Reuniting tree squirrel babies with their mom
by Mary Cummins of Animal Advocates
A squirrel’s real mom is the best mom. We should try to do anything we can to reunite the baby with its natural mom. That is first priority if possible in orphan wildlife rehabilitation.
We find babies on the ground after high winds and storms have knocked the nest out, after tree trimmers have cut the nest down, if one sibling has kicked the other out because of limited milk supply, if one just fell out while playing, if one is sick or injured or if mom has died and the babies are trying to look for food on their own. If there is a chance that mom is still alive and healthy, she will most definitely try to retrieve her baby if her baby is warm and healthy.
If her baby is not warm but healthy, we must warm the baby up before trying to reunite. Mom won’t take back a cold baby. She will think it is sick or dying. You can warm the baby up by placing it in a box half on a heating pad on low with a tshirt or some fabric on the bottom. You can also fill a latex glove with warm water, knot it like a water balloon, cover it with a sock and place it near the baby. You can microwave the glove every few hours to keep it warm. A glass jar of warm water with a lid, and those heat get packs also work. Some put a hot wet washcloth in a ziploc bag and place it under a tshirt under the baby. Just make sure it’s not too hot or you can easily burn a baby. If her baby is injured or disabled, we must take it to our rehab facility as quickly as possible. Mom won’t take back an injured or disabled baby. Be sure to thoroughly inspect the babies. Mom won’t mind if your scent is on them but you could also rub dirt on your gloves from the local area before touching them just to be safe. If you have two healthy squirrels and one dead squirrel, remove the dead baby and try to reunite the other two. I’ve found that mom probably won’t take the other two but it’s worth a shot. Perhaps she can smell the scent of the other dead baby on the healthy ones?
1. MAKE A NEST. I use small cardboard boxes a foot or so square and maybe six to 12 inches deep. You can also use a basket. I keep them in my car at all times. It’s also good to have a ladder, wire, wire cutters, gloves besides your paramedic kit. I then gather some natural nest materials from the area where the baby is found. I will put leaves in the box built up in the shape of a donut with the babies in the middle. Make sure they can’t climb out. If it’s very sunny, put a few leaves over the babies to protect them. If they’re old enough, they will pull some leaves over themselves. If it’s cold out, you can leave your warming device in the box with the babies such as the latex glove or warm gel pack.
2. PUT NEST UP A TREE. We must put the nest back up into the tree where the babies fell. I try to go up 8-10 feet which should be high enough to protect the baby from dogs and cats. If there are birds of prey in the area, try to hide the box in the branches. I just use wire which I wrap around the main trunk and run through the box. I don’t want to put nails in the tree and damage it. If you can wedge it in the crotch of two branches, even better. It doesn’t have to be perfect because unlike birds, squirrels can carry their babies in their mouths and move them. They will take the babies one by one to one of their backup nests. I’ve seen a mom carry an 8 week old squirrel partly in her mouth. The baby will wrap it’s legs around her neck to hang on. If their tree has been cut down completely, put them in the closest tree, on a nearby tall post, on top of anything 8-10 feet tall. Some rehabbers will put the baby in a hanging basket on the tree.
If you have no cats, dogs or natural predators in the area that might attack a baby on the ground, you can of course place the babies on the ground in a box so they won’t crawl away. Place the box directly under the tree where found.
3. CALL MOM. We must get the baby to call to its mom. I use a squirrel hunting call. I got one for $5 online. Follow the instructions and blow it four to five times in quick succession just like a baby’s high pitched peeping sound. When they call to their mom they sound like little birds going “peeep peeep peeep peeep.” You can also just hold one baby by the foot to make it feel like it’s about to fall. It will call it’s mom for help. Obviously, don’t let the baby fall. You will see most of the squirrels in the immediate area come out to see what’s up. Hopefully one of them will be mom.
4. LEAVE IMMEDIATE AREA. Get away from the area but stay close enough to keep an eye on them. I generally wait 2-3 hours in good weather or until dark, whichever comes first. If the baby is found late at night or in hard rain, you can take the baby to your facility, get it warm, hydrated then try to reunite it in the morning when it’s clear. Mom won’t approach her babies if there are people or animals around. Keep people away. Put up a perimeter with stakes, rope and a sign if it’s a high traffic area. Mom will carry her baby like a cat carries her kitten in her mouth. When they’re bigger, they will wrap their legs around her neck to hold on.
5. MOM DOESN’T SHOW. If mom doesn’t show up, it’s time to take action. Perhaps mom was killed, sick or there is something wrong with the baby that you just can’t see. A few times I had a mom come and look at her babies and still reject them. It wasn’t until the next day that I could see the problem with the babies. One had a neurological injury, the other had a knee injury. Click here if mom doesn’t show. http://www.mary.cc/squirrels/foundababy.htm
We need to try everything we can to reunite the babies with their mom. For each one reunited, there’s one less mouth to feed every 3 hours around the clock. There’s also more room to care for more squirrels. As I’m sure all of us get full pretty quickly so there’s one less squirrel to turn away. If anyone has any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Email me at MMMARYinLA@aol.com
by Mary Cummins of Animal Advocates