When Cats Get Squirrely and Eat Bird Seed

By Bill Hall

Sometimes when a squirrel is perched in a nearby tree, I make what I imagine to be a squirrel sort of sound, a clicking noise made by smacking the tip of my tongue against the inside of my front teeth.

It gets their attention. Every time I do that, the squirrel stops in its tracks and turns to face me with that idiot look on its face that squirrels get. If you've ever had a nearby squirrel turn and face you, you know what I mean. They have a deranged look about them, kind of homicidal imbecile look.

I presume that's where we came by the term "squirrely." It certainly fits. Nothing looks more squirrely than a squirrel staring intently at a person.

I don't remember how I came to use that clicking sound and discovered that it gets their attention. It may have had something to do with the clicks I heard chipmunks make when I would go to the mountains with my family as a kid. And you know how kids are when it comes to making sounds and trying to imitate nature noises.

In truth, I don't know that I have ever heard a squirrel use that sound. But maybe they do. Maybe I have hit upon an accurate squirrel impression and they turn toward me with that rapt, crazed focus because I am communicating something to them -- perhaps something insulting given the way they react.

Or maybe, I am doing something so bizarre in the judgment of squirrels that they are fascinated. Maybe they find me squirrely.

I am reminded of that today by having witnessed something recently that makes me wonder if cats aren't a little slower than squirrels or at least more squirrely (if that isn't a catty thing to say). I finished eating a breakfast egg the other day and put my plate on the floor for Nellie, our splotchy black and white cat, our holstein cat.

She went after the runny remnants of the yolk. It reminded me how much cats seem to like eggs.

But wait a minute. That's not very smart of them. In a sense, eggs are bird seed. They are what you plant under a mother bird to grow another bird. And in my experience a cat likes birds even better than eggs -- not to mention the difference in the quantity of food between the two.

That means a cat who eats eggs is cutting its own throat. To a bird eater, eating an egg is like a farmer eating the turnip seed instead of planting it to grow more turnips. It's worse than killing the goose that lays the golden egg. It's like eating the egg that might produce the goose that lays the golden egg. No cat in its right mind should be eating eggs.

Contrast that level of irresponsibility with squirrels. Squirrels not only avoid eating a certain percentage of the acorn crop from our oak trees each year, but they stuff dozens of them in the ground to produce more oak trees. Each spring our yard becomes a squirrel-operated acorn farm. Oak seedlings pop up all over the place.

If I didn't dig them up and give them away and pull dozens more like weeds, our back yard would soon be a dense jungle of oak trees.

That is solely because squirrels show foresight. If squirrels liked turnips, they would never eat all the turnip seed. They aren't that squirrely.

But cats will eat all the bird seeds they can get, the eggs that would have become birds.

There are those who would tell you that squirrels are not smarter than cats, that squirrels accidentally plant oak trees. Evolution has selected out and given us a squirrel with a lousy memory, a flaw that, oddly enough, improves the chances that squirrels will thrive.

Squirrels don't actually plant acorns. They hide them. They store them in holes all over the yard, meaning to go back and find them when they get hungry during the winter.

But they hide so many that they lose track. The acorn softens and swells and sprouts. And what was meant as dinner becomes a tree -- but also a new supply of acorns.

Nonetheless, let us at least credit squirrels with knowing enough to store food, even if they don't realize they are actually acorn farmers.

I have never seen a cat use that much foresight. I have never seen a cat plant anything except its hairy kisser in a dish of free food.


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