February 03, 1993|By ANN EGERTON

The word ''squirrely'' is defined in the dictionary as odd or eccentric, but everyone who has a bird feeder knows that ''squirrely'' should really mean patient, stealthy, perhaps even brilliant. The little creature has never met an impasse that was impassable.

In the winter time, feeding the birds that stay around becomes important. So far, in our efforts to keep the squirrels from stealing our bird seed, we have cut branches off an overhanging tree and from a nearby shrub. That only makes the squirrels' leaps up or down to the feeder more acrobatic and impressive.

We attached a squirrel baffle, a round wide dome, beneath the cylindrical standing bird feeder to keep them from shinnying up to the seeds, but it's nothing more than healthy exercise for the squirrels. A deft grab of the edge of the dome, a nimble hoist over it, and an easy leap into the dish of the feeder is all it takes. Silicone sprayed on the pole and on the baffle simply makes it more interesting for them; crash landings leave them unshaken and undaunted.

Bird watching is said to be the second most popular hobby after gardening in America, so many otherwise reasonable and sensible people are spending an inordinate amount of time and money trying to outwit, but usually being out-witted by, the determined rodent.

Someone suggested that we run some wire and batteries to the feeder and give them slight shocks when they get to it, but that seems like a greater declaration of war than we want to admit to and besides, it would stun and deter the birds too.

Naturalist literature is full of forlorn stories about bird watchers, presumedly with normal human IQs, who watch helplessly as squirrels scamper in, drive the birds away and devour pounds and pounds of expensive bird food. The most dramatic recent tale is told by a couple in Milwaukee who watched a flying squirrel jump and fall from a feeding station 46 times before hitting the feeder right. It never missed the feeder again. It consumed 10 sunflower seeds every minute for the next 25 minutes.

That kind of determination, and a certain awe at and sympathy with such hunger, should be rewarded with at least co-existence, which you may want to call capitulation.

Ann Egerton writes from Baltimore.

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