Monday, August 1, 2011

My war with the squirrels

(image from NewsBiscuit)

My war with the squirrels has been going on for a few years now, ever since I started growing fruit in the backyard. (The birds are bad, too, but I can net most trees to keep them away. It's very hard work, and I can't leave the netting up for long, but it's effective.)

Oh, there were a few skirmishes with the squirrels before that, mostly over bird-feeders. And chewing holes in my house. But we'd settled into a guarded peace, mostly because I abandoned sunflower seed in my feeders entirely. But fruit proved to be the flashpoint to a new, hot war.

At first, I figured I'd just keep the squirrels full, so they wouldn't need to eat my fruit. I started carrying a pocketful of roasted peanuts, and my squirrels got remarkably tame. But no matter how many peanuts they ate, there was still room for dessert, I guess. Because it didn't keep them from going after the fruit.

Well, I know it was foolish to feed them in my backyard at all. So I started chasing them out of the backyard and only feeding them in the front. That was pretty funny, at first. My squirrels were so tame that they wouldn't even run away from me! I'd stomp my feet and yell as I rushed at them, and they'd just stand there wondering why I was acting so ridiculous (as my neighbors wondered, too, I suppose).

If I looked like I was going to step on them, they'd move a few feet, but no more than that. It took awhile until they got the idea. Then, they'd run until they got into the front yard, at which point they'd stop and wait until I caught up with them,... so they could get a peanut. I'm not sure who was training whom.

Meanwhile, I embarked on a major project to turn my backyard into Ft. Knox. I put chickenwire on the chainlink fence, so the squirrels (and rabbits) couldn't get through it (and hardware cloth at the bottom, so squirrels or baby rabbits couldn't dig under it). Then I ran a couple of strands of electric wire - high voltage, but low current, like a low-powered cattle fence - on insulators around the top.

I never saw the squirrels get stung by it (although I got zapped almost every time I worked in the yard - sweaty bare skin conducts electricity very well). Squirrel fur seems to be very good insulation. Plus, the wires weren't hot all the time, since the charger pulses. And the squirrels were just too quick at getting through them.

Still, they must have gotten bit by it occasionally, because they really learned to avoid the wires. They'd do almost anything to keep from climbing the fence, so I thought I'd won the war. Last year, I don't think they ate a single peach, and maybe only an apple here and there. And after I smeared strawberry juice on the electric wires, they wouldn't touch a strawberry even if you gave it to them. (Oddly enough, that only seems to work with strawberry juice, nothing else.)

But the squirrels were apparently just regrouping for a new offensive. Unfortunately, I've got some fruit trees outside the chainlink fence, including two apricot trees very close to the front yard. I put a low fence - just one foot high - around them, with a couple of electric wires on top of that, but it's really not much of a barrier. And last year, when my apricots got ripe, the squirrels just wiped them out.

The thing is, squirrels don't even like apricots. What they like is the apricot seed. They'll just spit out the fruit. But they'll very quickly destroy a whole tree full of apricots, just to get at the pits.

Now last year was the first year I'd ever had apricots. The trees grow well here, but they bloom too early and the blossoms almost always freeze in the variable weather of Nebraska's springs. So my squirrels had never even seen an apricot before then. Unfortunately, they learn quickly.  This year, I had apricots on both trees for only the second time ever, but they were all gone a whole month before they would have gotten ripe.

You see, my squirrels had learned that apricot pits taste good. And they'd also learned exactly where those electric wires were. They wouldn't climb or even jump that short little fence, but they still found a way around it. (Unfortunately, my yard is pretty crowded with fruit trees and bushes, and it's really hard to keep them from finding a way inside. If necessary, they'll just climb a nearby tree and jump from it, over the fence.)

After they wiped out my apricots, they came into the backyard and started working on the apples, plums, peaches, pluots, and Asian pears. They've completely wiped out my Gala apples, my delicious summer variety. I hadn't realized that squirrels liked little green apples so well, but they'll strip an apple tree in short order. With my peaches, they waited until they started to turn color. But I don't think I'm likely to get any ripe ones this year.

Still, I haven't given up the fight. I've spent the last few days trying to rebuild my electric fence. I should have made it more squirrel proof right from the beginning, because I'm sure they'd be easier to keep out if they didn't know that there were peaches inside.  Well, I don't think that "squirrel proof" is even possible. But there's enough open space on the east and north to put down a pretty effective barrier, I think. (I'd foolishly left some gaps in my original construction.)

On the west, well, I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep them out that way. My grapevines are so thick that they can jump up into them and be completely hidden from sight. Luckily, they don't seem to eat grapes. (I wish I could say the same thing about the birds!) But they can easily get from the grapevines to everything else.

And I don't think I'll ever be able to keep them out of my apricots, unless maybe I cut down all the nearby bushes. And even then, I have my doubts. But we'll see. The war goes on. The squirrels have won the battle this year, destroying almost everything I've got. But I haven't given up the fight.

And they have learned that they're not supposed to be in my backyard. When I open the backdoor, they run. When I open my front door, they run, too - right up to me to get a peanut. Yeah, they're shameless.

PS. I wish I could tell the squirrels apart, because I think that most of my problems come from my neighbors' squirrels, to my east and north, and not so much from the squirrels in my front yard to the south. (OK, the apricots were destroyed by my squirrels, I know that. But maybe not the peaches.)

I used to have a squirrel who'd lost her tail (her first encounter with an automobile, I suspect), so I could tell which one she was. She was the tamest squirrel ever. If I wasn't careful, she'd run right up and grab my hand with her sharp little claws (so I couldn't pull it away) and daintily take a peanut right out of my fingers. (No, I didn't encourage that!)

But she didn't come off so well in her second auto encounter, and I can't tell any of the others apart (except for male and female, of course, at least when the females are nursing young). I don't know what difference it makes, I suppose. But you can't win a war without military intelligence, right?

PS. Curious about how my war turned out? Here's Part 2.


Rena said...

*laughing* I'm kind of glad we don't have a squirrel problem where I live...>_>;

Chimeradave said...

I was curious what had transpired since you mentioned a war with squirrels on the message board, but only briefly.

Great story, it had me entertained. Though I'm sorry you're having so much trouble.

Jim Harris said...

Bill, are you willing to hire mercenaries? Dogs and cats will fight the squirrels.

It's a shame you don't have a video camera where you could document your war on squirrels. It would probably be popular on YouTube.

WCG said...

My black lab loved to chase squirrels. But he didn't want to be in the yard by himself. He thought his place was right at my feet, all the time. So that wouldn't have worked.

Besides, he's been dead for almost 30 years. I still miss him, but I don't want another dog. Or a cat. A cat would be less trouble, certainly, and would probably stay in the yard, considering all the electric wires I've got surrounding the place. But maybe not, either.

Anonymous said...


Gary Hawkins said...

very useful information you shared with us..thanking you

Mightyreader said...

I heard apricot seeds contain cyanide. Did any of them die?

Mightyreader said...

I heard apricot seeds contain cyanide. Did any of them die?

WCG said...

Nope. But it could be that apricot varieties... vary. I think I've even seen some varieties advertised as having an edible seed.