First the Squirrels, Now the Deer

Feb 26 2014 Published by under Gardening For Life

I like birds. In no way can I call myself a birder, but I like birds. This year I have managed to identify six different birds at my backyard feeder: the cardinal (Mr. & Mrs.); tufted titmouse; red-bellied woodpecker; downy woodpecker; goldfinch; house finch. Also, I can spot robins. I consider this a tremendous leap over my past years "look! a woodpecker! look! a little yellow birdee! look! birds!" Someday, I hope to identify my seventh bird.

I feed the birds in winter because birds are nifty and birds have it tough. We humans chew up their habitats at an astonishing and mortifying clip.  Birds fly into our glass windows and die, they eat our plastic and die, they become prey of our kittehs and die. Stray cats and house kittehs unsupervised by their owners kill many, many birds. So I keep my cats under control, and I set up a feeder in the winter, when bugs are hard to find. It will lift my mood anytime I watch the feeder show.

But the squirrels. Oh, the squirrels. I finally obtained a feeder that is more or less squirrel proof. Particularly ambitious and acrobatic squirrels have still found ways to sneak seed out of it. I have yet to obtain a squirrel-proof suet feeder. I have heard tell there is such a thing but I will believe it when I see it in action. Last year and this squirrel seed consumption is way down, thanks to the new feeder. It is essentially like this squirrel buster classic. Do not waste time on baffles and guards, these are just like resting platforms and climbing guides for squirrels, in my experience. Anyway, I felt I had reached a stand-off with the squirrels where seed was concerned, and had conceded the suet territory to them, while holding out faint hope that a suet-proof feeder might someday be found.

And then came the deer.

We've had an unusual amount of snow this winter, and it has stuck around for an unusually long time. So I haven't seen the deer much for weeks. I think it's been too difficult for them to trek into my yard. But then we had a warming trend, a few sunny days, one long rain storm, and voila! no more snow. Suddenly the deer were in the backyard like a herd of cattle.

This evening there were four of them gathered around the feeder, with four or five more lounging off to the side and one or two more up the hillside in the forest. The ones around the feeder were taking turns eating out of it. I am not sure how they were getting anything out of the tiny little feeder holes - maybe they were just jostling it around to knock the seed out, and then picking at it on the ground. I had not known that deer were big fans of birdseed, but you live and learn. Mr. Z opened the window and yelled at them. They took off at a slow sort of half-run, and five minutes later were right back at it. I went outside and yelled at them and they just looked at me. Like, what do you want? Or, why don't you just go fetch us some more seed?

I chased them off and set about spraying the entire area with Liquid Fence. I didn't see them back before it got full dark but who knows. They were probably up in the woods laughing at me and biding their time. Damn you dirty deer!

Now I have to find a bird feeder that is both squirrel-proof and deer-proof. Last year I visited a friend I had not seen in many years, and found she had taken to backyard bird-watching. Her feeder setup was impressive. The feeder was sheltered from above with a large plastic dome, and the pole it was on was shielded by a large diameter spiky metal cylinder that looked like a bad-ass dog collar crossed with concertina wire. I will have to get some advice from her about where and how she got that rig. Maybe it will work to keep away deer, too.

Otherwise I guess I will have to bring the feeder in at night, and/or spray the seed with capsaicin and/or raise the feeder to six feet high or more. One website I consulted suggests taking the feeder down altogether for several days so the deer will forget about it and look elsewhere for food. Like the deer will ever forget, I am so sure.

I hate the deer, but I feel sorry for them as well. They are trying to survive in a 9-acre plot of woodland surrounded by suburbia on the edge of Philadelphia. There are far, far too many of them for the available space. I don't know how they survive, yet each year they do. They have no predators save starvation and disease. It is one messed up world we have created for ourselves and the critters.

I feel sorry for the deer, but mostly I hate them. I spent a lot of money last fall to have part of my yard landscaped, reclaimed from these past years of neglect as elder care took up more and more of my life. I focused on adding native plants to the yard, along with non-natives that would be hardy and require little in the way of watering. The deer have eaten a good chunk of the little plants put in last fall, and now that the snow is gone I am sure they will resume their munching. What will be left when the spring growth kicks in, I wonder. I was supposed to be greeted this spring by a beautiful new garden coming to life but I think it's going to look flea-bitten and scabby.

It's only fair. We've taken habitat away from all the wild animals, and those that have managed to survive have come back to our yards to take them away from us. The deer in my backyard don't know or care that birds are in more desperate shape than are deer as a species. Even if I could tell them so, would they be willing to sacrifice themselves in favor of the birds? Would I have the nerve to ask them?

Would I do it myself if I were them? I want to save the birds, and I want to save myself. I would like both things to be possible. If we save ourselves at the cost of the birds, then we are no more than deer in the world's backyard.

6 responses so far

  • theshortearedowl says:

    I don't have so much a problem with also feeding squirrels, but the deer are why I can't grow anything. Even holly - how desperate does a deer have to be to eat holly?!

    I saw a small gang of Eastern bluebirds yesterday, and I'm still kind of on an up from that.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    In my home county, out in the Texas hill country, leases for deer hunting, and local spending by hunters, are a big part of the local economy. However, a 1920s chamber of commerce leaflet says no deer in the county. Several things happened. The screwworm fly, the major deer predator, was eradicated, and during the drought of the '50s ranchers began feeding stock, and deer, year around. Feeding deer is legal, most places, and you see huge stacks of sacks of deer corn for sale at all kinds of stores.

    In an urban situation, which my area is trending toward, deer become more and more a nuisance animal. So far as native plantings go, remember that in 1491 deer lived on an exclusive diet of native plants, but were not abundant in lots of places where they are abundant now.

    • Zuska says:

      In my experience, they will live on a diet of anything. There is no such thing as a deer-resistant plant to a hungry deer. Although, they've never eaten my coneflowers! I have to try with the natives, to support the bug life, to support the birds. If we don't start turning our backyards into some semblance of a native habitat, there won't be any of it left.

  • Pascale says:

    A high school classmate on Facebook discusses his methods of keeping deer out of certain areas. He spreads out "predators' delight" a mix of any meaty leftovers from the week. This brings in enough carnivores to scent the area and keep deer away.

    You may not want to spread spoiling leftovers around your yard, but many stores sell deer repellent which often contains fox or coyote urine scent. You have to reapply it every time it rains, but it will keep the deer out.

    • Zuska says:

      Yep, Liquid Fence. It requires very consistent attention to a regular spraying schedule and immediate reapplication after rain or snowmelt. Those deer don't wait for anything!

  • darchole says:

    Deer have no problem standing on their hind legs to eat out of birdfeeder, so you'd have to raise it higher than that to stop them from eating out of it.