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How to Stop the Squirrels from Getting at Your Nuts

You know how it is: You are trying to feed the birds, and the food you've put out for the birds is being eaten by the squirrels! The squirrels are able to get the nuts intended for the birds. Bird food is being snaffled by the dreaded squirrels!

Setting up baffling puzzles and mazes only seems to make the squirrels more intelligent and gives them free publicity and fame on television documentaries. So, how to do something about the superintelligent squirrels, or "tree rats" as some have termed them!?

The answer goes back a long way, but has only recently been rediscovered. Let's wind the videotape back to the time when CHILI was evolving. Those spicy pepper plants which go so well in a curry, have an interesting history and evolution. The chili is a plant which needs to reproduce, and it does this best if birds eat its seeds. Birds' digestive systems do not harm the chili seeds, and after a bird has eaten the chili it will fly off and at some time later the seeds will be passed right through and deposited a long way off. This is good news for the chili. It likes being given a free lift by birds. Not so good if it is eaten by mammals however. Mammals, be they humans, rats, squirrels, horses, goats, or other mammalian species of creatures, digest the chili seeds and they never see the light of day. So, it's in the evolutionary interests of the chili plant to grow seed pods that taste so strong that they put off mammals from eating them!

Now I know what you're going to say: You eat the chili all the time! It's prized for its flavour! It's a delight in restaurants and in a good spicy meal! It encourages you to eat it! That may be true, but you try giving it to a cat. No, don't. Just take my word for it that no mammal with any sense (humans being the exception of course) willingly eat the chili. It's just too spicy.

Birds are the other exception, as they can not taste the spiciness of the chili. It's evolved to be of a flavour that puts off mammals but doesn't bother birds at all.

This is exactly how you'd except the successful chili to evolve, as the survivors are descendants of ancestral chili which preferentially got eaten by birds and were avoided by mammals. Other variants, with flavours that didn't deter the mammals, were eaten and extinct long ago.

So, the next thing is: What if you put chili in your bird feeder?

According to the best observations so far, squirrels find the stuff repulsive, and will leave the nuts to the birds rather than face being spiced. Birds, in contrast, don't taste the chili and so are unaware that it's been so flavoured. Also, no harmful effects have been found in birds. The curry flavoured birdseed doesn't play up their birdy insides, at least not as far as can be told.

This remarkable discovery has been made by Dr Laurence and Bear. More of this intriguing research to be announced!

Chili can be hot, very hot, or even hotter than that. According to Professor Sue Hartley, who gave an excellent demonstration of this on the 2009 Xmas Lectures (including people and birds coping differently with different levels of spiciness of chili), chili heat is measured on the Scoville scale. The Ghost Chili of Bangladesh is one of the hottest, apparently. (Further research necessary!).

Other semi-relevant topics at this site: Ecological stuff, animals, how to catch a bird that's in your house, how close to a rat?, and how to convert a washing machine glass into a mashed potato bowl