Monday, March 1, 2010

SUET THIEF UNMASKED

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.
———————

31 comments:

Jenn Jilks said...

They're pretty hungry, now. I think they have given birth. They have certainly used up their winter estivation stores! This is my before and after raccoon photo!
I ended up bringing in feeders in Nov. - Dec., until they wake up we have been safe.

Penny said...

Poor fellow but I do realise that keeping you poor is not the answer. I suppose there is no answer as if you feed him too much he will never go away but expect free hand outs.

Lorac said...

I am glad to see that I am not alone in feeling bad for these poor bandits. I had the same issues but I saw the little thief pretty quickly. Jenn is right, they would have given birth now and are really famished!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

This guy, I'm sure, has spent the winter raiding and burglarizing meals wherever he could—and the free eats are probably getting harder to come by, which is what's put him out and about. I'm not going to feed him suet, but I'll try and see that he has the occasional handout during the next few weeks.

Interesting photos, BTW. I don't think our local coons do much winter snoozing as I tend to see them or their tracks all through the season.

KGMom said...

First, even before I started reading, I knew it was going to be a raccoon. Something about your title gave it away.
Second, I am glad you relented by tale's end as all God's creatures gotta eat.
And, no, I realize you don't have to feed them all, but considering that he (or she) was scrawny, well--glad you relented.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Penny…

No, I don't want to encourage him too much with daily meals. But I hope he can make it a few more weeks until spring—and I'll give a little help along the way. I'm doubtless getting soft in my old age.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Lorac…

Yeah, I know…and now I'm feeling bad that I didn't put out something for tonight. At least a handful of kibbles. Maybe I will before I go to bed.

God, I'm such a marshmallow!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

Geeze, I'm starting to feel like a riverbank version of St. Francis. Next thing I know, possums will be knocking at the door, the raccoons will want to use the attic for a hostel, and I'll have squirrels at the supper table as opposed to on it. And I'm barely getting used to a wife…

Bernie said...

I am beginning to believe that people in Ohio are the kindest caring people I know. Know wonder you have so many beautiful birds and critters visit so often, loved reading this post Grizz, so very well written......:-) Hugs

Rowan said...

Raccoons are obviously just as enterprising as squirrels! That's a great photo of him/her - I'm glad you are leaving some scraps occasionally, it must be hard surviving when the snow is deep and the ground frozen. Even more so if she's a female trying to feed young - go on, just an occasional fat block wouldn't hurt:)

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

I love tough men with tender hearts! Another fine example where compassion trumps retribution.

Nicely told story Scribe.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

I would like to think—and sincerely hope— it is not simply an Ohio attitude, but a measure of one's humanity and compassion that we look at something hungry or in need and want to do what we can to help. Isn't that the principal of the good Samaritan? As a nation we are blessed; in spite of all the turmoil we're going through, or when measured by any standard. I certainly am blessed. My heart goes out to those living in Chile and Haiti; so does what help I can give. I've never regretted giving and sharing, only regretted not giving and sharing more.

I have no doubt you'd feed a hungry raccoon. Not because in the scheme of things a scrounging raccoon is important except in principal…but because there's simply a need there which you can fill. And because, dear Bernie, your heart is in the right place.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

Yeah, it's hard being angry at a (possible) hungry mother. However, it is possible to be exasperated at a marauding raccoon that insists on stealing your suet blocks. But…we can reach a compromise—I'll put out other treats and goodies, and remove the woodpecker food from possible temptation during the night. And when I forget, score one for the suet thief.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

Now I wouldn't want you to get to thinking my bark was worse than my bite. (Never mind that it is true.) But I do tend to grumble and mutter and announce hollow threats of fearsome intent—and still end up doing the right thing in spite of myself.

Just don't tell anyone…

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Mum's the word. I promise I won't tell anyone what a sweet, sentimental, compassionate, caring nurturer you are.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

Oh, please do restrain yourself! It makes me sound like a pink-haired, purple-shawl-wearing old lady in a rocking chair, the sort that gushes over "adorable little bunnies" and reeks of gardenia perfume.

