When we put up the bird feeders in the back yard, which abuts a large stand of trees, we were naïve enough that we did not expect that their major patrons would have fur, not feathers.

So we acquired what seemed to be multiple families of large tree rats (you might call them squirrels), which asserted their squatters’ rights not only to the point of scaring away birds, but chasing off smaller versions of themselves to boot.

There really is no honor among thieves.

Then, we looked out one morning to see one of the iron rods that held up the feeders bent over at a 45-degree angle with its feeders on the ground.

“I don’t think that was the squirrels,” I told my wife, and a call to the Maine Warden Service confirmed a bear had been raiding bee hives in the neighborhood.

“Take down the feeders for a couple weeks,” we were told. “Bears have a route, and if they come back and don’t find food, they’ll cross you off their list.”


It worked. No bear reappeared — but the squirrels were back the day after the feeders were restored.

We even saw a pair of them gang up to pursue the neighbor’s pesky cat back onto her own property. That day we cheered their pluck — but more likely it was their commitment to their seemingly boundless food supply.

We had nothing personal against squirrels — “They have to eat, too,” my wife said last winter, watching them swinging from the feeders while stuffing their faces after I had shoveled a path through the waist-deep snow to replenish the seed supply.

But when spring arrived and enough Sciurus carolinensis showed up that the birds disappeared and the feeders were emptied seemingly every other day, we realized we had to do something.

While the squirrels likely believed they had found the fabled Magical Bottomless Bird Feeder, their benefactors had come to the conclusion that the smorgasbord was going to be closed to all forest denizens not possessing wings.

The free-lunch syndrome seems universal across species. If food is available without working for it, the line for the goodies quickly grows longer and longer. But in this yard, I resolved, the handouts were coming to an end, at least as far as tree rats were concerned.


Thus, I bought a squirrel-sized Havahart trap. The reviews said peanut butter made a good bait if deposited on a piece of cardboard just beyond the pressure plate that triggers the trap door.

So that’s what I did, and after placing the baited trap between the feeders, I retired inside to await my first capture.

A couple of hours later, I looked out to see a squirrel in the middle of the yard with the cardboard in its mouth, licking the peanut butter off it.

Score after first period: Squirrels 1, humans 0.

Back at the drawing board, in this case my workbench, I cut a piece of wire and threaded it through the cardboard so I could attach it firmly to the inside of the trap.

And it worked. In the past five days, I found five furry captives waiting for my inexorable will to determine their fate.


Score after second period: Humans 5, squirrels 1.

Still, a wise jurist always finds room for mercy. So I applied the same penalty that English monarchs used to offer subjects they found undesirable.

On a long-ago visit to the Tower of London, I heard a Yeoman of the Guard (aka Beefeaters) describe it: Convicts would be brought to the Traitors’ Gate, a water gate opening on the Thames, and loaded on boats for a trip halfway round the world to Van Diemen’s Land — the original name of what we today call Tasmania, used for many decades by the British as a penal colony.

And that sentence had a name: “Transportation.”

(Then the Beefeater — they are all senior military veterans — asked if there were any Australians in the group. When one woman shyly raised her hand, he bellowed out: “Welcome home, dearie!”)

So my captives, too, would suffer transportation, not to another continent, but at least to another town, where stands of trees abounded and, if not an ocean, at least a river would separate them from my domain, which their multiple felonious offenses had rendered them unfit to occupy.


But on the way home after dropping off the last one, I drove past a car parked by a wooded patch near one of the streets that leads into my neighborhood. And while I can’t be certain, it appeared to me the driver was taking a wire cage out of his trunk.

Suddenly, a horrifying suspicion leaped into my mind: Are we merely exchanging squirrels instead of getting rid of them?

Is the final score, squirrels ∞, humans 0?

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. Email at: [email protected].

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