I have a reward poster hanging at my house offering $2 for the return of my peanut feeder, which was dragged off to the woods by squirrels.
I didn't see it happen, but the squirrels are obsessed with that peanut feeder. Doesn't exactly take Sherlock to figure out what happened.
The hanger is still on my bird-feeder pole, which is funny. The squirrel managed to remove the handle and take away the peanut-filled tube. I wonder if they got the lid off, or if they're hidden somewhere in a frustrated frenzy, trying to nibble the peanuts out of the little holes.
I've never had a peanut feeder before. But like so many other people, I started feeding the birds again this year, eager for the entertainment available in my own backyard.
The peanut feeder, as should be no surprise, attracted nut hatches. They came chirping in, hanging upside-down as they hacked into the nuts. I added a suet feeder, a second feeder filled with black oil sunflower seeds, and some squirrel food thrown out to try to keep the rodents away from the bird feeders. It didn't work, obviously.
I've fed birds before. But years passed, and then I had four kids growing up, and suddenly, $10 spent on a bag of birdseed seemed excessive. Sorry, chickadees; I have my own mouths to feed.
But I'm calling it a homeschool science project this year. We can observe the birds' behavior, as they dip in and out from the surrounding trees. We watch the squirrels fight, then scatter in different directions if we so much as crack the door open. The chipmunks were bolder; they don't run away until you're closing in on them. But they disappeared a while ago, burrowed down, leaving the squirrels to have at it.
I haven't had anything too exotic visit the feeder. A couple pileated woodpeckers were a highlight, their crow-like size dwarfing the suet feeder. We've also had hairy and downy woodpeckers, white and red nuthatches. We had a variety of mysterious migrating birds for a spell, but now it's mostly just the chickadees, our loyal wintertime companions. They scold me when I take down the feeders to refill them.
Nobody has found my peanut feeder yet. I could raise the reward offer, motivate my 10-year-old a little more, but the thing cost only $5 to begin with. And this is proving I might need to buy something more solid.
But I'm fighting the urge to spend any more money on this endeavor, though the temptation is strong. There are a lot of cute products you can buy for bird-feeding, to satisfy the humans as well as the birds.
Misty Bristol, the local owner of Duluth's Wild Birds Unlimited store, agreed. People are at home, they can't travel, and feeding the birds "does bring joy," she said.
Her business had a rough spring when the pandemic started, but sales have rebounded because of an increased interest in the hobby this fall and winter.
Bristol also credited an "eruption of pine siskins" as birds were migrating. They're attracted to a finch blend, nyjer seed or sunflower chips, all things not on my backyard menu. (Leave it to me to get new ideas after talking to the store's owner for five minutes.)
Making it as a store that sells only bird-feeding supplies seems like it could be a challenge, but Bristol said her customers appreciate the high-quality products she offers.
"Quality seed is what we're known for. It's 100% clean, edible. We don't have twigs, fillers, oats, barley, milo in our seed, and very little millet," she said. "We also have high-quality feeders."
Has she had other customers say they had an entire feeder stolen by squirrels? I asked.
"Oh yes, all the time," she said.
The feeders usually are found by the customers in the springtime out in the woods. I'm holding out hope.
Bristol said some of her customers do like squirrels, but most do not. They're greedy; they hoard away the food, emptying entire feeders. She recommended products with hot pepper in them, which deter the squirrels and don't bother the birds.
Another thing to think about. But if I'm being honest, I like the squirrels. And as for bringing joy, I've had a lot of fun complaining about how those nuts stole my feeder.
Beverly Godfrey is features editor of the News Tribune. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.