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Me vs. the squirrels: This is war

First they figured out a way to get from the tree to the roof. Then the fun really began.

ben kirchner for the boston globe

The hackberry tree in my backyard sprouted too close to the house, and the squirrels used the branches to trapeze over to the roof. They promptly chewed themselves a home in the eaves faster than competitive eater Joey Chestnut inhales hot dogs at Coney Island on the Fourth of July.

We tried getting rid of them with ultrasonic beeps and squirrel repellent. Nothing worked. They would sleep in their comfy new squirrel condo and then leap back to the tree branch as if punching a clock to start the day shift. This was 5 feet from the kitchen window, where I groggily had my morning coffee. Then they would proceed to tell me where to go in their weird clucking squirrel language.


My wife and I didn’t want to chop down the tree, which is covered with Jack and the Beanstalk vines, because the squirrels and the birds have their nests in it. But these Quincy squirrels with two addresses were acting like their affluent cousins from Hingham.

I mention Hingham because I consulted on our squirrel problem with Kevin Cullen, my esteemed colleague and friend. Cullen, who lives in Hingham, had squirrels that shimmied down his chimney and chewed some Flintstones vitamins, and before you could say “yabba-dabba-do,” they had ripped his living room to shreds and left tiny brown souvenirs. He said things about the critters that can’t appear in a family publication.

The squirrel invasion really gnawed at us. After extensive research, my son and I decided to get the squirrels off the roof the old-fashioned organic way. We marked our territory by urinating into a bucket and splashing the contents along the eaves. No squirrels were on the premises at the time, nor were any hurt in the course of this experiment.

The squirrels watched curiously from the tree, making those weird ticking noises that I think meant they were calling the board of health or PETA, or both. Since then, no neighbors will come over to our house on account of the bucket brigade.


Not to go all Oliver Stone on you, but I think the fluffy-tailed critters then recruited the starlings, who started using the roof deck as a spacious bathroom. I believe they awarded themselves bonus points if they hit my bald spot.

We eventually brought in high-tech help — a Natural Enemy Scarecrow SOL-R Action Owl. It is a solar-powered plastic brown-eyed owl whose head bobs and rotates 360 degrees every few minutes. We filled the base with sand so it wouldn’t blow away and positioned it on a table on the deck. One of the neighbors excitedly called because she thought it was real.

But the plastic owl proved to be the avian equivalent of an “open house” sign. The first week, a real owl divebombed my son, razor-sharp talons inches away from administering a boys’ regular. Then, as if they knew Opening Day was near, the baseball birds arrived. There were orioles, blue jays, and a pair of cardinals that seemed to still be cackling about unloading Allen Craig on the Red Sox.

A screech owl poses in a tree that is also home to other birds and squirrels in Stan Grossfeld's yard. Stan Grossfeld/Globe staff

A young screech owl also appeared and started majestically posing on a branch as if he were on a National Geographic cover shoot. He watched the squirrels frolic all around him, spinning his head like a top. They are supposed to be natural enemies, but he didn’t really give a hoot about them.


Ultimately, we decided to not cut down the Jack and the Beanstalk tree because everyone had learned to live in harmony. Our furry and feathery friends have a home here for life. I am slightly jealous of the plastic owl, watching the whole show with his rotating head.

Whoever his chiropractor is, I want to meet him.

Stan Grossfeld is an associate editor of the Globe. Send comments to connections@globe.com.

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