Wednesday, August 21, 2013

This Is For The Birds...

Our peaceful mountain home now has a war being waged right outside it's doors. What started with a few pesky interlopers has quickly escalated to stealthy, nightly attacks that are robbing us of sleep and sanity.

Let us step back in time a couple months to the start of this saga...

As you may recall, last fall we started putting out bird feeders and over the winter we were very pleased with the variety and volume of birds that visited on a regular basis. We occasionally had some other woodland critters come around and help themselves to the bird feeders, namely squirrels and deer.

The squirrels were entertaining enough that we did not mind (too much) that they spent hours each day dangling from the feeders as they picked through to get the choice seeds and dropped the rest on the ground. We have several bird species that prefer eating from the ground, so the seeds tossed out by the squirrels did not go to waste.

The Deer Feeder
When the deer first appeared, we were so excited to have them visiting our yard each evening, we did not mind that they were quickly emptying any of the bird feeders within their reach. However, after they broke one feeder, and then gnawed away at wood on it's replacement, we decided it was time to re-locate some of the feeders. Little did we know that this decision would, while eliminating these little skirmishes, lead to all out war on another front.

First, we decided to remove any bird feeders from being within reach of the deer. We did provide the deer with a seed block, so they did not seem to mind the loss of the feeders to much. We had been hanging a couple feeders from wrought iron shepherd hooks, the style generally used for hanging flower basket. The deer (and squirrels) could access these quite easily, so we stopped using them and attached a curved hook onto a tree trunk, at a height that the deer could not reach.  With this move, we vanquished the deer, but the squirrels continued to offer them aid by knocking seed to the ground so that the deer could forage. The squirrels also became demolition experts in that they would pull apart and/or chew off sections of the plastic feeders so that the seed would pour out onto the ground. Needless to say, we preformed hardware upgrades, replacing the plastic feeders with squirrel teeth resistant metal versions.

Basketball Hoop Feeder
When we moved onto the property, there was an old basketball hoop attached to a length of 2x4 that was in turn screwed into a tree along the driveway. As neither Alan or I are know for our prowess on the basketball court, the hoop was repurposed into yet another bird feeder stand. Alan fashioned a rope and hooks into a pulley system for raising and lowering the feeder to fill it.

Ahh, a truce. The birds were feeding, the squirrels were entertaining (and feeding) and the deer were no longer destructive. All was peaceful on the home front, until....

All out war was instigated by new visitors (aka the enemy)... raccoons. We had not seen any raccoons on the property all winter, but this spring and summer several things changed that probably played crucial roles in bringing the enemy to our door. First, I planted a garden. When I put tomato plants in containers on our deck, I quickly realized I needed to surround them with chicken wire as some type of 'critter' was digging them up at night. Next, one day as I was filling the basketball hoop bird feeder, the cross-timber gave way from the tree and the feeder, hoop and 2x4 came crashing down... on my head!

The final impetus to our soon to be declaration of war was the lack of birth control within the raccoon community. Early in the summer, Alan would go out on the deck at night, shine a flashlight up into the tree branches, and there would be several cute baby raccoons staring back at him. Fast forward a couple months and those nocturnal critters of destruction are no longer cute, and no longer up in the trees.

Squirrel Sabotage
When the basketball hoop feeder exploded (I think it was squirrel sabotage), we decided we needed to tighten our perimeter and move the feeders to more secure locations within 'friendly territory'. The enemy lines were encroaching upon us. We crossed into enemy territory during the light of day, rescued the feeders and brought them up to the deck. We had prepared the retreat location by mounting hooks into the deck railing and we hung the bird feeders there. Close to the house and about 10 feet off the ground.

Attempt #1:
Bring feeders up to the deck
However, within just a night or two, we started hearing footfalls across our deck on a nightly basis. One night, as I was sitting on the sofa, I looked through the office to the sliding glass door and saw the enemy staring in at me! The raccoons were not deterred by our proximity to the newly relocated bird feeders. We would sit at the living room windows, just six or so feet from the feeders hanging on the deck railing and watch the raccoons attack them. One night, while laying in bed, I heard a large crash and the next morning found one of the feeders laying on the ground.

Attempt #2:
Extend feeders away from deck
Time for new war-time strategies. Since proximity to us did not deter the enemy, we decided we needed to hang the feeders in a manner to keep the raccoons from being able to reach them. Our plan was to extend them out away from the deck in some manner so that the pesky critters could not get to them. We made a supply run to Lowe's and I came up with an idea using conduit, a section of larger pipe and various hooks and clamps to make retracting poles so that we could still easily fill the feeders and then slide them out of reach of the raccoons.

This deterrent worked for a couple days, while the enemy also strategized, and then we were once again waking up to empty bird feeders, and worse yet, damaged feeders that had plummeted once more to the ground.

War Time Destruction

A Wounded Soldier Returns

We were not yet ready to surrender, so back to the drawing board. The weight of the full bird feeders was causing the lengths of conduit to bend downward (even before the weight of the raccoon was added to it each night). We decided engineering an upward slant to the conduit would do the trick. We assumed the raccoons would not be able to climb up a sloping steel rod. Alan cut small wedges of lumber and inserted them between the deck rail and the conduit.
A Wedge Was Added
Attempt #3:
Angle the pole upwards

Attempt #4:
Grease the pole
That night, we went to bed confident we would wake up to birds happily having breakfast, not screaming at us because the feeders were once again empty. Again we had success for a couple days, but then the enemy once again foiled our plans in some way. I suggested we grease the poles, so Alan then applied lithium grease. And yes, we were grinning evilly as we sprayed the lubricant on the poles as thoughts of raccoons slip-sliding and plummeting to the ground raced through our minds.

The Raccoons 'Pooh-Pooh-ed'
Our Fortification Attempts
The next day, the raccoons left us a visual comment as to what they thought of our last escalation in the war of the bird feeders. In fact, I almost stepped in their 'comment' as I opened the french doors and stepped on the deck the next morning.

At this point, we truly believed we had won not only that battle, but the entire war. For several days we woke up to feeders that still had a seed supply, despite the sound of the pitter-patter of raccoon feet on the deck during the night. However, the enemy is persistent and apparently lithium grease dissipates (or possible raccoons licked it off) because after about a week, we once again woke up to empty bird feeders.

At this point, I fear we may have reached the point of loosing a bit of  our sanity. We are now determined to stop the raccoons at all cost. Alan brought out the big guns (no, not literally as I am not prepared to try raccoon stew ...yet). Out came strips of lumber, power driver and nails. We have now created one more line of defense on the deck railing. So far, this has been a bloodless war, although I had feared I would wake up to bloody paw prints on the deck after our last reinforcements. If this has not convinced the enemy to surrender, the pellet gun may be the next item in the arsenal against this formidable foe.
Hmmm, I wonder if the raccoons
will leave a 'comment' to this?
Attempt #5
Need I say more?