06.04.17: Muddy claws

A fox squirrel with muddy claws rests on a rail fence in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.


Technical information

Dec. 31, 2010,
10:10 a.m.

40°6’46” N,
82°57'30" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 


1/500th second


When I saw this squirrel resting on a rail fence in a local park on a late December morning I knew from its muddy claws that it had been involved in one of two activities: It had been digging in the muddy ground to bury food for future use, or it had been digging in the muddy ground to find food it had buried earlier.

Either way, I knew food had to be involved. Just consider that to be an educated guess.

My wife and I spend a lot of time each winter configuring various defenses to keep squirrels from emptying the bird feeders in our backyard. Without some sort of barrier in place, squirrels will hang on the feeders and eat until their stomachs are full or the feeder is empty (which usually happens first).

Refilling the feeders each day gets expensive.

So our winters become a daily battle to outwit squirrels.

The first step is to buy feeders that are marketed as being squirrel proof (although we’ve discovered that the claims should be squirrel resistant, not squirrel proof).

It takes the squirrels a few hours — if that — to find a way to defeat most squirrel-proof feeders. After that happens we start adding a variety of baffles and obstacles to make it difficult for the squirrels to get from tree limb to feeder. These obstacles must address the direct access path (down the limb and down the chain to the feeder) and the indirect path (jumping from neighboring limbs).

Then we watch as the squirrels work to defeat the new obstacles.

It becomes a game.

Last winter was our most successful. The obstacles we put in place kept the squirrels off the feeders, although to neighbors it probably looked like we had created a hanging junkyard in our trees. The squirrels became so frustrated with the series of obstructions that they resorted to chewing on them. We’re still finding small pieces of plastic and aluminum in the grass under the trees.

We’re calling it a victory. 

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.