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Feeding the hungry

I think I’m a reasonably generous person. My husband and I contribute to several worthy causes, and we volunteer for a few community organizations. In addition, I apparently serve up bountiful meals to a wide variety of outdoor creatures in my yard. For the most part, I’m happy to share because the buffet draws animals into the open where I can enjoy seeing them.

This summer, the cigar plants (also known as firecracker plants) have lured a host of humming birds. The plants occupy four different pots on my front and back porches. Whenever I sit outside, I delight in the lively, chittering buzz as the tiny birds argue over which blossom belongs to whom.

I also love our skinks. The skinks seem to find plenty to eat around my home’s foundation. I enjoy seeing them scurrying along the brick portion of the walls and trying to hide by ducking their heads under the edge of the siding. They tend to leave their tails hanging out. It reminds me of when one of my sons used to play hide-and-seek by covering his head. The theory seemed to be that if he couldn’t see me, I couldn’t see him. The skinks make me laugh when they adopt a similar strategy. I’ve heard they eat things like crickets and spiders, so from my perspective, the skinks are welcomed guests.

Deer, on the other hand, are starting to wear out their welcome. My limited efforts at gardening have done more to feed the deer population than they have to grace my own dinner table. Except, perhaps, for last year. Last year, the deer actually left some of our abundant tomato harvest for my own salads and stews. I’m not sure this was related to deer generosity, however. It may have been because the deer were already full from munching on our landscaping.

You see, we have this row of bushes. At one end, the bushes are full and, well, bushy, and they stand about 4 feet high. At the other end of the row, the plants that are still alive have thinned, scraggly stems barely reaching up 2 feet. Guess which end is closest to the path the deer take through the neighborhood?

I have a similar ambivalent relationship with rabbits. I used to have a beautiful chrysanthemum growing by the back steps. It was in an area with enough sunlight and shelter to encourage annual regrowth. Every fall, it rewarded me with a full head of flowers. That is, until the year a rabbit ate it. My husband caught the long-eared beast red-handed, surrounded by all the plant’s stems. Each had been nipped off at the dirt line.

I used to feed the birds. Cardinals, tufted titmice, chickadees, and many other species frequented my feeders. Squirrels, too. I put up with the squirrels that routinely raided the feeders because their antics were so amusing. I watched them shimmy up poles, navigate past squirrel guards, and even work together to thwart whatever new methods I employed to keep them from stealing seeds.

Then those squirrels invited other squirrels. Soon, they weren’t content to eat just birdseed. They started munching on the cap to my propane tank and anything outside painted green. Eventually, they chewed through my car’s wiring harness, and it was time to face reality. The squirrels had to go. The most effective means of getting them to leave my yard turned out to be rather simple: Stop feeding the birds.

The good news is the birds don’t appear to be going hungry. My yard still seems to offer a smorgasbord. Some birds are helping the skinks eat bugs. Others are eating seeds and planting new trees. The squirrels have taken to the treetops, and from that spot, they’re leaving my car alone (so far). The rabbit has moved to the garden, which he now shares with the deer. And, if I’m lucky, after everyone else is fed, there may be a tomato left over for me.

Karen Bellenir, a Farmville resident since 2009, blogs for Pier Perspectives at PierPress.com and maintains an archive of past columns at www.KarenBellenir.com. She also serves as an editorial director for Wordwright LLC. Her email address is kbellenir@wordwrightllc.com.