Tuesday, May 23, 2006

hummingbird feeder: Dog-and-squirrel show for their own enjoyment

Gary's taking a two-week vacation from his cats. He'll meet you here for your usual morning cup of coffee together on May 23. We'll be printing some of his columns from the past while he's gone. Today's column is from May 17, 1993.

Dear Gary:

As I'm writing this, Artimis, my basset hound, is out baying his fool head off at a fat mother squirrel who is teetering on the back fence and chattering her little fool head off right back at him! This has been going on for days!

Four years ago when we lived in Concord, Artimis used to go through the same performance with a squirrel that lived there. What is it about our dog that seems to drive the squirrels nuts? (hee-hee!)

I'm also concerned about what might happen if mama squirrel accidentally falls off the fence. She comes so close to doing that, sometimes, and Artimis comes completely unglued.

Harriet W., El Cerrito

Dear Harriet:

Ah, yes, the old "squirrel falling off the fence routine." It fools them every time.

Squirrels are very playful critters and a favorite game is teasing dogs from the fence. They'd rather do that than crack nuts. They'll teeter and totter back and forth, lashing their tails, chittering and chattering up a storm ... suddenly slipping and falling ... only to recover mere inches from your berserk doggie's frantic jaws. And then back to square one to start the well-scripted process all over again.

It's not just your dog, it's all dogs (I'll bet a lot of dog owners are nodding their heads in recognition). If the complete truth were to be known, I suspect the dogs are having as much fun with the game as the squirrels are.

I once monitored a similar series of interchanges between my wolf-dog, Angeline, and a crusty old fox squirrel I called Kinky (because he had a kink in his tail).

For a solid week, every morning precisely at 6:30 a.m., all you-know-what would break out in the back yard, and for the next 15 minutes the two of them would bark and chatter and teeter and leap until they were both so exhausted they had to stop. Then they'd trot off in opposite directions, each content in the knowledge that he or she had bested the other.

Then, one morning, Kinky overdid it on the slipping and falling bit and landed right on Angeline's head.

There was a shocked silence, followed by a surprised YIP! And a hysterical SCREAM!, and they both scrambled, loped, skittered and galloped off in opposite directions as fast as their big and little feet would take them.

The next morning, precisely at 6:30 a.m., they were both back at it again.

Dear Gary:

My hummingbirds are giving me a message loud and clear: None of that junk food for me, thank you.

I see them frequently on the lemon tree blossoms and honeysuckle, but not once this year on the hummingbird feeder.

Yesterday, an Allen's hummingbird kept me company while I refilled the seed feeder. He was flitting from flower to flower on the lemon tree. I stood still and was thrilled to have him come within two feet. What a picture he is!

Betty Owiecki, Concord

Dear Betty:

In spring, with flowers blooming everywhere, hummers spend 90 percent of the time dining on natural fare. And who can blame them?

But they should be taking an occasional sip from the feeder. You probably just haven't noticed.

Cleaning your feeder with bleach or green soap will turn them off if you don't rinse thoroughly.

They can be real picky eaters.

Find more Gary in his blog at: blogs.www.contracostatimes.com/gary_bogue; write Gary, P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596-8099; old columns at www.contracostatimes.com, click on Columnists; e-mail garybug@infionline.net.


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