Say, I've got these bird feeders ...

Friday, May 30, 2003

A few years ago, I bought a storage shed, one I had to assemble.

After hours of failed attempts to get the shed up, I finally read the instruction manual.

This scenario, of course, is familiar to patient wives who have watched their husbands' blood pressure rise over the simplest do-it-yourself projects, all because the instruction manual is still in its watertight plastic envelope.

There is, I'm sure, a perfectly good explanation for this phenomenon. I just don't know what it is.

In any event, I finally managed to get the shed put together. A few friends lent their muscles to move the shed onto its concrete-block foundation. And I happily filled the shed with gas-powered machines, electric-powered devices and hand-powered rakes and shovels, which left the garage relatively empty of anything except automobiles, which was the whole idea.

This arrangement has been quite satisfactory on the whole. I'll admit that the garage clutter builds up during the winter when available floor space becomes a refuge for flower pots and miscellaneous outdoor stuff that needs to come in out of the weather. But, come spring, the garage turns back into a parking place for vehicles.

That's the way it's supposed to be.

This spring, a curious thing has been happening. Little by little, the garage is being taken over by a graveyard for Bird Feeders That Feed More Squirrels Than Birds.

Do you have any of those at your house?

I do not consider gray squirrels to be my enemy, nor do I consider them to be a threat to civilization as we know it. However, gray squirrels, have more brain power per square inch than any other animal I know -- except cats, of course, which are smarter than Mr. Einstein. And they are my nemesis in the bird-feeding department.

I blame my current predicament on the fact that the Sullivan household has no cats.

There's a good reason. Can you say "allergies"?

My wife, in particular, suffers from cat dander. She co-existed for 19 years with our long-lived black cat named Blackie -- what else? When Blackie used up all of his nine lives, we thought it would be medically prudent not to have another cat.

That lasted until I went to the animal shelter on Route W and saw Miss Kitty, who returned my casual glance with such an appealing and earnest stare that I adopted her on the spot. OK. I'm easy. My wife gamely agreed to give a cat another try. And she did. She really did. But medical bills to treat human allergies are even bigger than anti-dander treatments for cats. In the end, the cat went to a loving couple who hasn't even once kept a promise to regularly update me on Miss Kitty's life.

Catless, I have turned my attention to outdoor creatures of the feathered variety.

Our first bird feeder was a board on the deck railing. Birds loved it. But any experienced bird-feeding aficionado knows how elegant and essential -- and expensive -- bird feeders have become.

I got a squirrel-proof feeder years ago that still works, but it holds only one kind of birdseed. I want finches. I want indigo buntings. And rose-breasted grosbeaks.

But I do not want gray squirrels.

So, I have tried every model of bird feeder on the market. Finally, I have one with three feeding tubes and a wire-mesh enclosure mounted on a length of black pipe. The birds like it. The squirrels don't. I'm happy.

Do you know anyone who isn't so fussy who would like a nice feeder or two, mostly of the hanging type? I know where there are some. Cheap.

R. Joe Sullivan is the (cat-loving) editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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