What is it about a bird feeder that has me asking existential questions on a Saturday morning?

We all know that most bird feeders sold at Rona are, except for expensive specialized versions, nothing more, really, than “Squirrel Feeders”, but the fact is, for two squirrels living near our house in Dunham, our backyard bird feeders are “all-you-can-eat buffets”, and my reaction to watching them eat relatively expensive sunflower seeds — supposedly destined for black capped chickadees — has been to pose deep philosophical questions regarding the age-old Genetics vs. Environment conundrum.

More precisely: Are we programmed to root for the underdog?

My head says, “No” because while I usually root for the underdog while watching football/hockey/baseball & soccer games on TV, my wife generally roots for the better team, believing that it deserves to win because it, er, is the better team!

Even more precisely: Are we genetically programmed to like birds over squirrels? Why one might ask, are there no “Squirrel Feeders” sold at Walmart? People feeding squirrels could then get upset at the birds swooping down and taking food away as helpless squirrels can only watch the faster-moving competitors fly around them.

Was I taught, as some dark point in my childhood, to hate squirrels to the point where today I will rush out, again and again, over and over — never tiring it seems — to scare off the squirrel that has wedged itself  on one of our two bird feeders and is once again making himself at home among the seeds? I don’t seem to remember such a lesson from my mother…

About the underdog thing: I also get upset at big, fat blue jays that scare off all competition and gobble down the sunflower seeds in a greedy display of hunger. But the blue jays are nothing compared to the woodpecker that seems to have nothing but a giant stomach extending from its red and black neck all the way down to the tips of its feet (Claws? Talons? Sorry, guys).

Anyway, once on our wide-platform bird feeder there’s no leaving any time soon for that guy; he can stay and munch up all the seeds he wants for what seems like hours.

So, again, I ask myself, am I genetically programmed to root for the underdog, in this case the cute little chickadee and country sparrow?

FYI, the chickadee doesn’t stick around; he takes one seed and flies to the nearest tree. The sparrow is a completely other kettle of fish, to mix animal metaphors. It comes in gangs (families? Troops? Schools?), hundreds of them, hyper excited, birds on speed, flying off thirty at a time, returning thirty at a time, leading to the question: In mid-January, where the temperature was -14 degrees centigrade just yesterday, where do sparrows live? Where did the hundreds of sparrows that descended on our feeders this morning come from?

It was a joy to watch them, as I was once again on the losing side of the man vs. squirrel ongoing battle. Sure, the squirrels jump off when I slam the window shut (not recommended, the opening part of the window, anyway, in winter).

(Actually, squirrels don’t “jump off”, they fly off. It’s quite remarkable to see and almost worth the effort of putting on winter coat and boots and sneaking close by and suddenly screaming at the top of your lungs.)

But how many times can you do that before the wife goes nuts, as she did this morning: “Don, STOP THAT, IT’S-DRIVING-ME-CRAZY!!!”?

“But the squirrels, the squirrels!” I reply meekly, knowing how small and petty it makes me seem. Folowing my morning meditation, looking outside and not seeing the two squirrels ensconced on our feeders made me happy, and I quietly put away those nagging existential questions for the time being. And to be greeted instead by hundreds of sparrows delighting in their morning breakfast!

The squirrels at the bird feeders make me feel mean and make me worry about my inherently evil makeup. I try to diffuse the guilt by thinking that perhaps I’ve been programmed to feel this way, to react so viscerally each time I see that little furry beast feasting on sunflower seeds instead of the chickadee doing so.

It seems that I have two choices: either concede defeat and let whatever animal wants to eat just eat away, or take down our feeders and be done with it. I’m sorry but this battle against our backyard squirrels has got me bushed.

squirrel reaching for feeder


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