Saturday, June 29, 2013

Thief In The Night

Thievery is not a behavior confined solely to the human race.

Thievery has existed for eons in the animal kingdom.  Take, for example, a Jackal slinking in to steal a morsel from a lion kill; one Bald Eagle attempting to snatch a Salmon from the talons of another of its own species; the packrat who steals into a campsite in the middle of the night to appropriate various items from unsuspecting campers; or a squirrel raiding a feeder clearly put out for the birds.
This Bluejay is one of the birds commonly accused of thievery, since they are known to raid the nests of other birds for eggs and young chicks.

For the past several years this last scenario is one that has baffled my husband and me at our Lake Cabin.  We have been plagued at various times by raids on the feeders, the culprits being Raccoons, Squirrels and Chipmunks. 

For the most part my husband has found various ways to thwart the thieves.  However, one feeder has continued to be a mystery.  At dusk there would still be about a fourth of a tube of seed left in the feeder, but in the morning it would be empty.

Originally this feeder was hung high off the ground in a tree about 8-10 feet from our deck, and we could only reach it to fill it by pulling it in with a small string too flimsy to support a squirrel.  We had had enough squirrel raids to know that any feeder needed to be in a squirrel-proof cage.  We finally found one that would keep most adult squirrels at bay--although very young, small squirrels could occasionally get into it.  This problem always solves itself, since they quickly grow to be too large to get through the bars.  Problem solved—we thought!
This thief, the common Grey Squirrel, will soon find that he can't squeeze between the wires of this feeder.

We soon found that we may have thwarted one thief, only to come up against another.  Apparently the local Raccoons had discovered this feeder.  Not to be thwarted by the cage enclosure they would simply jump onto it, dislodging it from the only available branch we could hang it from, and then ride it down the thirteen feet to the ground, spilling the seed everywhere.  Not to be defeated by the Raccoon version of a Six Flags Ride, my ever-resourceful husband went back to the drawing board!

Soon he came up with a Fisherman’s version of a feeder pole.  He made a fishing rod holder out of some PVC pipe fittings, and triumphantly installed a fishing rod out over the thirteen foot void off of our deck.  A fishing rod??  How did this solve the problem you might ask?  With a hot pepper suet feeder hanging from one ferrule and the much battered seed feeder hanging from another ferrule, we were now in business trolling for birds.  The squirrels couldn’t get into the feeder, no matter how many times they navigated the fishing rod, only to find to their chagrin that they could not fit between the cage bars surrounding the feeder; and the Raccoons couldn’t navigate the rod since it was too narrow and flimsy to support their weight.  Problem solved—right??
This Red Breasted Woodpecker doesn't care that the suet contains hot peppers, but the squirrels won't touch it once they've tried it one time

Well, problem solved for a while--at least until the birdseed again began to disappear between dusk and daybreak.  The finger of suspicion now began to point to the local Chipmunk population.  However, there was no evidence to confirm this “beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

Then one night it happened.  My husband had been sitting on the deck enjoying a beautiful Lake sunset, and had lingered a bit after dark, when he heard an unmistakable “clank” from the direction of the mystery feeder.   My husband grabbed a flashlight, sure that he was about to catch a Chipmunk in the act.  But, lo and behold, the critter in the spotlight was no thieving Chipmunk—it was a Flying Squirrel!

In all the years we’ve been going to the Lake of the Ozarks this was the first time encountering one of these nocturnal little creatures.  According to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s web page these small rodents, who really are in the squirrel family, are fairly common in a healthy ecosystem. 

Common or not—they are rarely seen by most people.  Last week we took our granddaughter with us to the Lake for a few days.  We were sitting on the deck after dark listening to the night sounds of the tree frogs, when our sharp eyed granddaughter excitedly exclaimed that something had scurried across the deck railing right under our noses, unseen by my husband and me.  Sure enough, it was the night thief--our resident Southern Flying Squirrel--sitting in the birdfeeder frantically stuffing itself with the remaining birdseed from the day. 

We were so taken by this stealthy little night creature that for now we have decided to share the day’s remaining birdseed with him and his brethren.  After all, how often do you get to share a true mystery with your grandchildren?

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article! I have a flying squirrel in my wildlife show (she's runs up to a "diving board" and flies down to me). I tell people all the time that fliers steal bird food at night and to keep on the lookout. Some people have emailed me saying they watched their feeders at night with flashlights and have seen them!