Squirrels do seem to evoke strong emotions in people.
Of course, Squirrel Week is only partially about squirrels. It’s about humans, too, and the myriad ways we interact with these creatures.
Many of the comments I’ve received this week have been from readers who have vanquished squirrels in a nonlethal way.
Kensington’s Malcolm Wilson was among those who suggested mixing cayenne pepper with birdseed. Birds can’t taste it; squirrels hate it. “Squirrels figure it out on about their third trip to your feeder and then they just stay away,” Malcolm wrote. “A cheap and awesome fix. And watching a squirrel drain your birdbath of water is entertaining as well.”
You can even buy seed — and suet — with the pepper already added.
Catherine Evans of Hagerstown, Md., had a suggestion for defeating squirrels who climb poles.
“Go to any toy store and buy some metal Slinkys,” she wrote. “Thread them on shepherd’s crook poles or around the poles of other kinds of feeder supports. When squirrels try to climb the pole, they bounce up and down a few times and usually give up. Quite amusing, actually. ”
Birdseed is one thing. Fruit and vegetables are another. When you’ve nurtured your peach or fig trees all year long, you hate to see the fruit ruined by squirrels.
“Squirrels are a challenge,” said Chuck Schuster, a commercial horticulture expert with the University of Maryland Extension. “They can come from above. They can hop down. They can come along the ground. They can climb the fence you put up that will really repel many other things.”
Chuck recommends a multi-pronged approach. Cayenne-based products sprayed on foliage — not on the fruit! — can discourage squirrels.
Applying a goop called Tanglefoot to tree trunks bugs them, too.
“It’s not going to harm them,” he said. “It really discourages them. It’s sticky and gooey. They don’t like it.”
Chuck said you can also put out sunflower seeds in the hope that the squirrels will gorge on those and leave the fruit alone. That may strike some as paying protection money to the mob, but if it works . . .
Arlington County reader Susie Bachtel has been feeding squirrels from her deck since January, tossing out whole corn kernels.
“I’d like to stop feeding them and clean and reclaim the deck area until next winter,” she wrote. “My thought is to gradually reduce the amount of corn I toss out there and ‘close it out’ by the end of April. Is this going to be a hardship for them?”
No, said Brittany Davis, squirrel expert at Second Chance Wildlife Center in Gaithersburg. “Since they show up intermittently throughout the day and not all at once, the squirrels are not heavily reliant upon the food source,” she said. “There will be a transition period where the squirrels will continue to explore the deck, regardless of any human activity, but they will quickly learn that summer means no food on the deck.”
Squirrel Week inspired Alexandria’s Jan Varner to write a song called “The Squirrel at My Birdfeeder.” It’s sung to the tune of “The Girl From Ipanema” and begins like this:
Small and gray and plump and frizzy, the squirrel at my birdfeeder is busy.
He’s stealing the seed that I hoped would bring birds to my yard . . .
Finally, Pete Gochman and his wife, Barrie, are visited by about a dozen squirrels at their Silver Spring home. Both of them work in mental health, which may have made them attuned to something they noticed.
“Most of the basic personality types seen in people are on display in squirrels as well,” Pete wrote. “The Type A bossy person? We have a squirrel like that. The sweet, peaceful soul? We have that squirrel too. There are a few squirrel troublemakers but most are amazingly positive and make the best of whatever situation they find themselves in.
“I have to say that squirrels can teach us a few things about how to be successful and to lead positive lives.”
Perhaps that’s a lot to put on a squirrel’s tiny shoulders. Perhaps it’s enough just to watch them and smile.
A furry farewell
Well, that’s all until next year. You can see reader-submitted squirrel photos by visiting wapo.st/squirrelweek.
And mark your calendars: Squirrel Week 2014 begins April 6.
For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.