Raccoons

It is not rare to find raccoons trapped in garbage cans because they are unable to find a way out.

Could it have been a bear that damaged the bird feeder at Mary Virginia Crites Hannan Park? My husband had gone to the park to fill the bird feeders, but returned home to pick up tools to repair a damaged feeder. The baffle had been twisted from place and was on the ground.

One of the plastic sides of the feeder was split in half and all the sunflower seeds were gone. The suet holder had been bent, opened and the suet gone. “It looks like a bear attack,” he mused. Clyde Gosnell reports signs of bear activity at private lands, “Mathias Grove” in Hocking County; however, a bear in the woods at the Mary Virginia Crites Hannan Park? Not too likely, but possible.

I guessed the culprit was a squirrel. Squirrels are crafty, athletic and persistent, assets that make them a formidable adversary. Squirrel, bird feeder challenges abound on YouTube. Deterrents shown include greased poles, slinkys, whirling feeders and many homemade contraptions, most of which the squirrels have eventually mastered.

This battle of wits is a game that both combatants seem to enjoy. One gymnastic squirrel was found in the park, body stretched from tree to feeder, with toenails of one back foot clinging to a tree and with one front foot just able to grab the feeder. The attempt to reach the seed was unsuccessful, but the feat was acknowledged and the feeder was moved away from the tree and a strong baffle installed. That has deterred squirrels, at least until now, but the damage done to the feeder appeared beyond the ability of even the most villainous squirrel. The mystery continued.

Naturalist, Jim Osborn, suggested we visit the park after a snow and look for tracks to help identify the culprit, but curiosity overcame Jim and he came to investigate for himself. He had experienced similar damage to bird feeders on his property and traced it to marauding raccoons. Jim told me that raccoons are not true hibernators and it is not unusual for a raccoon to be out on warm winter days in search of food.

Jim searched the nearby woods and found a raccoon, partially squeezed into a cavity near the top of a tree. “It probably had suet between its teeth,” he said with a smile.

Raccoons were living in the woods long before it became a park and, just as adult raccoons are attracted to bird feeders, it is not unusual to find young raccoons, attracted to people food, trapped in the garbage cans near the shelter house. Finding the way in is easy; crawling back out is difficult.

My husband enjoys filling the feeders at the park and even the raccoon attack has been a challenge he has taken on with determination. He reports birds waiting for his arrival to fill empty feeders. He scatters food for ground feeding birds and leaves bark butter bits on the benches where bluebirds will find them. His days of filling the feeders at the park are coming to an end and he is searching for someone who will take his place and keep the park birds coming to feeders for visitors to enjoy.

If you might be that person, please contact Jim Edman at jedman@columbus.rr.com.

The Ohio State University is co-sponsoring a webinar to help viewers bring nature, birds and insects, not raccoons, into your back yard. Visit The Buzz@OSU for details.

Ramona Edman is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist and a volunteer with the Friends of the Circleville Parks.

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