The Squirrel Wars: An Academic Investigation

Squirrels have become something of the “Anti-Bird” in the minds of many people with backyard bird feeders. And why not?! I mean HOW DARE those ravenous wild animals eat “BIRD seed”. It clearly states on the package “Bird Seed.” Many people are waging backyard wars against squirrels, seeking justice for those birds harmed by squirrels’ unnatural overreach! (In our best professorial voice) We here at Mr. Canary® thought we would study the matter from a historical and cultural perspective, to find answers to “How did this war begin?” “Who is in the wrong?” and “Who is responsible for ending hostilities?” Keep reading, as we report our shocking findings…


First Question: “How Did This War Begin?”

Despite our best efforts, this question remains a mystery. There is talk going around town that your grouchy Great-Great-Uncle Gerald fired the first salvo. A witness says that one day, Gerald “had-it-up-to-here” with those darn squirrels getting into his bird feeder; so, he decided to grease up the shepherd’s hook so they couldn’t shimmy up it. From there, things escalated quickly and the battle spread beyond Gerald’s yard, with both humans and squirrels scoring both victories and defeats. Meanwhile, innocent bird-bystanders have watched from the sidelines in grateful admiration as their human-defenders have guarded them from the unnaturally-vicious encroachment of the evil squirrels.

While we can’t verify that any of this is factual, I think we all KNOW deep inside our hearts that this is probably how this all got started…


Second Question: “Who is in the Wrong?”

So, now that we have an academically-solid backdrop for the origins of this war, let us identify “who is in the wrong?” Well, since the war centers on squirrels eating food that is meant for the birds, it seems that there are a logical set of questions to be asked. And, where does any good researcher turn when they want to get an authoritative answer- Google! So I asked Google, “What do birds eat?” Here was the summary Google returned, originally from the “Celebrate Urban Birds” FAQ page: “Some eat seeds, berries, fruit, insects, other birds, eggs, small mammals, fish, buds, larvae, aquatic invertebrates, acorns and other nuts, aquatic vegetation, grain, dead animals, garbage, and much more…”


And, here is what Google said when I asked the foil question: “What do squirrels eat?”, pulled from Live Science: On average, squirrels eat about one pound of food per week. Many people think that squirrels only eat nuts, but this isn’t true. Squirrels are omnivores, which means they like to eat plants and meat. Squirrels mainly eat fungi, seeds, nuts and fruits, but they will also munch on eggs, small insects, caterpillars, small animals and even young snakes.”


So, if you make a super-official Venn Diagram that your sixth-grade teacher would be proud of, you will find that birds and squirrels naturally share the following diets: Seeds. Fruit (which includes berries). Nuts. Acorns. Insects. Small Animals. Eggs.

Since we’ve never heard talk of folks feeling bad for hawks and eagles because squirrels were eating their food, we decided to remove the diets of “birds of prey” to instead focus our Venn Diagram on our beloved backyard songbirds. It turns out that songbirds and squirrels naturally share the following food groups:

Seeds. Fruits (which include berries). Nuts (which include acorns). Insects.Venn diagram depicting the diets of birds and squirrels


For those squirrel-haters among us, are you feeling guilty yet? It turns out, the only thing that makes that bag of bird seed, “bird seed,” is the inked-letters printed on the packaging! So, the answer to “Who is in the Wrong?” took a surprising turn- we HUMANS are the provocateurs in this long-running war!


Third Question: “Who is Responsible for Ending Hostilities?”

So, now that we humans have picked a fight over an issue that only exists in our own minds with no natural, substantive corroboration, (to our credit though, this is the first time in human history that this has happened…) the question becomes, “Who is responsible for ending hostilities?”

The first step is to cut through all of the marketing-hype. This is the part where we call-out our competitor-colleagues. Somewhere along the line, “birding marketers” got wise to the war that was raging and decided to make a buck or two off of your undue anger towards squirrels. Even though there aren’t “squirrel-proof bird feeders,” our competitors sure sold a few that claimed to be the real deal! See, it was easier to sell you a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist, than it was to innovate solutions to actual problems, like how to create a hygienic, no-clean bird feeder.

Now as every good philosopher, theologian, and pre-school teacher will tell you: the person who was in the wrong needs to be the first to extend the olive-branch, apologize, and make amends for the war. Squirrels are a forgiving bunch though, and I have it on (no) good authority that they will accept the following peace terms:

” Keep feeding birds. Keep appreciating birds. When a squirrel inevitably ends up eating some of the (let’s agree to start calling it) ‘food’ that you’ve set outside for the NATURE in your backyard, use that event as an opportunity to check your anger. Take a deep breath. Then exhale, and let the anxieties of yesteryear’s war exit your body. Don’t bang on the window until it threatens to shatter. Don’t swear by all things holy to wreak destruction on that “audacious” squirrel. And definitely DON’T use another animal (like your dog) to give chase to that poor squirrel who is simply trying to eat the same free meal his neighbors get to enjoy.”

Without that unfounded anger, you might just notice how agile, determined, and ingenious those little squirrels really are! Heck, you might even reach a point where you feel, (dare I say it) privileged to cooperate with such a neat little creature that shares the same space on this earth as you. And THAT is a recipe for a lasting armistice.

Author: Nathan Odell

Published: August 7, 2019