The Great Indoors
The Great Indoors

When we moved into this apartment in October 2015, I figured the only creature residing with us would be our canine companion Jazz. What I didn't know was that the next six years would feature a revolving cast of characters including bats, squirrels, and birds. So very many birds.

I haven't done a great job at documenting these encounters. Some, like the squirrels, are impossible to enumerate. We've lived in a near-constant adjacency to squirrels within our ceilings and walls since we moved in. Their scampering, scratching, and nut-rolling on the boards between floors are certainly annoying, but at least they haven't made their way fully inside like the birds.

The first bird appeared in my ceiling fan in July of 2016. Jazz noticed it first. A scratching sound coming from the kitchen bothered her in a way the squirrels generally do not. Walking in to investigate, I saw the blades of the fan almost imperceptibly moving. Then its beak appeared in the small gap between the ceiling and the cage of the fan within which the bird was trapped.

Another bird found its way into the fan in May of 2018, and another later that Summer. Thereby establishing a pattern. "What kind of bird is manifesting in your ceiling," you might ask? European Starlings. The worst. An oily-looking invasive species that multiply all over the United States and Canada. They kick native birds out of their nests (including owls!), damage crops through sheer numbers, and spread seeds of invasive plants all over the place.

These winged demons use holes made by the squirrels behind our gutters to nest, then let the babies leave however they like. For a few years, that meant hopping out of the nest, falling through the walls of our second floor, hopping across the ceiling, and squeezing out through the only gap which light shines through—my kitchen's ceiling fan. Then they found a new exit.

We've all had that dream where we find a secret room in your house. One that's always been there, but you’ve never been in before. In June of 2020, that actually happened to me. One morning, after waking up, I heard a noise coming from the bathroom closet. It didn't take long to discover that there was another damn bird behind the vent in the wall above our laundry hamper. I'd have been more thrilled about the variety if the prospect of extricating another bird wasn't so exhausting.

Getting birds out of the kitchen fan is pretty straightforward. Hang up a heavy blanket on the doorway to keep them from escaping into the house, open the kitchen window, remove the fan's blades and cage, then usher the thing outside. With a few birds-worth of practice, I can do this in ~10 minutes. Removing a bird from a hole in the wall proved much more difficult. For a few sweaty hours, I tried all sorts of ways to get the thing out. I put a trash bag over the hole in the hopes it would just hop in. No dice. I closed myself inside the closet and quietly waited for the bird to come out so I could catch it with the bag. That almost worked, but when it hopped out and saw me, it immediately went back inside.

To get the thing out, I had to remove a wall made up of two pieces of composite board, revealing a tiny room that had nothing in it but a lightbulb and chain, some outlets, and a heating duct. Taking down the lower portion and waiting in position against the back wall allowed the bird to come out and me to trap it inside the closet with me. From there I bagged it out of the air, walked it suspiciously around school grounds to the park, and released it into the trees. I tacked cardboard over the holes in the secret room and replaced the false wall. A lot of good that did, as another bird found its way in there two weeks later. Thanks again to practice, though, the extraction of that feathered foe was much faster.

So we've got squirrels and we've got birds. What's worse? A combination of the two. Since moving in, I've caught and released at least 3 bats. These are my least favorite opponents. Bats are scary, they're fast, and they don't shy from flying directly at your head as you chase them around the house with an empty Amazon box. I don't hate bats, but I do hate bats in my house.

Life in this house would be a lot easier if I were the kind of guy that smacked uninvited guests with a tennis racquet. But life isn't easy and I'm just a softy with a penchant for cardboard.

Life would definitely be easier if I just bought a net. The thing is, that's a commitment my pride won't let me make. I'd rather not need a net and buying one is just asking for another flighty creature to squirm its way into my home. And look... I know what you're thinking. The solution to all my trouble is just fixing the holes in the side of the house, right? Absolutely it is. Here's a reminder of the troublesome truth: we rent.

Our landlord has well aware of my fight against nature within our cosy apartment, but apparently good help to fix dormers on a two-hundred year old house is hard to find. They've removed a few small trees to prevent squirrels from getting up to the roof, but that didn't do much more than give us a better view into the windows of the house next door. Last Summer, they sent their grandkids up some very tall ladders to squirt a hardening foam into any openings they could find. This was an ugly approach, but seemed to help a little bit. It was probably the quietest Winter we've had here. Alas, the quiet didn't last. I'm no expert on Rodentia, but I'd wager foam is easier to chew through than the wood it's attempting to seal.

Last week a guy started working on replacing the rotten and chewed through boards. He has been missing appointments to finish ever since.

This week the animal situation escalated even further. After 6 years of all the above, the first non-winged mammal breached our interior walls. This morning I released two deer mice back into the wild. I'll reset the live traps before bed.