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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Outwit cute little rodent

Shannon Amidon

Over Memorial Day my husband and I visited my grandparents in western Massachusetts after a year-long absence. I was relieved to see that most everything looked the same: the slanting kitchen floor, the radiator-turned-bookshelf, the 5-gallon can of birdseed and the giant squirt gun.

Yes, they were still at it. This year was no different. This year, they were determined to beat the squirrels. This year, Gram would watch an oriole peck at his breakfast while she ate hers. She would wait patiently for bluebirds and continue her seasonal count of gold finch. Her bird book was out. Her pencil was ready to mark tiny checks near the pictures that match her finds.

Grampa has tried everything to discourage the irritating, furry rodents. He strung a clothesline from the edge of the patio to a cleared space in the yard where there were no birch or spruce limbs nearby for acrobatic squirrels to gain leverage. He sliced old records and slipped them over the twine, as he did with pie tins, to create barriers between the bird feeder and squirrels. Of course, squirrels are part circus performers.

One year he installed a motion detector light. He thought the sudden brightness would frighten the small rodents away. Again, no. They liked the spotlight.

Another summer he hung a feeder on a metal rod made for hanging plants. Each morning, he’d step out into the dew-covered grass with a cup of coffee in one hand and a can of WD-40 in the other. He’d spray that metal rod like there was no tomorrow. And for a while it worked. No squirrel could make it to the feeder at the top before their paws were covered in grease. They’d slide back to earth undaunted. I think he was the one who had to give up that method. It was tiresome. And expensive.

Now, his weapon of choice is the squirt gun.

Kevin Robinette, Regional Wildlife Program Manager for the Spokane branch of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the gray squirrel that torments my grandfather in New England is the same kind that torments many a would-be-bird-watcher in this neck of the woods.

The Eastern Gray Squirrel, which is not native to this area, causes the most trouble. The species was transported here, he said, “most likely by people from the East who missed their native squirrels and brought one here.”

Robinette said red squirrels mostly live out of town. “They don’t do real well in areas of human development.”

But now that we know what we’re up against, is there help?

Sherry Little, owner of Wild Bird West Pet Vittles in Spokane, said there are several kinds of bird feeders available that will deter squirrels. “One is triggered by the weight of the squirrel. A bar lowers to close the feeding port when the weight is detected,” she said.

For specific tips on how to discourage unwanted visitors at your birdfeeder, visit /tree_squirrels.htm

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