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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The squirrel trials begin

Owlman recently ran a squirrel out of his squirrel-proof screech owl box. When seen on the video monitor the rodent was comfortably ensconced and showing a morbid curiosity in the video camera which happens to be the size of a walnut. This is a scary thing to see on one's owl cam.

I am finishing up a couple of nest boxes for small owls. It's cold working in the garage, but it has been a nice break from home bound routines and shoveling snow. I'm using redwood siding and shelves from the pantry of a 100-year-old house in Santa Cruz. That scaly old paint is rough on the planer blades, but the planed wood is old growth, wonderful to see, touch and smell.

I was California groovin' in the garage -- planing, sawing, thinking about owls, giant redwoods, old saw mills, and the pleasures of free recycled timber, but bothersome visions interrupted my reverie. I saw a squirrel contortionist stretching like a leech to reach the entrance hole . . . a squirrel scaling an impossible expanse of metal flashing like a gecko . . . a squirrel chewing away at the entrance hole, ousting the resident owl, and looking out the misshapen hole with bug-eyed self-satisfaction.

Then the idea came to me. Why not make an experimental owl box and use it to test various squirrel deterrents?

If you have seen the British documentary "Daylight Robbery" you will get my drift. The script was so imaginative, the sound track so cleverly playful, and Dr. Jessica Holm so charming that it inspired a new wave of backyard squirrel research and wholesome campus recreation like squirrel fishing.

Daylight Robbery was actually a celebration of the eastern gray squirrel's problem solving ability, namely in circumventing obstacles and deterrents to the bird feeders. Last year it inspired me to embark on a similar exploration of climbing abilities in a dusky-footed wood rat .

Now I must train the local squirrels to feed in the roofless owl box and test their intrusion skills when the roof is in place. When they're hooked on the early bird special (black sunflower seeds and peanuts) the performance trials will begin. I'll systematically evaluate the deterrent effect of different sized roofs, flashing, hole position, baffles and so on.

Yesterday I set up the roofless owl box and a camera trap, and at 8:00 this morning two small squirrels were on the scene. Neither entered the box, but they perched on it and ate the seeds I left on the edges.

I didn't bother to check the camera for pictures of the first visit, but rest assured it's ready for tomorrow.


Owlman said...

Looks like you have a couple feet of snow there Chris. I am very interested in the results of your Squirrel deterant project. If you come up with a good one it would probably sell in Bird shops.

Camera Trap Codger said...

Yes, we have more than enough snow, but I am not complaining. This morning a squirrel spent a half hour in and out of the owl box scarfing sunflower seeds. So far so good.

brdpics said...

Hey buddy- I think you have something on you lens there...

Seriously, though- this is a great idea to experiment with! I have a couple of flicker boxes that fox squirrels move into. Nothing like trying to clean out the boxes 20' up a ladder when a fox squirrel is hunkered down inside- I visualize one blasting out of the box right onto my face, sending me backwards like John Belushi in Animal House, ladder and all, to whomp down on the ground. The squirrel undoubtedly would jump at the last second, landing daintily on its feet to scold my prone figure and then run off to reclaim its box.

But I digress... Let us know what you find out!

Owlman said...

Not sure if you saw the video of the squirrel on the obstacle course that I posted on my blog at:

Based on this video you should have your hands full with your guys!

Camera Trap Codger said...

You are spot on about ninja squirrels. Very scary they are. The experiment is moving forward, so stay posted.

I had missed that post somehow, but I instantly recognized the charming Jessica Holm. I think the best sequence in the film is the squirrel's response to the jack-in-the-box. I definitely identify with the codger who came up with that solution.