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Going with the flow or how
we ended up with 20 squirrels

by Sue-Ryn Burns

The season started normally enough or what passes for normal now. Spring was cold and wet, and seemed to take forever to warm up. Seeds rotted in the ground, more than once. Eventually, babies started arriving, along with some misfortunate migrators. We cared for the usual array of baby birds, bunnies and squirrel babies came in mostly in pairs and trios. Many of the plants that managed to germinate and grow gave up during periods of extreme heat or deluge, and we settled into the chaos of summer caring for whoever showed up, while weeding watering, and harvesting whatever grew in the gardens.


The high point of mid summer for me was the arrival of an adorable fluff ball Ring Billed Gull chick. She was about four days old and quite able to fish minnows out of her bowl and trash her cage with ease. Some children had picked her up as she emerged from her shell and insisted they keep her. Four days into vacation, the family realized the 24/7 commitment--and error of their ways--and brought her to me. She would eat almost anything as most gulls will, but her favorites were earthworms and minnows. For quite some time she seemed somewhat mystified by the long appendages that would eventually carry her to freedom. Occasionally a wing would drape out while I carried her to the back yard for the day and she would look at it with wonder, seeming to have no control over the thing. The fluff gave way to a beautifully patterned covering of beige and white feathers. She earned the name Mimi because she screamed almost constantly and while I didn’t know the bird’s sex, to me she seemed like a girl. We taught her many things and when she realized she “got it right” she would spin around in a circle screaming and flapping happily – reminiscent of Betty Boop’s grandpa. She started to fly. First it was short trips across the yard or up onto the deck or my head, then big figure eights overhead, and then she discovered the joys of screaming from the rooftops in the neighborhood. When she started leaving the yard I was thrilled and worried. She started “hanging out” at a neighborhood diner. She landed on peoples cars and they were not happy to see her. We all agreed it was time for Mimi to move. She went to live on a friend’s island where there’s a shoal that gulls usually populate for the summer. We are all hoping she makes a connection there before everyone migrates. As the humans become scarce, she may get over her imprinting – we’ll be on the lookout and may have to send her south with migrating friends.


Early on, one of my rehab muses told me, “the one’s you’ll learn the most from will probably be the creatures most people consider pests”. It’s been true so far. Wildlife rehabilitation tends to set the rhythm of one’s life. Baby season can get overwhelming and the pattern of feeding and cleaning can seem endless. Releases and deaths happen and holes appear in the tight schedule, which usually manage to fill with chores that have been neglected. Creatures come in waves, depending upon the weather, food supply, and environmental challenges. We don’t go far from home for long or together, and if we do manage to visit a friend, we look like the “Clampetts” arriving with our vehicle full of cages, heating pads, and assorted foods and feeding implements for the ones in the cages.


Somewhere around the end of July we got a call from the vets about taking 2 baby squirrels orphaned after a storm. When I saw the small box, I realized they must be Reds – I hadn’t asked. Within a few days they called again with a litter of 5 orphaned Gray squirrels. They also came with their eyes closed. Soon a call came from a woman who had 3 orphaned squirrels – two grays and a black, all technically Gray Squirrels. They were just opening their eyes and appeared on her lawn after a bad storm, probably blown from their nest, no sign of a mother. A week or two later, a frantic woman called about a litter of seven baby red squirrels. The family had been gone for a week to visit relatives. When they got home, her husband had gotten up and driven to work at 4 AM and upon arrival, babies started dropping out from under his truck. He kept them warm on the truck floor all day. They also arrived with their eyes closed and mostly ate and slept for a few weeks. We assume the mother left as soon as the engine turned over. The next call came in from a man whose neighbor has a history of trapping, killing and poisoning squirrels. She even cut down a beautiful old pine tree to rid her neighborhood of varmints. The man found a gray and a black baby wandering around at the base of a tree, skinny and cold, their eyes not open yet. He had cared for them overnight, but one of them did not make it. Number 18 was a singleton and they are difficult, because they are so lonesome they can get very attached to their caregivers and vice versa. When a woman called with a young gray squirrel her neighbor’s cat had caught I was thrilled to have a companion for the singleton, even though they were a week or two apart in age. I moved their cages close together so they could get used to each other. Number Twenty arrived from the vet’s found alone somewhere on a lawn in Watertown. She was a beautiful black Gray squirrel, her eyes were just barely open, she was very wobbly, and she was probably a week and a half younger than #18, but her cage went on the other side.


