Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Are you smarter than your critters?

This gazania lasted one day before being chewed to the ground.
Some people are street smart. Some are book smart. Some know a lot about one or two things; others know a little about a lot of things. But few would be able to consistently outsmart the critters in my neighborhood.

Whether it’s the squirrels commandeering bird feeders, rabbits chewing garden plants, chipmunks snacking on flower bulbs, or carpenter bees boring into picnic benches, they are quick to adapt and find their way around any human-designed barriers.

Enter the search terms “squirrels” and “bird feeders” into YouTube, and you’ll get more than 50,000 results. Obviously, my household isn’t the only one trying to baffle one species while feeding another.

After the failure of several guaranteed squirrel-proof bird feeders, I have conceded that territory to the animal kingdom. Let the squirrels and birds duke it out for seed. I’m just there for the show.

My line in the sand is the garden. Here, rabbits are the culprit. Cute, yes. But there are oh so many. And they are oh so bold. I can be reading on the porch, only to look up into the round, black eyes of a rabbit nonchalantly chewing my flowers. He won’t stop. He won’t leave. And he ignores my pleadings to eat the weeds.

I am agreeable to compromise, willing to sacrifice a few plants as appetizers. What I hate is losing freshly planted plots of greens. Fences won't work in this area of the yard, and traps are out because I don’t want to cause bodily harm to bunnies.

After some strategizing and head-scratching, I came up with a plan to protect the latest batch of tender, young basil plants. The solution seemed plausible and possible, with the added bonus of finding a new use for my growing stack of old take-out soup containers. By cutting off the bottom, I was left with a plastic cylinder that would protect lower leaves and stems from easy rabbit pickings. Time will tell whether I’ve really outsmarted those rascally rabbits, and if I buy enough time, the plants will mature enough to survive a nibble or two.

Now my battles in the animal kingdom have moved indoors, where the contestants are cat claws versus lace curtains. The cats won round one, and I have since replaced the shredded panels. I also attempted to stack the deck for the inevitable round two by imposing tighter access to window sills and installing curtain holdbacks. But the cats are cunning, showing off their advantage by sharpening and stretching their claws whenever I’m in sight.

Forget about the TV game show “Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader.” A harder challenge would be to find contestants who can prove themselves smarter than the average house cat or squirrel. These critters have proven their ability to outwit, outlast, outplay as well as any Survivor castaway, with clear evidence of their victories throughout my home and garden. 

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