The bird feeders are supposed to be for birds. The baffle keeps squirrels from accessing the feeders. They climb the pole, reach the baffle, try to climb over it, but slip when it tilts.
Then Wally, a grey squirrel, showed up last week. (He was nameless when he arrived.) I was washing dishes and looking out the window where I’m often entertained in turns by different birds, rabbits, and squirrels. Chickadees flit from the cedar tree, grab a sunflower seed, zoom back to the tree, eat, and repeat. Goldfinches and cardinals come with their mates and perch on the trays of the feeders. Juncos eat spilled seeds off the ground, and nuthatches hang upside down on the feeders, picking seeds through the mesh. Rabbits munch on dandelion leaves, clover, and grass, and squirrels also forage seeds from the ground.
Wally wanted a bigger share of the sunflower seeds. Winter is coming. He needs to prepare by storing fat, both for insulation against the cold and for energy reserves when food is scarce. He climbed the pole and tried to circumvent the baffle. He failed, but he didn’t give up. He climbed one shepherd’s hook and perched on the curve closest to the feeders hung on another shepherd’s hook. He looked, he calculated, he jumped. And he missed, landing gracelessly on the ground. He climbed the shepherd’s hook again, looked, calculated, jumped. And missed. He ran off, I assumed, humiliated—I would’ve been.
But Wally came back the next day. As I did dishes (again), I watched him climb the shepherd’s hook, look, calculate, and jump. I waited for him to fall to earth. But he stuck a perfect four-paw landing on top of the shepherd’s hook with the bird feeders. He paused for a moment, and I wondered if he was relishing his aerial triumph. Then he climbed onto a feeder, clutched the mesh, hung upside down, and noshed seed. The bird feeders are supposed to be for birds. I opened the kitchen window, and the noise sent him leaping to the ground and scrambling around the corner of the house.
I felt a twinge of guilt. It was only a three-foot jump, but it was precise, balanced, impressive. Squirrels are designed for jumping, and horizontal leaps of six to nine feet are routine. They have muscular, oversized hind legs, double-jointed ankles, and needle-sharp claws. Wally is designed for breaking into bird feeders.
I kept washing dishes, while, as it turns out, Wally was regrouping. In less than five minutes, he was back—his need to winterize overrode his fear of the noise I created. He climbed one shepherd’s hook and looked to the other one with the feeders. I thought, You can’t make the leap twice in a row. He jumped. I thought, You’re going to fall. He executed another perfect four-paw landing, climbed onto the mesh of the feeder, and continued eating while hanging upside down.
I admired Wally’s talent and tenacity. I didn’t open the kitchen window. I let him eat. I’ve lots of seed in the basement. The birds can share.
Because this squirrel keeps visiting the feeder, and hasn’t missed a jump since he mastered it, I named him Wally in honor of the Flying Wallendas.
Grey squirrels don’t hibernate, and I wonder, Does Wally have a prediction about the coming winter? If I leave the second shepherd’s hook up for the winter, maybe he’ll keep showing off his leaping skills, so he can stuff himself with sunflower seeds on cold days. And I’ll be entertained while doing the dishes.