I've long been under the impression that wild creatures hibernate, or at least slow down, during winter. But around here the cold weather seems to have raised activity levels by several notches.
A couple of weeks ago, for the first time in the two decades we've had our squirrel-proof counterweight bird feeder, the squirrels defeated it. The feeder consists of a metal seed container with a feeding tray and a perch in front of it. If anything heavier than a tufted titmouse lands on the perch, it closes the feeding tray. This year the squirrels--sumo-wrestler, rabbit-size gray squirrels--managed to undo the latch of the seed container, crawl inside, and have Roman orgies.
Then they got tired of gobbling sunflower seeds and made for the chicken house, where they feasted on the all-vegetarian, high-protein, Omega-3-enriched laying mash and stressed out the hens, who all but stopped laying eggs.
I sniffed skeptically while my husband set up a humane trap next to the hen's feeder. But the next morning, mirabile dictu, there was a squirrel in it.
He put the trap in the car and drove off to the next state, where he released the squirrel into the wilderness. Then he set the trap again. The next day, there was another squirrel in it, whom he also deported. We caught four squirrels in as many days. We seem to have run out of squirrels, at least for the moment, and the hens have resumed laying.
Meanwhile, at the bird feeder, evolution is at work. In Vermont cardinals are fairly scarce, and I was glad to see a pair at our feeder after the last big storm. Unfortunately, the seed that spilled from the feeder would sink instantly into the snow, where the ground feeding birds, such as cardinals, couldn't get it. That's when I saw the male cardinal clinging for dear life onto the hanging suet feeder, eating blueberry-studded peanut butter with the finesse of a woodpecker. It's safe to say he'll be passing on his DNA next spring.
I was in the garage yesterday, carrying their winter breakfast of hot powdered milk and laying mash to the hens, when something small and sleek and very white scurried from under the car and hid behind a stack of cardboard boxes. For a nanosecond it turned to look at me, and I saw a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, two bright black eyes, and a tiny muzzle.
Google tells me that it is a stoat, a member of the weasel family. Unlike most species, which grow in size as the latitude increases, stoats get smaller as they approach the pole. This accounts both for my stoat's cuteness and the hens' survival (I once lost an entire flock in a single night to a weasel).
So now the trap is set again, this time in the garage, and baited with a bit of lunch meat, stoats being carnivorous. But I don't think that if we catch our little stoat we'll deport him. I really just want to get a closer look. Has anybody ever tamed a stoat, I wonder?