Skip to content

Catching the masked bandit rivals the excitement of Christmas Eve

Clever tactics required to catch this seed snatcher at the scene of the crime

The crime scene, if I may call it that, first appeared rather quiet and orderly. A couple of goldfinches were sallying up to the feeder for breakfast snacks, and two blue jays bounced around just below, raking through spilled seeds. This was as it should be, a place of refuge for feathered folks to drop by for a sunflower or two prior to a busy day of scavenging through the forest trying to fulfill the rest of their well-balanced daily diet.

Each morning young Toby and I try to out-list each other by calling out our observations as seen through the kitchen windows: "Two blue jays, two goldfinches, and a ... female downy woodpecker!" To which he'll reply, "Three blue jays, two song sparrows, red-breasted nuthatch, male hairy woodpecker, another song sparrow, one mourning dove, a male red-winged blackbird, two red squirrels, and a female purple finch ... or maybe that's a song sparrow?"

Over the last week we averaged around 12 species a day, with about 40 birds visiting by a day's end. Each peek out the window seems to reveal more and the tally sheet becomes a smudged list of continually adjusted numbers.

Because we keep daily records there is knowledge of how many birds are out there each day, and how much food they consume. And here's where my suspicions began to be raised. Knowing that I had filled the feeders just yesterday, how can they be only half-full this morning? Are blue jays pigging out when we're not looking? Have the red squirrels chewed a hole through the back of the feeder, again?

Although no damage could be seen, there was the usual suspect that came to the top of the list: Mr. Raccoon. However, there was weak evidence to accuse the masked bandit, as each morning saw the feeders hanging right where they were supposed to be, not smashed open on the ground as was often the result of furry things going bump in the night.

Having access to a couple of trail cameras, we figured that a photo of the culprit caught in the act would clinch the case of the missing seeds. Oh but aren't we clever? A rickety ladder was dug out of the shed, newish batteries slid into camera bodies, and rope of various lengths and diameters was procured to attach cameras to tree trunks.

All we had to do now was get some sleep and then pull the photo cards in the morning to see what goes on when the sun goes down. Man, it was a night reminiscent of Christmas Eve with the anticipation of what would be revealed.

Despite the sub-freezing temperature of the morning I tottered out to gather the photo cards, slippers filling with snow, house coat catching on raspberry canes, T-shirt offering not nearly enough protection. Not that I was excited or anything like that... just wanted to have the pics on the computer screen for when Toby gets up.

Computer gets fired up, card slid in the slot, and ... 15 pictures come up! Not 15 incriminating photos but 15 pictures of the feeder hanging there, just hanging there. Why would the camera be tripped if nothing was in front of it? Closer viewing revealed the visitor peeking over the edge of the feeder. A flying squirrel.

Way cool! Flying squirrels used to be common around here, once upon a time. But we have not noticed one for years. But we have 'em! Camera proves it! However, the amount of pilfered seeds could not be equated to a tiny squirrel. Another night of stealthy photography was in order.

Next morning I wore winter boots (see, I can too learn life skills). The card opened with 212 photographs! Hoo, boy, we got us some editing to do here. After deleting about 180 images of not much of anything, the remainder clearly showed the seed-snitcher in action. And yes, it was a raccoon.

However, as picture after picture was perused, it became apparent that this was a rather talented raccoon. Instead of batting the feeder down from its hanger, the critter belly-crawled out the tree limb until right over the feeder. Reaching down, the lid of the feeder was slide up the metal guide rails until it toppled to the side. Now it got real interesting.

Holding on with its hind feet, the raccoon stretched down, way down, and grabbed the metal cross pole the holds the feeder top in place. Like a weight-lifter doing curls, the whole feeder was lifted up until the other paw could be inserted and seeds snatched. Occasionally, it would change paws as the feeder was heavy.

Now the big reveal as to why we don't see obvious evidence of raccoon pilferage: after feeding for about 30 minutes, the raccoon lowered the feeder back into place, then got hold of the lid and slid it up and back on top of  the feeder tube. Patting the lid in place, the fattened animal then belly-crawled backwards off the limb and went on its nightly journey.

Toby and I agreed to leave the feeder up and not pursue the bandit with all manner of destructive force. Anything that brilliant may have ways of retaliation, and it's best not to anger such a beast.