Saturday, March 31, 2007

This is your head on suet!

Wild Bird Suet is the Crack Cocaine of squirrels. Trust me on this one - I've got seven little gray, furry "Cokeheads" hanging out in my yard as I speak.

The suet cafeteria at which these drug dependent rodents dine was put there to sustain the Downey Woodpecker that built a condominium in one of the dead branches of our Flowering Crab. I've checked the ingredients in the "Seed Treat" with which I stock this metal food holder, and I really do not see anything to cause addiction. (I mean, "Good God!" it's made in Fort Dodge Iowa. How much more wholesome can you get than that?) "Rendered beef suet, sunflower seeds, millet & corn" - according to the label - "Crude Protein: min 4%, Crude Fat: min 30%, Crude Fiber: max 12%". Although it's not exactly something that you'd expect from the kitchen of Julia Child (except for the high percentage of fat)- it is definitely not the output of Dr. Timothy Leary, or some other pharmaceutical chef either.

Yet, since their first taste of this suet souffle, these little tree rats have acted as if they just can't get enough of the stuff. And they're showing a lot of the behaviors of human addicts:
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hyper-stimulation
  • Intense euphoria
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Aggressive, paranoid behavior
Sure you may ask, "How is this different than the normal behavior of squirrels?" To which I would respond, "Picky, picky, picky!"

We've put suet out intermittently over the previous years but had never attracted any interest at all from our resident tree rats - nil, nada, zero, zilch.

Maybe it was the type of hard white fat we used in the past. We bought it from our local neighborhood market figuring that the high quality of their people-meats would trickle down into their other products. It was apparently handmade (whatever that means) and came with, its own little mesh bag and hanging string. It was however basically unprotected and, judging from the frustrated behavior of the birds, difficult to dine on.

But not for the neighborhood dogs, particular a Golden Retriever named "God Damn It! Rusty" (at least that's what I heard its owner call it) who would dart into our yard, rip down the oleaginous treat, and make off with it.

Then we got the suet basket, a metal cage designed to hold those machine-made suet and seed concoctions that are readily available at nurseries and the Audubon Society. The suet holder is more accessible to the birds who now have a sturdy foothold from which to operate. It is also "squirrel-proof". Which means of course that the little gray rats show up in droves to hang upside down from the top of the fat-holder and suck the "Seed Treat" out of its safely protected enclosure.

We have three other feeders hanging next to the suet cage. The other day I looked out the window to see enough gray furry bodies hanging from the tree to make me think momentarily that I had a crop of squirrels growing in my front yard. They were all hanging upside down, with their bushy tails flopped over in various degrees of lassitude. And they were stuffing the contents of the feeders into their mouths so quietly that only the rapidly decreasing level in each container indicated that anything at all was happening in the food court.

It reminded me of a fake BBC television documentary in which they draped large quantities of limp, cooked pasta over the branches of trees and pretended to tell the story of a fictional spaghetti harvest celebration. I briefly pictured all the tree limbs in my neighborhood littered with scores of limp, languid, slate-colored, food-sucking pelts. And the subsequent shindig when we reaped our bounty, sang some rousing tree-rodent chanteys, and feasted on Brunswick Stew and other squirrel delicacies.

But alas, the spaghetti and squirrel harvests are not for real. And my gray yard guest's lust for the fat-coated granola continues unabated. I'm refilling the suet feeder at least twice a week. And the other feeders every day, sometimes more frequently. I figure that’s about a two kilo a day habit that I am supplying.

I would shut them off - cold turkey - if Mars and I weren't so hooked on watching them every day. Is it still called co-dependency if the enablers don't want the addicts to recover because they are just so damn much fun to watch?

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