Corey 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.