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Furry, but Hardly a Friend
Squirrel combat: one woman’s sordid multi-generational tale.

I used to think my dad was crazy. He’d recently retired from a lengthy and stressful career—wasn’t he supposed to be enjoying retirement?

Most normal men golfed, fished or traveled to places they’d never seen. Not my dad. He’d acquired a strange preoccupation. While other retirees were out in the world enjoying their golden years, my father was focused on a one-square-foot spot in the middle of his backyard.

I remember the first time I learned of my dad’s new hobby. I paid him a visit one day on my way home from running errands. I rang his doorbell a couple times. No response. Just as I was turning to leave, the door swung open. Then he quickly turned and disappeared inside.

“Dad?” I called after him.

He just swung out his arm and said, “Come on.”

I followed him into the kitchen by a window, where I beheld the following scene: In the center of his tidy back yard stood a six-foot pole, on top of which sat the monstrous bird feeder my sister had given him for his birthday. Near the feeder was a metal cage, a line of neatly spaced peanuts trailing from its trap door onto the grass.

Close by, a chubby grey squirrel hungrily snatched a peanut, then another, drawing ever nearer its fate. It was difficult for me to decide which was the more frenzied of the two—the squirrel or my father.

As someone who grew up loving all things furry—who cried inconsolably the day her cat bagged a sparrow and who never missed an episode of Wild America—I was horrified by the spectacle. I denounced my father’s folly with righteous disdain. Didn’t he have better things to do with his time than bait harmless, little squirrels?

Back then, I couldn’t understand my dad’s rationale. To me, he was a control freak who couldn’t deal with nature’s diversity. But time and circumstance changes one’s perspective. Suddenly it made sense once my husband and I bought a house in the suburbs and decided to feed the birds.

The first thing I observed about squirrels is they’re persistent. If I spy a squirrel on our supposedly squirrel-proof bird feeder and I run outside and scream, it may work for a nanosecond, but generally it’s a futile effort.

When a squirrel comes to your feeder, he invites his kin—his very hungry and much extended kin. These squirrelly relatives are so numerous, it doesn’t matter to how many of them you offer a relocation package (via that gray trap I once so foolishly denounced).

And squirrels have teeth—strong teeth. I once came home to find a solid piece of cedar decking gnawed to shreds at the ends. For whatever reason, squirrels nibble at items most of us consider inedible. I can appreciate the anatomical necessity for such behavior; squirrels need to grind down their teeth or run the risk of those pearly whites growing up through their roof palate. I don’t begrudge their oral hygiene regimen; I simply wish they’d choose a less destructible piece of my home—say, the metal chains supporting my porch swing?

So, like other grudging concessions I’ve had to make toward my dad, I confess that he may have had a point about squirrels. And though I refuse to approach my relationship to them with anything nearing the same degree of relentless, spiteful vigor, I do admit to getting a certain kick out of chasing the pudgy little cuties off my bird feeder.

Media-based writer Carolyn McGlinchey last wrote about high-end supermarkets in the January issue of Main Line Today.

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