Image, to a macho outdoorsman, is everything! When I step through those swinging doors into the saloon, I want the ladies to swoon, the piano player to bolt in terror, and those gnarly-muscled gunslingers standing at the bar to go temporarily sterile and immediately order a sarsaparilla with a dash of cherry.

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ

I love your telling of your battle with nature and the wild critters. Your thoughts expressed for both sides is wonderful. :-)

We had a raccoon, well, she came to et every night - we knew it was dangerous to feed her on our deck - but we did it anyway. hen one day she arrived with her babies, five of them!! She was SO proud. We had naned her Charlotte. Then, one day, she went really wild and was hissing and trying to break through the screen. It was SO awful and SO scary. She had become rabid. We had to call the humane society to come and catch her. I/we cried like she was our own pet.
Oh my, I went off on a tangent here.
Great stroy Grizz.

Love you
Gail
peace.....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Hey, great tangent! You're welcome to go off on a meander any time. Besides, your story points up the downside to such well-meant gestures. The problem with raccoons is that they look cute and cuddly, but are pushy and mean-tempered at the best of times, will bite the hand that feeds 'em in a heartbeat, are bad to chew and tear into things, and are prone to rabies.

Glad you liked the post, though.

Jayne said...

Which is why they are masked bandits, no? In a line-up of six or so, could you pick him out do you suppose??? Hmmmmm....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

Yup, raccoons come dressed for success…or at least dressed for their role.

As you say, the trick in that line-up, from my point of view, was that I already suspected my culprit was a raccoon—but which raccoon? They're all wearing masks, all looking furtive and abashed—all looking like they COULD be the wrongdoer. Who do you honestly blame?

Nope, you gotta catch 'em in the act or at least catch 'em with overriding circumstantial evidence pointing their way. Like when Tweety went missing and Sylvester stood there unable to speak with yellow feathers dangling on his whiskers.

Carolyn H said...

The other night I had two of them--raccoons, that is--in my bird feeders i had to leash Baby Dog in another room to get any sleep. My raccoons go for both the suet and the bird seed. Sometimes I think I have a raccoon feeder, not a bird feeder.

Carolyn H

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

Moon the dog regularly goes ballistic in the middle of the night when (i think and sometimes visually confirm) a raccoon trespasses onto the deck. I can usually tell the difference between raccoon and cat by her bark—neither of which, BTW, is anything like her people bark.

You're right in that, left unchecked, the raccoons are willing to make it "their" feeder. Really, I don't mind furnishing a midnight meal of sunflower seed or cracked corn, but doggone it, suet blocks are too expensive! So we're going to have House Rules and play the game fairly. And if you're not wearing feathers, the suet blocks are verboten!

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Okay, okay - we'll talk not of your virtues but only of your virility.

'... gnarly-muscled gunslingers going sterile at the sight of you' - Imagine the demand for your prowesss if that were the case! Hey, anyone is allowed to dream ...

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

I did say it was what I WANTED, not what I expected necessarily—or even thought was possible. (Okay, FANTASIZED was possible.)

I also note you failed to mention the sarsaparilla with a dash of cherry—which tells me you probably never watched a single episode of "Sugarfoot," the old Warner Brothers western series which came about back in T.V.'s Jurassic Period.

I'll have you know, however, that I've had tattooed bikers tell me I looked intimidating. (No, they didn't know that underneath this fearsome exterior beat the heart of a poetry-reading fly fisherman, who learned his lesson about macho posturing by a mercifully aborted body-battering stint at riding bulls. There are cowboys and then there are REAL cowboys.) But sometimes when you're 6'1" and 235 pounds, the mere sight of your hulking bulk is enough—especially if you're successful at suppressing the urge to giggle at their obvious, if unwarranted, intimidation.

Grrrrrrrrrr-r-r-r-r!

KathyB. said...

