Squirrel proof. That’s what the cardboard packaging claimed. Of course, our daring Eastern fox squirrels didn’t care one whit what the box said. Especially if the payoff meant a mouthful of crunchy sunflower seeds.
We had just sat down for supper at our dining table, facing the window that overlooks our backyard. My husband, James, and I love to watch wildlife while we eat. We also nature watch from lawn chairs set beneath the live oaks or stroll or work in our native gardens.
We just never know what we’ll see.
Certified wildlife habitat
We’ve always critter-watched. But a few years ago, we noticed how their numbers increased once we began planting primarily natives, such as Turk’s cap, salvias, lantanas and rock roses. To encourage wildlife, we added more birdbaths and feeders, left piles of brush for cover and set out shallow plates of water for toads.
In 2007, our efforts to create a wildlife habitat earned our yard certification as a Texas Wildscape through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The program encourages landowners to create pockets of habitat for the benefit of birds, small mammals, reptiles and butterflies. Habitats must comply with local and county ordinances.
To qualify, a landscape must be planted with at least 50 percent native vegetation, provide year-round food and water for wildlife and offer shelter, such as rock piles, nest boxes and toad houses.
In spring 2009, we hung a nest box on a live oak and soon attracted a pair of Eastern screech owls. One May afternoon, I spied a little fuzzy head with two big eyes peering at me.
For several days, two owlets roosted in the box’s square opening. One evening, we thought we spotted a third baby but weren’t sure. So we plopped down in lawn chairs and waited. But nothing happened.
“You should try calling them up with some rap, James,” I joked.
He sputtered a mess of gobbledygook through his cupped hands. Like a charmed snake, an owlet appeared in the opening.
This fall, I spied a yellow garden spider hanging upside down on her web over a garage door.
While I admired the orb weaver’s spindly black legs and yellow-dotted abdomen, James pointed out danger lurking nearby: a chubby praying mantis. She perched over the other garage door and seemed to be on the prowl. But I brushed off the thought of spider mayhem.
When James hollered that the praying mantis was about to get the spider, I went running for a ladder.
I try not to interfere with nature, but saving a rare garden spider called for fast action. Sure enough, I found the mantis poised a foot away from the web. I relocated the insect in a bed of blooming scarlet sage, where she’d find plenty to hunt.
A day later, the spider set up house by our front door.
Over dinner, James and I watched while the squirrel flopped belly-down on an oak limb and contemplated the feeder beneath her. After a few minutes, she fingered the metal chain from which it hung, then inched down until she reached the feeder’s roof. As soon as she landed on it, the added weight sent the feeder swinging wildly.
To our delight, she slid off.
The next evening, just in time for our supper, the squirrel returned. Again, she clambered down the chain and promptly slid off the feeder. Another try produced the same results. However, it wasn’t long before she figured out how to hang on and ride the swaying feeder. Then she stretched low, nuzzled her nose in the seeds and grabbed a mouthful before falling.
Every evening after that, Squirrel Girl performed a private dinner show for us.
After a few weeks, though, she stopped coming. Had a hawk gotten her? Or maybe a car? We’d never know.
But that’s nature. Ever changing and evolving, always surprising.