picking off insects and grubs which are much more destructive to our garden. Losing some fruit to them is a small price to pay for their service.
Looking at who visits our garden in winter can tell us how bad the weather is. The Pine siskin came down from the boreal area in a flock this winter. The birds alternately tucked their feet up or just puffed up to a ball of feathers and down without legs when it’s so cold out. But it’s not just the birds that brave the cold looking for food; squirrels, deer and rabbits are the critters I see during the day. The possum, skunk and raccoon just leave their paw prints on the snow to let us know that they are around nocturnally as well. They look for anything they can eat above snow, even things that they don’t usually eat.
White-tailed deer are common in our area. Five or six of them at a time frequent the garden at dusk and late night. At this point they eat anything they can get their teeth on: Hydrangea branches, Yew hedge and Rhododendron. Last year they chewed our Blueberry bushes down to the stumps so we netted them this year. They also learned to shake the green bird feeder to knock the seeds out.
We have plenty of wild rabbits as well and we let them be when they behave. That means when they eat only weeds on the lawn. This rabbit came to eat dry mint on the patio. Yes, mint…one of a few plants that neither deer nor rabbit eat in general. Then he moved to the bird feeder. After munching for a few minutes, he relaxed to soak up some sun near by for a couple of hours and then returned to munching seeds. He had no fear of me even when I was a couple of feet away. We wondered if he’s the same young rabbit I rescued from the swimming pool last summer.
I rescued this young rabbit (always has white mark on the forehead) from our swimming pool. I found him swimming laps one morning. Fished him out, washed chlorine off, pat dry and held him in a towel until he stop shivering then let him go back to his mother. After this episode, we found a rabbit that acts like he owns our garden. He would just step out of my way but never run and hide. So we wonder if he’s the same one who came to eat on the patio.
Our yard may be the last resource for grey squirrels in the area. They know they cannot get to the feeders in the yard because we put them far beyond their reach and with squirrel guards on each. They are at the mercy of the birds that rake seeds out looking for their favorites. But they also take a chance in coming to the patio when we have feeders out. We only allow feeders on the patio when we’re home so we can chase the squirrels out. I chased the one above as he flopped into deep snow after leaping off the fence. He stayed by the feeder in the yard but kept his eyes on me in the hope that I would go back in the house. We have a love-hate relationship. I admire their intelligence but don’t like their destructiveness.
These are just the daytime visitors this winter. The nighttime visitors like possum, raccoon, skunk and foxes I just identify by their paw prints or what they left behind to let us know that they came by.
A couple more weeks before spring comes, I hope the weather acts accordingly.