Thursday, April 5, 2007

Persistence of Squirrels

We learn so much from watching the animals. I happen to be particularly impressed by squirrels. I seem to have more than my fair share of squirrel stories, too. I think they're stalking me.

We feed the birds. People who tend bird feeders always have squirrel stories. In fact, the shop owner at the Wild Bird Center where we occasionally buy seed told me he spends at least 90% of his time talking about squirrels. In particular, how to keep squirrels out of the bird feeders.

Our newest feeder is a chickadee feeder. We got it in late January along with a suction window hanger for Marina's window. For a few weeks, the kids enjoyed a close up look at chickadees, titmice, finches, downy woodpeckers, and a red-bellied woodpecker. Then the squirrels took notice.

You have to admire a creature as persistent as the squirrel. The first week they spent a lot of time flinging themselves against the window from the roof gutter and the drain pipe. More often than not, they lost their grip and dropped to the ground. There they sat, stunned for a moment, then headed for the nearest tree to climb and try again. If I could only get my kids to focus on math the way the squirrels focus on a feeder they can't reach! By the second week, the most agile squirrels had figured out how to swing themselves onto the window pane where they would hang by their front paws and edge along like a soldier in an obstacle course. Eventually, some squirrels learned that if they dug their claws in they could just climb the window screen. By the third week, they learned that if they batted at the feeder long enough it would simply slide off the hook and come crashing to the ground.

Through all of this, Marina's problem solving skills were stretched to the limit. She tried filling the feeder only a fraction of the way. She sprinkled seed on the ground to distract them. She tried filling the feeder at night to give the birds a head start. Eventually, she and her little sister were losing sleep from early morning thumps of squirrel bodies slamming into the windows and cats excitedly reacting to squirrels that were just a thin piece of glass out of their reach.

And what have we learned from all this? While we cram our brains with so many things to learn and do each day, the squirrel has one goal and limitless time to test different strategies. He learns from his mistakes and doesn't allow failed attempts to discourage him. In the end, the squirrel is successful.
Squirrel in feeder
I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.

Thomas A. Edison

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