When I looked out the bay window onto our patio Saturday morning, I saw that some mysterious force had knocked over the bird feeder.

The feeder was lying flat on the patio stone with about half of its oiled sunflower seeds gone. My first thought was to curse the squirrels. I like to call them tree rats.

The bird feeder usually sits atop a 7-foot high, 1-inch steel pipe, supported by a weighted base screwed securely to crossed 2 x 4s. We have had problems in past years with squirrels leaping off the roof or from the firewood pile onto the feeder to get at the seeds inside, but I thought I had strategically positioned the feeder far enough away from both launch points to thwart the acrobatic rodents.

So, my first thought was that the squirrels had returned to their previously successful tactic of leaping from the highest point to the steeply pitched, plastic roof of the feeder. As unlikely as it sounds, perhaps one of them had launched himself in a sunflower seed-crazed kamikaze leap, hit the feeder, where his momentum with gravity assisting had carried both squirrel and target beyond the tipping point to crash onto the patio stone.

However, the feeder pole was facing away from the firewood stack, not the roof. Its direction suggested that a resolute squirrel would have had to leap from the 4-foot high stack of logs to a landing site at least 15 feet away and 3-feet higher than its launching point with enough force to knock over the pole and feeder on top. The pole is weighted near its base with an 18-inch diameter Christmas-tree stand filled with 10 pounds of pea-sized gravel ballast. The feeder had not blown over when Hurricane Sandy buffeted it with 140 mph winds last October.

Even so, maybe, I thought, a flock of squirrels flying in close-order formation, hitting the feeder simultaneously might have been able to tip it.

My next thought was that raccoons had knocked over the pole. Raccoons are omnivorous, even smarter than squirrels, and they have an uncanny ability to open securely closed food containers. They routinely raid our heavy-duty, 50-gallon garbage container with its hinged lid permanently affixed.

I could not convince myself, nevertheless, that the masked night scroungers would want to work that hard for a meal of unsalted sunflower seeds with the shells still on, not when the garbage container around the other side of the house is so easy to knock over for a seductively smelly meal.

Or, maybe foxes, I thought.

We have red foxes in the wilderness of our suburban Northern New Jersey neighborhood. They are omnivorous, as smart as dogs and opportunistic.

But, I thought, they would make a meal out of a couple of our chipmunks, or like the raccoons, raid the garbage can, rather than knock down a bird feeder full of sunflower seeds.

So, after I dressed for the day, I went out to the patio, set the feeder pole upright and scooped the spilled seeds back into it. The feeder was still about half full.

Then, with the mystery unsolved, I put the puzzle out of mind, going about my day, attending a communication conference at Fairleigh Dickinson University, then later that Saturday, getting the Maxima prepared to deliver to my daughter, Katie, in Scranton the following day.

Sign Up for E-News

I awoke about 5 a.m. Sunday full of anticipation about driving to Scranton later that morning to deliver Katie’s first car to her. I was lying half-awake in bed when I heard something crash on the patio.

That must be the bird feeder again, I thought.

I vaulted out of bed and rushed into the kitchen to look out the bay window, hoping to catch the “critters” in the commission of their crime. The sun had not yet come up, so the bay window looked out onto a pitch-black patio. I could not to see beyond the sill of the bay window without turning on the patio floodlights, the switch for which is in the family room.

The light switch is located at the far end of the room, beside the wall-length glass and sliding doors that provide access from the family room to the patio outside. I padded quietly but quickly across carpet, skirting the entertainment center, edging along the sofa that sits in front of the sliding-glass doors. The drapes drawn across the plate glass and sliding doors blocked my view onto the patio.

Then I put my fingers on the light switch, pressed my face against the glass to peer out and flipped on the floods.

The attached photo captured the sunflower seed-eating culprit on my patio.

Mystery solved.

Click here to see the perpetrator.