problem solvingNeed some help with problem solving?  The story below shows how I watched a squirrel solve a problem, and reminded me of how simple problem solving can be.

One of my passions is watching wildlife in my backyard.  My office is actually in my basement but I work from my family room.  It has a very large, beautiful window that looks out into my backyard.  Many people would be distracted by the activities of the critters, but for me it’s inspiration.

It’s amazing to me, that I see so many different species of critters, since I live just off of a busy main street through the city. There have been deer, turkeys, coyotes, foxes, groundhogs, opossums, song birds, squirrels, chipmunks, owls, & hawks. I’m sure I missed some, but you get the gist; a lot of wildlife!

They entertain, as well as inspire me as I work.  One particular critter, a rather plump squirrel that I named Spot, has been very entertaining lately. I’m not sure if Spot is a girl or a boy, but I’ve decided he’s a boy.  The reason I named him Spot, is because he has a white spot on the back of each ear.

Squirrels are particularly industrious, and seem to be on some sort of speed related drug all the time.  They run around constantly gathering food and/or materials for nesting high up in the trees, which I have a lot of in my yard.  Spot is no exception to this characteristic of squirrel behavior.

There is a bird feeder that I can see from my family room window. It’s designed to keep squirrels out and it works pretty well. It hangs on one side of a double shepards hook with a suet cake holder on the other hook.  The suet cake holder is double sided, made of wood with a wire cage & a wooden roof.  The wood peckers really like suet cakes, and apparently, so do squirrels, especially Spot.

Spot doesn’t like to share the suet cake with the birds.  He wants it all for himself.  Maybe because he lives in the wild, and the strongest survive, his mom didn’t teach Spot about sharing for a reason.  In any case, he is on a constant mission to retrieve that suet cake from its holder.

Squirrels are also very smart. I’ve seen them tease other animals that they know, or think, can’t get to them, dogs in particular.  They find ways to get to the things they want, even those designed to keep them away.

Every week I put a fresh suet cake in one side of the holder.  Usually within one day, Spot wrestles it out of the holder to the ground and it disappears.  One day I actually saw him do it.  If it wasn’t so funny to watch, I probably would have been mad at him.  I wish I would have video-taped his performance!

Here’s how he does it:

  • He runs up the shepards hook and jumps to the roof of the suet cake holder.
  • Then he backs down the roof and hangs on the side with the suet cake.
  • He somehow wraps his front paws around the suet cake and lifts it up to get it out from the cage, and under the roof, and drops it to the ground.
  • He chews away some of it, then again wraps his front paws around it, and slowly backs up to move it towards his tree. I admire this patience & persistence!

Sometimes he’s successful and sometimes he’s not.  At times, I have found it on the ground directly below the feeder, other times at a distance in the yard, and sometimes it completely disappears.  I’m still not sure how he gets it up the tree and into his nest.

His antics are funny, and normally wouldn’t be a problem if he didn’t do it as soon as I put the suet cake in the holder.  If he waited for a couple of days, the birds could actually get some of it, which they need.

In order to keep the birds happy, I decided to find a way to Spot-proof the suet cake holder.  The first attempt failed; I put 2 long screws at the bottom of the suet cake after I put it in the holder.  The idea was that the screws would get caught in the wire cage and prevent him from lifting it out.  The suet cake disappeared and I found the 2 screws laying on the ground under the feeder.

The second attempt seems to be working so far; I fastened a piece of wire connected to each side of the holder and through the wire cage. It keeps him from lifting it up and out.  Now the birds can enjoy the suet cake for as long as it takes Spot to whittle it down small enough to get it out. Problem solving by trial and error.

What I learned from Spot’s clever antics is simple problem solving.  Try something, or in other terms, take an action, if that doesn’t work, try something else.  Even though I didn’t see Spot’s initial attempts to remove that suet cake from the holder, I’m guessing he tried at least one thing first.  When that didn’t work, he tried something else.  Eventually he figured out how to get what he wanted.  In that same light, I wanted to figure out how to keep Spot from stealing the suet cake, and after my second try, I was successful.

What lessons have you learned from watching our furry/feathered friends?