Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yes, we feed the squirrels!

A squirrel feeder in a tall tree at sunrise
This front-yard feeder isn't getting much use quite yet.
Almost 2 years ago, I went to a community meeting held by the Portland Audubon Society, hoping to find out more about how to react to the coyotes I'd seen in the neighborhood. While that meeting was informative and I learned a lot, there was one little side comment that stuck with me, and it's hounded me a bit since then.

The speaker at this meeting mentioned possible legislation that would make feeding coyotes illegal, and in the next breath, he mentioned that he'd like to see similar legislation passed for squirrels. Yup, he suggested that squirrels shouldn't be getting a free handout in Portland-area homes.

I was a little scandalized. I have always loved feeding squirrels, as they reward your little investment of corn with huge leaps through the air and amazing chattering noises. When I lived in Walla Walla, I had two separate feeders, and I'd watch the little critters stuff their cheeks with food as I sipped my morning coffee. With squirrel feeders in place, I didn't have to worry about these guys stealing my bird food, and I liked the idea of helping outdoor animals enjoy a bit more free time. I never even considered that I might be doing something that would, perhaps, be considered illegal.

The idea behind NOT feeding squirrels, from what I can tell, comes from native-species protectionists. Apparently, most of the squirrels we have in Oregon are actually invasive species that came here from other parts of the country, and they don't really need our encouragement in order to stay here.

I can see why we might not want to protect non-native species, but on the other hand, I don't see why reducing available food would help native species to do better. I can't find a native/non-native squirrel feeder on the market. If you feed one, you feed them all. Perhaps my food is helping the natives to survive.

The Society also mentions, in this article, that squirrels that take food from feeders become acclimated to human interactions, and this can make the animals more prone to becoming pests and/or doling out injuries. This is the same thinking behind the coyote interventions. If the coyotes are fed, they learn to trust us, and this is when a coyote/human fight is more likely to result in an injury or a death.

I get it, but honestly, I've never seen a tame squirrel. I've seen coyotes in the Beaumont neighborhood in Portland that will just stand there as you walk by, not concerned at all, but every squirrel I've seen breaks into a run or starts chattering when I'm visible. I don't see how a few bits of food could change squirrel behavior so dramatically.

So, good or bad, I'm feeding the damn squirrels. I have a feeder in the big tree in front, right next to a branch that's perfect for sitting, and I have another in the back yard, next to the roof of the shed. The back-yard feeder is pretty popular at the moment, but the front yard set isn't getting any action. It's been raining like crazy, however, so perhaps my furry friends are all holed up waiting for better weather. When they come out, I'll be ready with more treats. Just try to stop me!