Operation: Pesky Varmint Control

It has been awhile since I’ve embarked on an operation around here.  Most of my time has been spent training for some upcoming runs and dealing with the daily upkeep around the lot.  Unfortunately,  the catalyst for this effort is based in some sadness.  We had to say goodbye to an old friend this month.  While scouting out our lot to set the placement for the house, we became attached a tall sturdy oak in the middle of the woods.  In fact, we liked it so much we actually positioned our house around it so we could enjoy it from our windows every day.  There was a lot of construction near it which might have caused it some undue trauma or possibly succumbed to some tree pests invading the area.  In either case, the tree didn’t make it through the Spring and we had to put it down.

Not only did we lose an excellent source of shade, but I also lost my bird theater since our feeders were hung off its branches.  I literally have thousands of bird pictures as a result of that tree and it was heart tugging to watch it be ravaged by the chainsaws.  Once down my immediate concern went to how to keep from losing all the birds that had adopted my feeders.  In desperation I rigged a temporary solution off of the deck railing.  This sounded like a plan until I came home and saw this one day.

That would be a mother raccoon hanging onto the bird feeder in order to drop seed down to her 3 (actually 4) babies. Unbelievable how intelligent these creatures are. From that point on, those babies came back all day long to feast on whatever the birds dropped into the grass or porch. Of course, this included a passion for digging holes in search of any seeds that may have slipped into a crack. This is unacceptable and since I will not harm a young animal or an adult with its young I was forced to initiate Operation Pesky Varmint Control…for simplicity, lets call it Operation PVC. This was going to take something that can withstand the elements, be easy to work with and be a hindrance to bandits with thumbs. A trip to Lowes was in order and I knew just the aisle to start in. After about 6 hours across multiple trips to Lowes I had gathered the following.

If you are curious how all these fit together, hit the jump to see the rest of the post.

It became embarrassing when the employee responsible for the PVC aisle would recognize me and start up a conversation about how he wanted to see a picture of the end product when it was done.   For the record, it took 5 trips to Lowes over the course of the construction.

I actually started some construction before remembering to take some pictures so you can see a few of the pieces already have some assembly. Oh, and I should probably mention I left a few of the parts out because it took me a long time to figure out how I wanted to do an inline crank mechanism and for now want to keep that to myself. In case you are curious, here is a closer view of the smaller pieces.

With all the materials obtained, I was ready to start the construction phase. The goal was to have a way to hang my existing feeders, provide for the ability to expand my feeder collection, thwart varmints and make it easy to maintain the feeders. After some initial planning I got to work on the contraption. The first task was to figure out how put it into the ground. A stiffness test in the store resulted in the 3″ pipe being selected for the core of the system. Since I was not sure where I really wanted it and figured at some point I might want to move it, I wanted an easy way to pull it out of the ground. After about 2 hours in Lowes bouncing back and forth between the lumber area and the PVC aisle I decided to go with a 4″ PVC pipe which I could slip the 3″ diameter pipe in for easy removal. This was the easy part, the more difficult part was figuring out how to address the gap that existed between the two pipes which didn’t meet my specs for sturdiness. An idea eventually came to me to help shim up the gap but still allow me to pull the 3″ pipe out if needed. From the pictures above, you can see I put a cap on the end of the 4″ with a bolt to attach an internal PVC part. This addressed the gap at the bottom, but left and issue at the top. Clearly another end cap would not work (hoping I really didn’t need to say that) but a little brainpower and a Dremel solved that issue. Once that issue was solved, I had to get the 4″ pipe fixed in the ground. Nothing like digging a 4 foot hole in 90 degree weather. My brother Dan taught me a lot about using fixtures and clamps while building my bridge which came in handy to get this in without help.

This allowed me to fix braces onto the pipe in order to insure the pipe stayed vertical in the hole. There was just enough friction on the pipe to allow me to move the brace to just the right height to get the most support from the braces.

Out came the trusty clamps and the levels. The ability to move the brace up and down allowed me to get the pipe pretty close before putting on the clamps to the support sticks. A few tweaks on each side gave me the perfect alignment I needed. All that was left to do was to grab the bag of quickset cement to permanently set it.

