When it comes to squirrels and chipmunks there is an exceptionally fine line between preposterously cute and inherently evil. The line was drawn by humans and therefore has no meaning to squirrels and chipmunks and, even if it did, they can only be cute for so long.
Last spring, a certain number of squirrels and chipmunks began exploiting the seemingly endless supply of bird seed that collected beneath the feeders. They were an efficient clean-up crew, stuffing their cheek pouches with sunflower seeds and millet, distorting their faces into gluttonous caricatures before running off to their secret larders, struggling to hold their heads up and even running sideways due to the weight. They had a good thing going but, being squirrels and chipmunks, they got greedy and messed it up.
Launching themselves from any and all nearby objects, the squirrels became furry projectiles. They would deliver glancing blows that scattered seed on the ground below, emptying the feeders at an alarming rate, but only if they could not actually catch themselves and hang on to a feeder in order to chew through plastic, aluminum and zinc-plated steel. That was like hitting the mother lode and the question of where they were stashing all that seed arose.
Clues started sprouting up in the form of sprouts. Specifically, sunflower sprouts in the ficus and millet sprouts in the African violets and, not long after the discovery of their little agricultural enterprise, it began to snow pink insulation as the squirrels adjusted the R-value of the attic to their liking by pushing it out through their newly chewed-through entrance.
With all the cottages at Fish in a Barrel Pond full of Club members and their families, the use of guns was out of the question. Not that crawling into the attic with a shotgun was an option to begin with, but something had to be done and what was done was this:
One of the two islands on Fish in a Barrel Pond was renamed Exile Island and the entire band of greedy rodents was sentenced to live out the rest of their days there.
Using my well-developed skills of observation and a strong working knowledge of animal behavior, I determined that I would be dealing with one, maybe two squirrels, and at most a half-dozen chipmunks. I had two of those “humane” live-traps and the plan was to transfer the chipmunks to a secure rodent holding unit as they were caught, while the squirrels would be held in the traps to avoid the ugly scene I envisioned when I thought about mixing squirrels and chipmunks in a metal trash can. When each trap contained a squirrel the whole lot would be taken by boat to Exile Island.
With peanut butter on stale bread for bait, I set the first trap on the stone wall below the house. I heard it click shut before I had the second trap set on the porch and before I could get back to see what I had caught the second trap was sprung, too. Two chipmunks in two minutes was not a bad start. Before lunch I had six chipmunks and could see no more and it was just a matter of time before two squirrels joined my collection.
I spent the rest of the afternoon watching closely, looking for signs of rodents, but no more appeared. With my estimate of their numbers confirmed, I lugged the rodent holding unit and the traps to the boat dock, where I was greeted with hoots and hollers from a group of men tying flies on the porch of the lodge while waiting for the evening hatch to roll around. I ignored their ribbing and busting of my chops and declined all bets on how long it would be until the critters swam off the island as I loaded the boat and shoved off, paddling toward Exile Island.
They might have just been happy to be out of the can but it seemed as if the chipmunks enjoyed their new home, streaking off through the undergrowth, and the squirrels climbed right up trees they had never seen before like they had lived there all their lives. It was no life for them, eating spilled bird seed and living in an attic, and I felt warm and fuzzy for having done such a good thing.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I looked out the next morning and saw not one, not two, but three squirrels launching themselves at my bird feeders. And imagine my further surprise when I trapped six more chipmunks, again, before lunch. If you can stand even more surprise, every chipmunk and squirrel trapped that second day received a free stripe of yellow paint but none of the squirrels or chipmunks trapped on the third day had been painted. Neither had the ones I trapped on the fourth day or the fifth.
In all, twenty two chipmunks and eleven red squirrels were relocated to Exile Island during the Great Rodent Roundup and, as one might expect in the woods of Vermont, I still see a few furry visitors on the ground beneath the feeders but I am not worried. Their numbers seem pretty manageable. Looks like one, maybe two squirrels and at most a half-dozen chipmunks.