As with most people who feed the birds, my relationship with the gray squirrel oscillates between grudging tolerance and rodenticidal rage. There is no lack of stories about the squirrel\’s diabolical cleverness in getting at food intended for the birds, so I won\’t bore you with mine. I\’ll simply say that when one of these plump uninvited guests goes anywhere near my bird feeders, I grit my teeth in aggravation.
Yet it wasn\’t always like this. When I first lived in an American suburb, I found the squirrels adorable, with their slanted eyes, monkey-like hands, and those cloud-colored tails that morphed into a question mark the minute they sat still. I thought they were charming and exotic, and I couldn\’t understand why so many people disliked them.
Now I do. I\’ve been feeding birds and fighting squirrels for longer than we\’ve been at war with Afghanistan, with mixed results. I\’ve been wondering lately if it might not be time to change my attitude. Life\’s too short for hatred and strife.
The story of Saint Francis and the wolf of Gubbio comes to mind. There lived in the forests around Gubbio a fierce wolf who killed sheep, shepherds, and any citizen who ventured outside the city walls. One day Francis went in search of the wolf. He found him gnawing on a thigh bone and said, \”Brother Wolf, why so much killing?\”
\”Winter is hard in the forest, Brother Francis,\” the wolf responded, \”and I was hungry.\”
Francis made a deal with the wolf: if he promised never to harm livestock or people again, he would get the townspeople to feed him so that he would not go hungry. The wolf gave Francis his paw in agreement, and the people of Gubbio and their wolf lived in harmony ever after.
Like the wolf, my squirrels are hungry. Why should I begrudge them a few pounds of sunflower seeds, some measly suet cakes? Why not let them share the banquet that I so prodigally set out for the birds?
Maybe I\’m afraid that, if I let the squirrels come to my feeders, more and more of them will arrive–huge invading caravans of squirrels that will drive the birds away and me into bankruptcy. Maybe I should build a wall around my feeders, a really high wall topped with barbed wire. Maybe, just to make sure, my husband and I should take turns standing guard with a pellet gun….
Or maybe I could go and stand beside the feeders and make a speech to the squirrels.
\”Little gray Sisters,\” I would say, \”welcome to my backyard. Here are my bird feeders. Here is my birdbath. You are welcome to all the water you can drink, and to the seeds that fall on the ground.
\”I would prefer it if you didn\’t climb onto the feeders and dig out wasteful amounts of seed and suet, but I understand that some of you may not be able to resist the temptation. Whatever. The world is wide enough for your kind and mine and the titmice and chickadees, finches and woodpeckers.
\”I will now go inside, take a deep breath, and try to see the beauty and innocence in your agility and determination. Pay no attention to the gray cat batting at you on the other side of the glass. He\’s never allowed outdoors.\”