Squirrel Puzzles

We decided to get a bird feeder to entertain our herd of cats. This is commonly referred to as cat TV by pet owners and ours were quickly transfixed, often huddling around the window staring at the cardinals, finches and pigeons. The visitors soon expanded to squirrels and raccoons who the cats found even more interesting to watch, so I next included some larger animal feed like nuts and deer corn. We’re enjoying the interaction between our four (yes four) indoor only cats and the animals that come right up to the windows to feed, play and now solve puzzles.


I saw years ago in England on television show that broadcast the intelligence and creativity of birds retrieving a nut from a contraption. It was basically a modified bird feeder with clear plastic, moveable dowels and the like. The small but tireless creatures learned to solve complex, multi-step puzzles in seconds. I think these were submitted as contest entries and the winners were given prized or shown on the finale or something. I say “I think” because I cannot find any record of these clips on Google, YouTube, the BBC web site, etc. If you recall the show, please send me an email and let me know I didn’t dream it.

The Introductions

I put out a bird feeder and the cats loved it. But we had other visitors and they were even more interesting.

Dinner Is Served

The squirrels could empty a feeder in just a few minutes, so deer corn was offered instead. To start, the corn was tied down with string, allowing dine in but not take out. The audience enjoyed the show and our new visitors seemed happy to star on HD cat TV.

Add Challenge

I raised the corn cob off the ground to give our guests some exercise and because standing and jumping would be more interesting to the indoor audience.

A Puzzle

This time, I raised the corn further off the ground and out of reach to a squirrel. I left string dangling below the corn so it could be tugged over to a nearby table. The corn could then be pulled over to the table for easy eating. Unfortunately, the tree squirrel found it just as easy to jump and hang on the corn cob long enough to knock a few kernels off. He’d then hop down and eat them off the ground. The rock squirrel (the one with a black front half) didn’t want to jump and didn’t take the string onto the table to pull over the corn. When I tied the string to the table so it only needed to be pulled on slightly to bring the corn into reach, the rock squirrel figured it out.

The Faculty Answers

To block the high jumping squirrel, I raised the corn completely out of reach. I stacked deck furniture and tied the string to the top so the corn could be pulled over. There was a plenty of slack in the string again though so it was not immediately apparent that pulling it would bring the food closer. The tree squirrel investigated option for quite a while, but could still make the jump from the table over to the corn cob and so again and bypassed the puzzle.

A hint

To incent our students to learn and not jump, I again shortened the string between the table and the corn. Any motion or tugging on the string would bring the corn closer and perhaps show how the food more is more easily eaten without jumping. At first, I didn’t notice any activity and thought the test was too hard. The tree squirrel soon yanked the line firmly and retrieved the corn cob in one pull. He enjoyed the entire cob himself. I’ve moved to half cobs now!

Give them some slack

I still want to see if the freshmen can gather up the string in order to retrieve the corn. They’ll need some faith because there is a lot of slack in the line, so they’ll be pulling up string for a while, before the corn moves closer. The rock squirrel did this earlier so I think they’ll step up. Also rock squirrels don’t climb much, so I may need to include puzzles closer to the ground to keep our class enrollment high. Ultimately, I’d like to see if the string can be left on ground, carried to the top platform and then used to retrieve dinner.

Hmmm. More hints?

I have not seen much progress in recent days so I’ve added some clues to the loose string. Peanuts are attached along the line to see if pulling at those will help them discover how to pull the corn over, too. Eighth Stage: Playing hooky To be fair, I have not been the best instructor, since starting the squirrel training courses this fall. The blog has not been updated in a while. This tree squirrel decided not to wait and learned to jump, balance and wait out the spinning long enough to have a nice meal of bird seed. Photo courtesy of Jackie.

Moving on…

I decided to move forward with different puzzles. Having the squirrels climb while holding the string seems a bit challenging, so far, as is stacking up furniture every day. Also, climbing favors the tree squirrel over the black rock squirrel who seems more interested in solving the challenges and less in cheating. Stay tuned for the next challenge…

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