i-c9a4bbd39091d47d52a65b4a38ae0bbf-10000birds.jpgCorey at 10,000 birds has an interesting post weighting the value of gray squirrels as a visitor to your bird feeder, vs. the nuisance they cause as a visitor to your bird feeder. Last summer, I found a way to combine both perspectives.

Up at the cabin, the habitat is mixed woodland, so we have a high diversity of squirrel species. I assume there are flying squirrels buzzing around at night; There are marmots, but not many. There has been one red squirrel often seen near the wood pile; and in June, there was a pair of gray squirrels, seen most often, not surprisingly, at the bird feeder.

One day I was watching the gray squirrels taking turns jumping into the bird feeder that Julia had made, chomping on the seeds and making a general nuisance of themselves. At that time I was contemplating the fact that there were not very man gray squirrels around the cabin, and that days could go by without seeing any. I was also contemplating the fact that with this new bird feeder, we might start seeing a lot more. This could be a problem.

Then, suddenly, the solution dawned on me. I figured out how to turn the squirrels from a nuisance to an asset.

I went to the kitchen cupboard, and found a canister of cayenne pepper. You know this trick. I sprinkled a bunch of the pepper into the bird seed, and went back into the cabin to watch. Sure enough, the squirrels continued to take turns eating the seed, but after about 20 seconds or less inside the feeder, the squirrel would sneeze and fly out of the feeder, landing on the ground. There, it would spend up to a minute wiping the pepper out of its eyes, somewhat distressed. Then, within a minute or two, it would be back in the feeder.

Obviously, the pepper did not work at all to keep the squirrels out of the feeder. But it was making the experience different for them, and a lot more fun to observe. But I did not do this to enhance the role of the squirrels as comic actors on Nature’s stage. No, I had another goal in mind.

One thing that is very common in the cabin’s environs is rapacious birds. A pair of eagles nests very nearby. We see goshawks and cooper’s hawks in the woods. Occasionally there is a falcon. There are owls.

There seems, in fact, to be a rather high diversity and abundance of raptors, not even counting the crows. Plus, there is a good number of small mammalian predators such as minks, otters, coyotes and foxes.

I assumed the following to be true: 1) The gray squirrels are an important part of the food supply for all of these carnivorous animals; and 2) A gray squirrel with cayenne pepper in its eyes is a sitting duck.

Now, I don’t really know what happened, but I can tell you this: The weekend following my lacing of the bird seed with copious quantities of cayenne pepper, there were no gray squirrels … for the rest of the season.

It appears that these bird feeders played a different role than usual. Rather than supplying food for the chickadees and nuthatches, the warblers and the finches, and so on, they also supplied “bird food” for at least one of the local hawks or owls. Or perhaps for a mink or a stoat.

It is possible that the squirrels just moved on. I had suspected that they were nomadic, not nesting nearby. Maybe that is a more pleasant thought. Or, maybe that is a less pleasant thought. Believe whatever makes you feel better.

Comments

  1. #1 divalent
    January 2, 2008

    Or maybe it was a case of “Fool me once, shame on you”, “Fool me twice, shame on you”, “Fool me three times, shame on you”, “Fool me four times, shame on you”, “Fool me five times, shame on me”.

    The number of unpleasant experiences had to pile up to exceed the number of prior pleasurable experiences.

  2. #2 Dave Briggs
    January 2, 2008

    I assumed the following to be true: 1) The gray squirrels are an important part of the food supply for all of these carnivorous animals; and 2) A gray squirrel with cayenne pepper in its eyes is a sitting duck.

    LOL! Cool trick! Modifying a squirrel into a duck! If only it could be so easy in the lab! LOL!
    Dave Briggs :~)

  3. #3 Scott Belyea
    January 2, 2008

    It appears that these bird feeders played a different role than usual. Rather than supplying food for the chickadees and nuthatches, the warblers and the finches, and so on, they also supplied “bird food” for at least one of the local hawks or owls.

    My experience leads me to doubt this.

    After trying the same sort of thing, I started buying so-called “squirrel-proof” seed, which contains the same active ingredient. In either case, squirrels will try it 2 or 3 times, and then not return. No raptors required.

    Obviously, the pepper did not work at all to keep the squirrels out of the feeder.

    Premature conclusion, I suggest.

