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People are going nuts for squirrel feeders made by father-daughter duo from Ontario

Some of us can't help feeling squirrely in the midst of this pandemic and now a father and his daughter in Wyoming, Ont. used that feeling to build a backyard business making squirrel feeders – and people are going nuts for them.

Jay Barr and his daughter Jaila White Barr built a backyard business during pandemic

Jay Barr and his daughter Jaila White Barr with one of a hundred squirrel feeders they've built and painted since the pandemic began. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Months of quarantine has changed many of our lives in unexpected ways. For Jay Barr, being homebound for months forced him to start to appreciate the small things in life, namely squirrels. 

"My wife, she's been feeding the squirrels for years and I used to constantly nag her about it, thinking the squirrels might come into the attic or ruin something around the house," said Barr, who lives in Wyoming, Ont.

"Once COVID started and really having nothing to do around the home, she sent me a picture of somebody who had made a squirrel feeder and asked me if I could make it." 

So he did. Then he made one for his in-laws, who happen to live next door. Word of mouth spread and pretty soon, the requests started piling up. 

The squirrel feeder that started it all. Jay Barr built this squirrel feeder for his wife, which his daughter Jaila painted. The pair have crafted over a hundred since. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"We started taking peoples' orders at that point," said his daughter Jaila White Barr, who would normally be at studying at the University of Windsor, but found herself homebound just like her dad. 

"We had gotten so many positive comments, with people saying they would buy them and that they were super cute. We were like, 'Oh my God, this was just a joke.' Now people are going crazy for them." 

The father-daughter duo started selling them through Facebook. As soon as they started showcasing their products online, with names like "Nut Hortons," "Squirrel Bucks," and the Toronto Raptors-themed "We the Nuts," sales started going – well, nuts. 

"The messages started coming in 'Can you do this?' Can you make me one for the Toronto Maple Leafs? The custom orders, we had to stop building them just on our own and just deal with custom orders because it got so crazy," she said.

Father, daughter made 100 feeders in four months

One of the many Canadiana-inspired squirrel feeders made this summer by Jay Barr and his daughter Jaila White Barr. (Submitted by Jay Barr)

Restaurants, local businesses and even people looking to have their feeders personalized started ordering the feeders from all over Ontario, from small towns such as Lucan and Arkona to cities such as London and Toronto. 

A friend also started selling them at a farmer's market in Komoka, Ont., which started a new wave of sales and custom orders specifically from the London area. 

"When we started making them we thought, 'oh maybe we'll make a couple hundred bucks and $4,500 later we've made over a hundred squirrel houses now," Barr said. 

The squirrel feeders start at $50, but the price is negotiated for a custom order, which have mostly been for restaurants, such as nearby Huntzy's Pizza in Wyoming,  MJ's Roadhouse in Lucan, or Nooner's Restaurant in London.

Most of the wood is scavenged from beaches

This "Squirrel Bucks" feeder has proven be extremely popular. (Submitted by Jay Barr)

Materials are cheap, and Barr said most of the wood is recycled. 

"Most of the wood came from the beach, either driftwood or lumber coming in from high water levels. Everything's reused, recycled," he said.

It means the biggest expense in making the feeders for the Barrs is time, something a father and daughter are only too happy to spend together. 

"We would sit outside most of the days doing the painting and dad would be building," White Barr said. 

"It was good," Barr said. 

The Barrs have four feeders of their own

The Corona themed squirrel feeders has by far been one of their biggest sellers. (Submitted by Jay Barr)

The Barrs keep at least four active squirrel feeders on their own property. One is attached to a tree in the backyard, while three sit on their front porch in front of a huge picture window facing the family room of their home.

"Every morning usually somebody will go outside and put some nuts in the squirrel houses and the squirrels will start to come," White Barr said. 

"They'll sit right by the front door and they'll put their little feet up and wait for someone to come out and bring us some more nuts." 

"Or even lean on the window as if they're saying 'there's no peanuts out here. Give us some food," Barr said. 

It begs the question, who's doing the taming? The squirrels or the humans who feed them? 

"Probably a bit of both," said Barr. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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