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Feathery, finny and furry: small is fierce

by Susan and Biff Andrews

Once, on a hike above Lake Louise in Banff, British Columbia, we were accosted by a small furry critter. He was a well-muscled lad, fearless, and he blocked our way demanding food — with a “None Shall Pass!” mentality. Luckily, we had a Rice Krispies Treat with us, so after paying the toll, the chipmunk let us by. He was starting up my left leg when we bought him off. Small. Fierce. And absolutely fearless.

Being small can be an asset, especially if one is tough and fierce. This is especially so if found in large numbers. These qualities are all on display in several critters found locally: chickadees, the Norfolk spot, and the gray squirrel.

Chickadees — whether black-capped or Carolina — are common at all feeders. They will not back off from or for larger birds. Cowbirds, Blackbirds, mockingbirds and cardinals— none of them intimidate the tiny chickadee. Not only won’t they flee, they will fearlessly barge into an already occupied feeder.  Chutzpah!

And they’re everywhere. Today we have already seen them on suet, sunflower seeds, mealy worms, and a seed bell: they’ll eat anything. No wonder they thrive in large numbers!

They have their corresponding critter in saltwater — the Norfolk spot. Want to make a kid happy? Find a school of spot in a river or off Ocean View or Rudee Inlet in the fall, armed with light tackle and some bloodworms. Instant hits, hard fight! Sure they’re small — a one-pounder is a trophy fish — but they fight like the devil when hooked — and they’re more fun when you hook two on a high-lo rig.  Really experienced fishermen will tell you spot couldn’t be landed on light tackle if they grew to three pounds. They may be tiny — but they’re strong and fierce — and as numerous as the chickadee.

They will challenge you as well as your 10-year-old grandchild.

Squirrels are not be underestimated for their fierceness.

So much for feather and fin — so how about furry? Any small, fierce and numerous candidates? We don’t have many chipmunks — though we have a few in our yard. We do have, however, the small furry grey squirrel, and they are tough as nails.

Squirrels are fierce? you may ask. My fierce 10-pound cat won’t catch one, even given the chance. She obviously has tangled with one before.  She probably won that first encounter, but she has learned the way of tooth and claw. My 70-pound dog has also learned her lesson; she’ll chase, but not catch one. And they’ll chew on your house, chew into your attic, take up residence in your tool shed as well. Squirrels have been described as rats with furry tails. And rats can be pretty fierce, too.

I once worked for a huge guy — about 6’4”— an ex-Marine, heavyweight wrestler, 275 pounds of muscle. One of his pet peeves in life was the fact that often while having a quiet beer in a bar, some fierce little guy would get likkered up and want to fight the biggest guy in the bar — him.

Small and fierce chickadees — OK. A 14-ounce spot on light tackle— a great fighter — OK. Even rats with furry tails and highly active teeth — OK. But combative little guys with big chips on their shoulders— unacceptable!

SUSAN and BRADFORD “BIFF” ANDREWS are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.