It was getting personal. The squirrels, bored with plundering the bird feeder, decided to dig up the new tulip bulbs Uncle Joe had planted.
ILLUSTRATION: DARREN THOMPSON
Last Laugh shares MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader submitted American humor with other readers. Dan Bova tells the story of his crazed uncle and his war against squirrels ruining birdfeeders.
Man Straight Jacketed After Attempting to Detonate Stick of Dynamite Strapped to Birdfeeder
No, this headline has not yet appeared in any local Long Island newspapers, but it'll come soon if my uncle doesn't resolve a crisis that would have him tearing out his hair if he had any. For the past year he has been dealing with a problem that has plagued mankind ever since it started building bird feeders: the damned squirrel.
To protect the identity of my Uncle Joe, I will refer to him here as "the crazy guy with the stick." After 60 years living in Canarsie, Brooklyn (not unlike Walden Woods, if Walden Woods were made of cement and hot garbage), then mild-mannered Uncle Joe and Aunt Betty decided to move out to their version of woodland paradise to get back in touch with Mother Nature.
His first endeavor in the wilds was the construction of a cute little red birdhouse with a hand-painted sign reading Home Tweet Home. He proudly nailed it to a tree, filled it with birdseed, and retired for the evening, knowing that he had done his part in the care and preservation of our winged friends—"bolds," as he would say.
He woke up the next morning to a discovery as horrifying as finding a horse's head lying in his bed. The roof and one entire side of his brand new cute little red birdhouse had been chewed apart by some horrid beast that had eaten all the birdseed. The mauled sign now read "...eet...me." That was the moment Uncle Joe died and "the crazy guy with the stick" was born. He used to run with a gang back in his day, called the Fancy Boys or something, and he knew a challenge when he saw one. It was time to go to war against squirrels ruining birdfeeders.
He built a new series of birdhouses constructed with aluminum siding and tar-covered roofs (significantly less aesthetically pleasing than those of the red-painted ilk) and tried an incredible variety of techniques to keep "those bushy-tailed rats" out. He attached metal bars to the doorways ("They just pulled the things apart."); he rubbed aftershave, specifically Old Spice, on the perches ("Someone said it would repel them, but I think they liked the smell."); and he designed a complex trapping system involving wire and a coffee can that I honestly could not follow. And neither could the squirrels. I think they ate the can. The squirrels were winning, and Uncle Joe was losing—his mind.
And hostilities were escalating. It was getting personal. The squirrels, bored with plundering the bird feeder, decided to dig up the new tulip bulbs Uncle Joe had planted. "They just left them there on the front stoop, just to taunt me." They also made a chew toy of his new hose, and everyone knows you don't mess with a man's new hose. He was sure to crack soon, so I thought I'd pay him a visit.
I surveyed the backyard, scanned the area for pongee spikes and other hidden traps, but instead noticed something a bit more peculiar. Way up in the arms of a mighty oak tree quietly sat a wood-handled broom. Judging by his current mental state, I sincerely wondered if Joe had taken to dusting bark. That's when he explained The Broom Incident, as it came to be known. At the request of Aunt Betty, Uncle Joe had moved their swinging bench to the shady area beneath the tree. The next morning, while getting dressed, he looked out the window and, to his shock, saw two squirrels...in an amorous embrace on the swing. How did he know they were...embracing? "We've had five kids and I can tell you they weren't shaking hands." Enraged, he charged out into the backyard wielding the broom and spewing a string of obscenities—sans pants. He chased the love, uh, squirrels up the tree and threw the broom after them for good measure. Triumphant in his population control efforts, he turned to find the collective jaw of his next-door neighbors resting on the floor of their weather-stained deck. I guess a raving broom-wielding older fella in his underwear is not standard fare at a typical Sunday lunch.
He did have one brief brush with victory. My uncle spotted the prime offender scheming behind a tree after it cleaned out the bird feeder. Joe swore he heard it laughing. He picked up a stone and zinged it at the critter, miraculously knocking it right between the eyes. "It sounded just like a stick hitting a coconut." The squirrel was laid out flat on its back but quickly regained consciousness and hobbled away. "I thought I killed it. l almost felt bad. He looked cute just lying there."
The last night of my visit, we sat out back reflecting on the issue. Looking at one of the heinous metal bird feeders welded to a tree, I asked if he could give up the battle and accept that squirrels will always eat out of the bird feeder. "No," he answered without hesitation, "I'll never give up because I'm smarter than them." A moment of silence fell between us.
"You hear that sound?" he asked.
"That chirping. It's them. They're up in the trees, planning."
I started to explain that the chirping was really crickets, but I stopped myself. I was afraid he'd mistake me for a covert squirrel and chase me with a rake.