Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Squirrels and Cardinals

Squirrels in my backyard. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

I was lying in bed this morning, watching a movie, when I noticed a squirrel hop onto the side of the bedroom patio trellis. I thought this was a litlte strange so I leaned forward and looked out the window. I couldn't see any other squirrels, though I assumed it was another male chasing the squirrel away. A few minutes later, it happened again, then again. I stood up and walked to the window, careful to stay to the side so they wouldn't see me, and then I saw a deep red, large male cardinal flying onto the patio, chasing the squirrel away from the food dish. I quickly ran outside and refilled the bird dishes--they seem to eat more when it's cold outside and we've had very cold weather the past few days.

This isn't the first time I've seen a bird chase squirrels away. We had two bluebirds in the backyard last year and they would chase the squirrels away from the corn cobs. They would wait until the squirrels loosened the corn nibs with their teeth, chewed out the white section then dropped the rest back onto the tree branch, then the birds would chase off the squirrels and eat what was left of the corn niblet.

The cardinal surprised me, though. I've never seen them chase squirrels. In Colorado, I watched a squirrel in the park who liked to run up the trees and chase away the crows, but the birds chasing the squirrels seems odd as the squirrels are so much larger.

Male cardinals can be very aggressive, though. In the spring, during mating season, they attack each other often, trying to establish a heirarchy in their tiny flocks as well as fighting over females. We often have bird strikes on our huge picture windows and more often than not it is the cardinals. They see their own reflection, puff out the chest and attack. We even saw a cardinal attacking the side mirror on my husband's truck once. It would back off, then dive, back off, then dive. It may sound funny, but it's a serious situation for the birds as they can easily break their own necks.

This has happened a few times in the four years we've lived in the house. I have a small animal cemetery beneath the wysteria vines. I bury them with cards that my artist-sister made with drawings of angels and a little seed, then I pray over thier grave. I know some may find this eccentric, but I believe all God's creatures deserve to be recognized for the contribution they made on this earth and honored for their beauty and grace, their precious gifts from God that make them gifts from God to us.


Anonymous said...

I just saw a bird chasing a squirrel and attacking it! It followed it down a power line, into a tree and back down the power line (in my little dead end, the power lines are the squirrel's little highway system. They use them to get from tree to tree without having to face the dangers of the ground)until the squirrel finally made it to the safety of a thick tree that the bird could not fly into. The bird was so aggressive! It was really giving it to the squirrel's hind end with its beak! I came in to google "birds chasing squirrels" and came along your posting. I just couldnt understand why.
Maybe the bird was protecting a nest? I don't know what type of bird. I live in the south. It was one of the normal grey colored birds that are always around.
If anyone knows why they would be so aggressive to a squirrel, please let me know.
Angel C
South Carolina

Darla Sue Dollman said...

I can answer that question--squirrels eat bird eggs. If there is a shortage of squirrel food around, they will also eat baby birds. Friends have told me before that they do not want squirrels eating their bird food, so they ask for advice on how to keep the squirrels away. My advice is to feed the squirrels. Learn to live with them--they really are a lot of fun to watch. If the squirrels have food, they won't eat the bird seed or bother the birds. You can buy dried corn on the cob for squirrels and little cages to hang the cobs from a tree. It's fun to watch them try to get to the corn. They also like peanut butter and apples, though they don't seem to like the skin. They generally eat around the skin. They love gray striped sunflower seeds and black oil sunflower seeds. I moved from Texas last year. At our Texas home we had many generations of squirrels and huge flocks of sparrows, finches, cardinals, and other birds nesting on the five acre property. I fed the squirrels and birds twice daily in dishes all around the house and they tolerated each other just fine. If you watched an aggressive attack from a bird to a squirrel, the squirrel most likely either tried to eat the eggs or was already in the nest. The squirrel will remember the nest. The bird cannot move the nest. The bird MUST make sure that squirrel is intimidated so much that he or she will not risk returning.