The saga of the suet thief began about two months ago…
During my daily crack-of-dawn bird-feeding routine, along with topping off the two gallon-sized sunflower seed dispensers, and tossing out scoops of cracked corn for the ground feeders, I make sure the three wire cages I've hung from various trees around the cottage each has at least a portion of suet cake inside for the woodpeckers and others who prefer to their meals to come packed in cholesterol. Even with several daily visits from the pileateds, plus multiple downies, hairies, red-bellieds, and flickers, the trio of suet squares usually lasts three or four days—often longer if the dratted starlings take their rowdy pillages elsewhere.
I buy these suet cakes by the carton, on sale, and thus keep their cost down to a fairly reasonable 65-70¢ each. No, I agree—even then, the cost isn't cheap—not to a frugal Irishman who believes wholeheartedly that money saved is even better than money earned because you don't have to pay taxes on it. It is a measure of my chronic woodpecker infatuation that I regularly peel a few dank bills from the moldy wad in the old Mason canning jar I keep buried beside the rose bush, and fork them over with barely a whimper to the shopkeeper at the hardware store where I buy my avian victuals.
Imagine then how apoplectic I became when those hard-bought suet cakes started disappearing almost nightly! Egads! I screamed to the rising sun…I've been robbed!
And so the battle began.
I've been waging my side of the ongoing campaign with an unseen foe, though I had my suspicions regarding the identity of this nefarious bandit, a thief-in-the-night who prowls by moon and starlight and is brazen, clever, and lucky. Still, I didn't want to malign the whole race; just the dastardly four-legged, ring-tailed individual plunderer.
Some nights I lost only a single cake; other nights it was two.
I began counter measures. At irregular intervals I would make impromptu checks. From barely dark to sometime after midnight, while watching a T.V. show, reading a book, or just sitting by the fireside, I would leap up, grab a flashlight, and dash out the door—hoping to catch the flea-bitten furball in the act. I'd scrutinize feeders, trees, and all surrounding hideouts. Moon the dog would sniff and snuffle, wag, occasionally bark, peer under the deck, scratch, mark a few sites, and give me her verdict…Nope, ain't nothing here, boss.
The insult-to-injury part was that sometimes, between checks, a suet block would be pilfered. Or I'd go to bed with three intact and wake up with only only one left, and it about three-quarters consumed.
Two whole dollars, gone, ka-poof! In a single night! Why, if I were going to be this wasteful of money, I might as well start going to Starbucks and paying $37 for a cup of their gussied-up coffee!
On top of losing suet blocks, I regularly had to employ a long pole to untangle and retrieve the cages and their chains from the high branch where they'd been placed while the hungry thief ate. The hairy freebooter apparently lifted the cage up hand-over-hand, wrapped the chain around a limb, pried the box flap open, and dinned safe, secure, and at leisure. Sometimes I had to drag out the ladder to be able to reach high enough to free the mess.
Then the bugger stole both block and cage! The whole shebang…gone! I looked high and low—well, Moon did much of the really low looking, since the ground was muddy and/or snow covered, and I have a bad back. But the cage had disappeared without a trace.
So I weighted the cages. Apparently this particular animal is the Samson of his clan. Even with a fair-sized rock tied underneath, the cages still ended up in the trees—flaps open, suet missing, chain wrapped around the limb. I had to be careful poking with the pole to keep from knocking the rock weight loose and braining myself senseless.
Short of tying a concrete block underneath, which I thought both aesthetically unsightly, and possibly encouraging to the squirrels to take up some embarrassing form of pole dancing, the only sure way to protect my suet investment was remove the filled cages from their hangers nightly, and store them in the metal trash cans with the sunflower seeds and cracked corn.
This has worked, though it has been a pain in the behind—taking 'em down and putting 'em back up come morning…plus I occasionally forget. The suet thief never forgets. If I leave the blocks out, I lose one or two. (Nope, still haven't found or replaced that missing cage.)
Today, though, I believe I finally caught sight of my opponent. Even managed a quick snapshot, er, mugshot. As coons go, this one is pretty scrawny. I would have felt better about things if he would have been the size of a wolverine or small bear; I hate to think such a wimpish example of Ohio coon-hood could be the culprit, but the swaggering little raccoon showed every sign of being totally familiar with the deck, food storage bins, and layout of the various feeders.
I have no doubt this is the actual perpetrator.
So what did I do? Well, besides watching him make his rounds, nothing. Moon, of course, wanted to get up close and personal. I told her discretion is sometimes the wiser form of valor. I'm not saying that 8-pound coon could have whipped my 60-pound dog…though I've had enough experience with treed and cornered raccoons to know the fight would likely have ended with bloodshed all around. But seeing as how raccoons are notorious carriers of rabies, and even though Moon has had her rabies shot, I didn't want to take the chance.
Besides, this fellow looked gaunt if not starved, and was doubtless driven out and about during the cold of the winter's day by hunger. I've been hungry before myself, wondered about my next meal—so I have some understanding. Frankly, I just didn't have the heart to take more severe measures. We'll continue to conduct our nightly skirmishes—I'll try to remember to put the suet in safekeeping overnight, and Mr. Raccoon will keep checking up on my memory.
And from time to time, I'll expect toss a few extra scraps his way.