Porch Tales – Red Squirrel

Beech Mountain, NC sunrise.

The pink morning rises cold over the mountains. A scurry of squirrels descends upon the porch, hungry for a morning meal. The three hoard the seed as though I put it out for them. The two gray squirrels had stayed away while there was only safflower seed. This month, I bought another bag with sunflower seeds simply because it was at the grocery store and nearby. All the squirrels are glad I bought squirrel food again.

The squirrels think if it has sunflower seeds, it belongs to them.

When December snowed and snowed, birds came to my porch asking for seed. In the summers, the owners of the condos above me feed the birds. Often the seeds from the unit above fall to my porch. The birds that visited, mostly juncos and one nuthatch, were looking for those seeds. The juncos visit every winter. This was the first winter the nuthatch visited, and he was the one who sat beside me as I painted this summer.

After a while, the birds complain that the squirrels are hogging the seeds. Though I chase the squirrels and tell them they must share, they don’t listen. Finally, I must call Birdie to talk to the squirrels. Nothing makes a feist or squirrel dog happier than to start the day out barking at squirrels. Once the dog and I convince the squirrels that they’ve had enough for this morning, the birds quieten, and I return to writing.

A sound begins that I’ve heard before in the past few months of feeding the birds. One of them is pecking on one of the metal porch chairs. Though seeking to find the culprit before, they were too skittish earlier for me to see which bird was making the noise. This time, while I sat

Sparrow and Titmouse -January 2021

writing at the computer desk, I can see that it is the titmouse pecking the chair. Watching him grab a seed and then peck on the quarter-inch rail of the arm or footrest, I wonder if the titmouse must break open a seed like a nuthatch. Then, the musician in me wonders if the sound is pleasing or perhaps the vibrations of the chair as he pecks.

“This was love: a string of
Coincidences that gathered
Significance and became miracles.”[1]

~Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

Though concerned about how cold December was and if the local birds were hungry, another issue decided me to risk feeding the birds. I wanted to befriend the tiny nuthatch that had been visiting my porch since the summer. This summer, as I worked quietly on a painting, he almost lit on my right shoulder. He caught himself before landing on me and stopped for a moment on the railing less than three inches from my shoulder. It was a moment of wonder and delight.

Nuthatch January 2021

My neighbors who are birders told me that if I fed the birds, the nuthatch would come closer and might eventually eat out of my hand. The bears were still out and extremely active then. Since my porch is closer to the ground, it was better not to risk it. Even as I began feeding the birds in December, I clarified that this was only a breakfast joint. After a day or two, I learned how to put out only enough seed for the birds to eat until noon.

That first month, the birdseed went away quickly. They were all hungry, and the squirrels kept trying to hoard the seeds. The juncos can be bossy and greedy too. When I hear too much bickering, I know the juncos are not sharing with the smaller birds. Or possibly, the squirrels are back.

Chickadee 2021

Then the chickadees came. Then a solitary titmouse. At the end of January, a sparrow began joining the breakfast club and always a squirrel had to check out what was for breakfast.

 

The squirrels can be little pigs so I will allow them to eat, but if they chase off the birds, they are finished! I tell them it’s time to go home.  At first, I thought it tricky that my dog’s name is Birdie and sometimes I will forget and call the birds “birdies”. That’s confusing to the dog.

Birdie 2021

When I take Birdie for walks, I keep her on a leash because if it moves; she wants to chase it. She is curious about the bird tracks on “her” porch whenever we go out. When the squirrels get too greedy, I call in my big dog. The squirrels know that I’m coming outside, and she usually starts barking at them before I let her onto the closed-in porch.

Yesterday, one of the red squirrels came for breakfast and was missing 2/3 of a lovely tail. I feared that it was the one I’m getting attached to that I’m calling Red for now. Birdie and I first saw Red last summer as we walked near the felled Beech trees in the woods beside of us. His beautiful red coat gleamed sunlight running red over the gray tree trunks. When I saw the red squirrel missing part of a tail yesterday, I feared that one of our predators had gotten him.

Red’s coat is even more gorgeous in the sunlight. 2021

All morning today, I’ve watched as a scurry of squirrels snacked on breakfast. I allowed two gray squirrels and one tiny red one to eat longer than usual in hopes I would see Red or the squirrel who lost his tail. I’ve seen the damage that squirrels can do to houses, cars, and furniture. Since a gray squirrel snuck into my grandma’s house and tore up her antique couch, I’ve known for years that they are rodents. Still, I waited hours this morning, praying that Red didn’t lose his gorgeous tail. Not that I want any squirrel to lose a tail.

Finally, as I wrote to tell a friend that I hadn’t seen Red or the squirrel with the shortened tail, a blur of red hopped onto the porch from the direction Red usually visits. He lives to the West of the porch while most of the others live to the East of the porch and always sneak down the tree beside the condo. The day ends happily because Red still has his long tail!

Red with his full tail. 2021

As I sought to finish this tale of my morning, I checked emails and saw the quotes posted here. As I read the second one, perhaps it’s okay to feed the squirrels too.

“Extend the boundaries of the
glowing kingdom of your love,
gradually including your family,
your neighbors, your community,
your country, all countries,
all living sentient creatures.”[2]

~Paramahansa Yogananda

 

[1] As quoted on Dailygood.org

[2] Ibid., Dailygood

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