(if you look close you might be able to figure out one of my secrets). With the base in the ground I could focus on the feeder frame. I did not take a lot of intermediate pictures on the construction, but essentially I took two 3″ to 2″ intersection connectors and put them at right angles to each other giving me four positions for feeders. On each of the 2″ connectors I attached a length of 2″ pipe with a 90 degree connector on each end. I really didn’t want to deal with wasps and such so the design tried to reduce any openings big enough for those flying pests. The large hole at the end of the 90 degree connectors needed to be addressed so I placed end plugs on them and simply drilled out a hole just big enough for the coated wire I was going to use for the feeder lines.

I have studied birds for a long time now and have taken special note of how each species behaves around feeders. They all have their idiosyncrasies but universally they all tend to stage their approach to the feeder. When the tree was there they would land on branches to the right or above first and once the situation was deemed safe, would fly down the rest of the way to the feeders. I wanted to accommodate this behavior in my feeder’s design so a couple of hours more in the PVC aisle resulted in some smaller PVC pipe being attached with 45 degree connectors directly above the feeder arms. The 45 degree connectors allowed some freedom to put them at angles between the feeder arms so they could clearly see the feeders and provide an additional benefit of keeping any pre-flight poop off the feeder arms (hey, I was doing my best to think this through). With all those in place, all that was left was to implement the crank system. This was actually a design feature from the very beginning and I personally think this is the best part of the whole thing. To be honest, this is what most of my time was spent addressing in the aisle and why the Lowes employee was so intrigued – I must have had 15 different models created before picking what I thought was the best one. From the outside you can tell it consists of another intersection connector but this time 3″ all around. Some clean out plugs on the end produced the desired enclosure. Then the hard part came and I’ll just leave that out for now (if you use any less or any more than 4 PVC components you probably have not figured out the optimal design). A quick PVC crank provided the necessary turning capabilities and even added a spacer PVC to allow the hand to rotate while cranking. With all that done, I ran the lines and presto, the ubber feeder was born.
Here is what it looks like mounted with my two feeders.

What do you think?  You can even see the raccoon baby walking off in complete disgust!  Literally within 5 minutes of putting up the feeders, my faithful feathered friends started showing up to check out the new digs.

One thing I noticed was that the final placement of the feeder may have negated the need for the staging pipes. I have seen a few birds us them, but they tend to use the trees off to the left of the pole. In fact, there are so many birds in there it sounds like bats leaving a cave when you scare them. The plan was to paint it hunter green to help it blend into the surroundings, which is fine in the Spring and Summer but quite a contrast in the Fall and Winter. Once up I noticed how nicely the white looked with the rest of the house railings and window framing. I think I am just going to paint it white – I’d leave it as it is, but I wanted to cover up the lettering on the pipes and the small staging PVC piping is actually beige.

In case you are wondering, we were on vacation for a week and there was no evidence that the feeders were harassed by the raccoons or the squirrels (mainly due to the fact there was still seed left in them which rarely lasted that long when those varmints were hanging off them). There were mud marks to about 2 feet above the crank mechanism so I think they grabbed onto the handle and pulled themselves up to the coupling. From there they apparently tried to shimmy up the pole but by the looks of the dirt patterns they FAILED.

I can say I am pretty happy with this one and without a doubt my wife thinks I’m officially insane.

2 thoughts on “Operation: Pesky Varmint Control”

  1. Pretty sweet! I’ll have to tell my coworker about it. He’s got a bird feeder that also gets raided frequently by ground-based varmints. I will however miss the occasional raccoon target practice rounds with ice cubes.

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    1. So far so good, I have not had a single varmint get to my birdfeeders (either squirrels or raccons). The amazing thing is how much longer my birdseed lasts now that it isn’t being dumped all over the ground. On the ice cube front, I still have 4 baby racoons that come out and stare at their nemesis about on the hour chattering away on the spoils of the past. Funny thing is they could care less about the ice cubes and will literally chase after them and pick them up… if they evolve anymore they’ll be whipping them back at me yelling “I taught ye a secuund tiiim” and “I fart in yer general deeerection”

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