This was an enjoyable read about an on-going battle of wits and determination tempered by hunger and thrift.My husband and I got a good laugh too ( sorry ) , we have had many, many battles with the raccoons and they usually win, big time!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KathyB…

Hey, no need to apologize for laughing—I laugh at me every single. And you're right, the raccoons usually win. But that doesn't mean I'm going to give up early. I'm gonna make that coon earn every suet cake it steals.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Gheez - what a gap in my informative years - having missed the 'Sugarfoot' series. I must have been watching Gidget or dreaming of Pat Boone. So it's true, I do not know the effects of a sarsaparilla with cherry ... but I can imagine the effects of a giggle if it had escaped your 'hulking' frame.

Oh the stereotyped personas we have had to hide behind to make our way through the world.

Scott said...

I had a similar raccoon tale. Many years ago, my wife and I were backpacking on St. George's Island off the Florida Panhandle. Our pup tent was very small, so we had to lean our backpacks against a tree outside the tent. During the night, my wife heard a crash and woke me up to investigate. Groggily (and crankily), I crawled out of the tent and found that one of the backpacks was missing. Twenty-five feet away was a raccoon that had sunk its teeth into one of the outside pockets where we had stored candy bars, and was dragging the backpack into the woods. Shining a flashlight in its eyes and brandishing a stick seemed to have no effect. Actually, I don't recall how I managed to scare off the critter, but I finally did. We brought the backpacks inside the tent thereafter, despite the cramped conditions.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

Sarsaparilla tastes something like root beer; cherry, like in a cherry coke. The Old West's version of soda pop—with similar effects on sobriety…the drink of choice for teetotalers immune to peer pressure and will to self defend or run like the dickins.

Sugerfoot, Maverick, Lawman, Colt .45, Bronco Lane, Cheyenne, The Alaskans, and about 50 other western shows are part of the curriculum vitae of any male Boomer. Why, I'll bet you don't know the line on Paladin's business card.

I'll try to forgive you for listening to Pat Boone…

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Scott…

I've had raccoons drag off nearly everything in a camp at one time or another. It's incredible what a determined coon can abscond with—and in a moment's notice.

Once, in late October, a friend and I had unrolled our sleeping bags around a small campfire on a high ridgetop in the hill country of the southeastern part of the state. No tent, just sleeping under the stars. About midnight my buddy lets out a yell and angrily wants to know why I pulled his hair. I'm on the far side of the now barely glowing coals, cocooned cozily in my down sack, blissfully dreaming. I tell him he's crazy, and probably had a nightmare; he warns me to quite playing tricks. An hour passes. He screams again and hurls a boot my way, which misses, but prompts me to return fire with a boot of my own…which doesn't. Now his lip is bleeding and he still thinks I've twice pulled his hair. I'm figuring he's started smoking those funny cigarettes or shouldn't have eaten that can of Vienna Sausages for supper. We settle ourselves and almost go bak to sleep…and of course it happens again, another yank of the hair, another angry scream—only this time I quick-draw the flashlight and shine it in his direction. A coon the size of a small bear sits guiltily at the head of his bag, one nimble hand still yanking at my buddy's forelock, like a commuter on a bus pulling the cord to signal an upcoming stop. My friend sees the raccoon. The raccoon looks more amused than abashed and gives another yank. My pal, now genuinely terrified because he thinks it IS a bear, lets out a blood-curdling shriek that likely caused birds to flush from their roost thickets a half mile away. The offended coon sat back on its haunches, pondered momentarily, then swung around and shuffled off into the darkness. My friend saw none of this because he was buried in the foot of his sleeping bag, rolling and wallowing, perhaps under the hope that no sane bear would eat such a dervish. His blind wallowing eventually carried him over the lip of the ridge, where he began picking up speed as he rolled downhill. I lost sight of him momentarily while trying to exit my own bag and laugh uncontrollably. But I heard a rather distinctive WHOOMPFH, like a lot of air being suddenly expelled from the lungs, and when I finally managed to get the beam back on the action, found my friend and his bag wrapped around a fair sized white oak. "Shoot," I said, "I'd hoped you'd make it all the way to the bottom of the holler."

Coons do make camping interesting.

Anonymous said...

put a linch pin thru the cage and anchor the chain. they cant open the suet holder with the linch pin in .....never had one do it yet....pin costs about a buck....end of problem....