C.W. Gusewell


Squirrel's feat of all you can eat is all in the feet

It is a feat of stupendous athleticism, and as nearly as we can tell, only one of our many backyard squirrels has mastered it.

Just off the patio there’s a redbud tree, a gallant survivor of past storms – often broken, somewhat deformed but still standing.

Two bird feeders of the tube type are suspended on wires from its branches. The smaller and lower of the feeders is filled with niger, seed from an African thistle, favored by finches and other lesser visitors – house sparrows and juncos and such.

The larger tube contains a mix of more substantial grain: millet, sunflower seeds and cracked corn. It tends to attract huskier customers like jays, glossy black grackles and now and then a redheaded woodpecker.

That feeder is the one the gifted squirrel prefers.

His less-accomplished colleagues are welcome to search in the grass and weeds in hope of coming across the occasional fallen walnut or acorn.

But this particular individual – I like to call him Wallenda, after the famous family of German circus performers who performed risky high-wire stunts without a net – likes to go where the table is generously set.

Up the tree he scampers, as easily as you might climb a step. Then out on the limb from which the feeder is hung.

Then, with a sudden contortion too complicated to describe, he is hanging longwise down the glass tube, a rear foot thrust in one of the upper feeding ports, a front foot grasping a lower bird perch, his other free foot – I’m tempted to say “hand” – reaching in to bring seeds through the opening to his mouth.

If I ever tried such a maneuver, I would spend my remaining days in traction.

For Wallenda, however, it’s all in a day’s work. He’s read the signs of shorter days and chilly mornings. He knows there are harder times ahead. And he’s not about to face the winter undernourished.

So he eats. Does he ever eat!

There’s some spillage. His mouth is small, and the busy foot is shoveling out seeds faster than he can chew. Some mourning doves, grateful for the windfall, are pecking at what drops.

I’ve never weighed or measured what the feeder holds, but it’s the best part of two feet long. And working steadily, he all but empties it in less than a day.

He’s putting on girth and seems quite noticeably rounder than his less-acrobatic fellows. Clearly he has a talent, and I can’t help wondering if what I’m seeing is the Darwinian principle at work.

Evolution involves the passing of inheritable variations from one generation to the next. That’s how we arrived at who we are. It’s the process of natural selection that allows new species to appear.

So what is Wallenda, or possibly his offspring, on the way to becoming? A 300-pound squirrel? A tree-climbing pig?

I’m inclined to think, to save him from himself, we’d better take the feeder down.