  4. #4 Ruprecht
    January 2, 2008

    Perhaps you are overlooking the squirrel’s rather short digestive tract as a factor. A human’s GI tract is long enough that some people will completely digest capsaicin (much to their great relief), while others cannot (much to their heated discomfort). For a squirrel, there isn’t enough time to denature any appreciable amount of that chemical, so that, hours after the peppery treat will come a very intense, and completely unexpected, experience. It may take two or three runs — pardon the pun –through the cycle for the squirrel to put it all together and forswear spicy cuisines.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    January 2, 2008

    Scott: I’m sticking with at least part of my story. There are no gray squirrels in the habitat any more. That they were eaten is a strong possibility. That I tricked them into being eaten is a hope which I elect to hold onto. Oh, and I’ve heard a wide range of success rates from this method. The makers of one commercial version spend a great deal of effort providing reasons for the product to not work for those customers who find it not working. I imagine that the availability of food is a large factor.

    Ruprecht: Good information, but we do not know if squirrels are capable of connecting the cause and effect. We do know that among rodents there are strong hard wired links between cause and effect with respect to diet, and other areas where there “could” be a link, and an organism with general intelligence may make a link, but no matter how many time the opportunity to make the link arises, the rodent does not make the link. (talking rats here mainly.) These are temperate animals and red pepper is a tropical and subtropical plant. There is good reason to believe that we humans can outsmart the squirrels on this one.

  6. #6 Peter McGrath
    January 2, 2008

    Here in the Old Country imported greys have almost completely wiped out or native red squirrels, and the only proper way to view a grey is over the sights of one’s air rifle (a shotgun makes rather a mess). But I like the pepper idea. Pre-seasoned. Squirrels do make a good stew.

  7. #7 Karen
    January 3, 2008

    We recently covered this topic in a staff hot tip item on our blog at http://wigglywigglers.blogspot.com/2007/11/jos-hot-tip-to-stop-grey-squirrels.html. Jo reckoned it took several attempts before squirrels get the message, but it does work eventually.

  8. #8 Texas Reader
    January 7, 2008

    My understanding is that squirrels observe each others’ behavior. Therefore, if one squirrel chooses not to eat from the feeder because of the taste of the pepper or for some other reason, other squirrels will avoid this. This is supported by my personal experience. I have a suet feeder on one of my trees and I use pepper suet in it. Birds don’t have a sense of taste so they don’t mind but I haven’t seen a squirrel on it in years.

    If you hang your feeders from one pole with various arms and hooks you can put a squirrel baffle on the pole below the feeders to stop them from climbing up it to get to the feeders. However, it also must be at least 5 feet from anything from which the squirrels can jump.

    My pole currently has a thistle feeder feeder for the goldfinches that should be arriving here in north Texas soon, a peanut feeder for blue jays and other species, a safflower feeder for the cardinals and chickadees (white wing and mourning doves eat the spillage from it off the ground) and a small dome feeder with a mix of seeds for the smaller birds such as house wrens and chickadees. The big ones can’t get in it so the small ones can eat in peace.

  9. #9 Don Parnell
    February 13, 2012

    I do have to say, if your hypothesis is true, it is despicable. Crippling an animal to make it an easier target for predators? You are one of the last people I ever thought I would see writing something as repugnant as this.

    I am off now to go hamstring some deer to make them easier targets for wolves.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    February 13, 2012

    Don, better to cripple a moose, wolves prefer them.

  11. #11 Don Parnell
    February 13, 2012

    My livestock guardian dogs serve as protection against raptors. I think from now on, I will set snares for raptors and then clip their wings, like you would do for a pet parrot, and then use them as sport for my LGDs. Is that OK with you?

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    February 13, 2012

    What kind of dogs are they?

  13. #13 Charles
    February 13, 2012

    Greg, I am not sure that Don gets that this is a parody.

    It is a parody, right?

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    February 13, 2012

    No squirrels were harmed during the writing of this blog post.

    More of a satire than a parody.

  15. #15 Don Parnell
    February 14, 2012

    You are now stating that your post was satirical?

    My dogs are Maremmas.

  16. #16 Don Parnell
    February 14, 2012

    Also, if your post was satire, I tend to lose my sense of humor when cruelty to animals is involved. I consider blinding grey squirrels and then joking about how they are now easy pickings for predators cruelty.

  17. #17 Calli Arcale
    February 14, 2012

    Texas Reader:

    Birds don’t have a sense of taste so they don’t mind but I haven’t seen a squirrel on it in years.

    I believe this is incorrect; birds do have a sense of taste. They’re certainly picky eaters when given the opportunity to choose. However, they lack the receptor that makes capsaicin so uniquely painful for mammals. They can taste it every bit as much as we can, but it doesn’t burn.

Current ye@r *