Eventually the two reds, the trio of grays & black, and the litter of five grays moved to outside cages to “wild up”. We get to watch them go from being fairly shy to thundering around and around, stashing and burying food (and other stuff), and leaping and jumping – which are all important prerelease skills. This was just in time for the seven reds and three singletons to move into bigger indoor cages to get used to limited climbing and scooting around as their eyes opened. The seven reds climbed as high as they could as soon as they were placed in their new large bird cage. The three singletons were all sleeping together in a squirrel sack within twenty four hours.


Feeding that many babies takes time, quick hands, organization, and a sense of humor. Steve got to the shed ahead of me one afternoon, opened the cage door on the seven reds to start the process and they swarmed up his arm in a ravenous horde. He couldn’t pick them off and get them back into their cage fast enough. They went up sleeves, into pants pockets, down inside of his jacket and up onto his hat faster than you can say “Squirrels”! Fortunately, their former cockatiel cage has several little doors, and once we got them back inside we started opening and grasping from different directions, challenging their little brains to figure out where we would open next. Once fed, the squirrels get placed in a separate cage that’s full of blankets and toys until all are fed. They chew the bars, rattle the doors and carry on as only reds can do until the post-milk coma sets in. Usually by the time their main cage is cleaned, restocked, and the dirt pan changed ( yes, a litter box) for them they are more cooperative. The grays can also get beside themselves but seem to have longer fuses and more decorum, at least until they move outside.

Because these were all second litter babies, they need to get out into the woods as soon as possible. The two reds went to the back of some family land in a small birdhouse. They stayed there for a few days, then moved on. They will need to make a nest and start cacheting food. The three grays moved to other family land and abandoned their release house for better digs quickly. The litter of five stayed at their release house in the mixed Oak, Hickory and Beech forest in the state park for about 24 hours. They are scatter hoarders and will start burying food for later use once they choose a location. We think we have figured out where the next ten will be released. We never want to put them in harms way or have them become a problem for anyone.
Many folks find squirrels annoying and they can become quite destructive with their capacity to chew, hoard, and shred things up. There are plenty of “squirrel deterrents” on the market; cayenne pepper products to mix with bird food, electric shockers, “squirrel proof” bird feeders, and yes, even poisons. There is some doubt whether cayenne is harmful to birds or not and “squirrel proof” is a notion that only seems to make squirrels more devious. Poisons will come back to haunt you. Dogs, cats, and birds of prey are frequently the unintended victims of rodent poisoning after they ingest a poisoned carcass.
“Aromatorture” is still the easiest non-lethal deterrent. Squirrels locate their hidden treasures by scent, like most rodents. Those little baby reds would wake up for feeding because they could smell the warm milk when we brought it onto the rehab shed even before their eyes were open. They didn’t bother when we went in and out noisily doing other chores! Perfume samples, strongly scented dryer sheets, mint scented herbs, moth balls or “predator urine” from a trapping supply can all be effective repellants and allow for personal preferences. The main thing to remember is you need to contain the “offending” fragrances. Put the repellants in a clean recycled jar with holes in the lid or staple the samples, dryer sheets, or essential oil soaked strips down so that they can’t be removed by disgruntled squirrels. If all else fails, borrow or buy a live trap, bait it with peanut butter, and move the squirrels to a rural location where there are plenty of oaks, hickories, and beech trees during the summer or fall. Please resist the urge to heave the trap off the dock, like that man’s neighbor (so much for having a heart)! Most wildlife prefer wilderness. They become opportunistic when their environment and habitat gets destroyed…usually by humans. Overpopulation is also a problem, again usually traced back to a lack of predators to maintain the balance.

 

 

 

The squirrels we cared for were all orphaned by storms, peoples’ pets, or human intention. Some folks question why we need them. If you like old forests, thank a squirrel who busily stashed more seeds than needed and moved on to other adventures. If you are a fan of Owls, Hawks, Foxes, or Coyotes, consider the many creatures they must eat to survive and thrive. Or perhaps you just need to spend some time observing their playful antics instead of chasing them off.
If you find orphaned squirrels, observe from a distance to make sure they are truly orphaned. If they need rescuing, place babies in a closable box or carrier with air ventilation. Keep them warm and away from noisy situations and nosy pets. Resist the urge to feed them anything but water or Pedialyte, and do not use a dropper. If they need to nurse, use a small brush, cotton swab, or small sponge that they can suck the liquids from – squirrels aspirate easily. The New York State DEC website lists licensed wildlife rehabilitators with contact information.

Going with the flow…or how we ended up with 20 squirrels
Metaphysical Times Volume VIII Number 3 Fall 2013

 

 

© 2020 The Metaphysical Times Publishing Company - PO Box 44 Aurora, NY 13026 • All rights reserved. For any article re-publication, contact authors directly.

 

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