Baby squirrel season has begun

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 When asked what initially hooked our staff into a career in wildlife and what keeps our volunteers returning year after year, the answer is often feeding baby squirrels. For many of us, the first time an infant squirrel was put into our hands, we were captivated. The planets align, the orchestra plays, the part of us that has seemed missing is magically restored. It may seem overly dramatic, but the scene of Harry Potter receiving his wand is what we equate that moment with!

I was going through a rough spot when I started volunteering at Wildwoods. I would show up to feed baby squirrels with a cloud of worry over my head and the weight of the day pressing upon me. As I mixed and warmed up the special formula, I would begin to relax. All of a sudden I would find myself smiling as I fed those enthusiastic little eaters, my heart full of affection and devotion. There is literally no way to focus on your problems with 40 tiny, helpless, squirmy, adorable babies to care for. We laugh at their antics, worry if they are ill and sigh over the sweet, sleeping, full-bellied darlings. Sometimes we have to start over with cage A immediately after finishing cage Z because feedings are every two hours and it can take that whole time to get through it! No matter how long the shift, we leave feeling we have done something amazing and meaningful.

I was pondering the subject for this article when a call came in to Wildwoods about baby squirrels discovered while demolishing a chimney. BABIES ALREADY! The warm weather this spring has resulted in early stirrings and activity from our Northland creatures. We all need to be aware because our actions can unwittingly cause some tragic circumstances for the early babies being born.

Tree trimming is the most common disrupter of squirrel nests. Because of the early spring, there are already babies tucked in those clumps of dead leaves high in the branches of bare trees and in the hollows of the trunks. Strong wind and storms are also a threat. If nests are disturbed or you find infant squirrels on the ground, there is a good chance that their mom will return to move them. Mother squirrels always prepare more than one nest for emergencies just like this. A lot of the time there is no need to intervene, just stay out of the area and double-check in a few hours to see if they have been moved.

Every situation is different, however, and requires some skilled evaluation. If any babies look bruised, injured, or if there is any sign of flies, fly eggs (which look like sticky, tiny white grains of rice) on the babies, they will need assistance as soon as possible. They should also not be left on the ground overnight, so if it gets dark they should be brought inside. The most important thing is to keep the babies warm until they can be brought in to us at Wildwoods.

Do not feed babies anything unless you have discussed the situation with us first. The internet is full of harmful and inaccurate "advice" and feeding infants can be trickier than it sounds. They can easily aspirate fluids if fed improperly and then succumb to pneumonia days later. The wrong food, or an improper amount can be incredibly harmful to their systems. The best thing you can do is to call us to assess the situation with you. As much as we love caring for these little treasures, we prefer they stay with their wild mom and family if at all possible. We are here for you, and all wild creatures, whenever needed!

Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit wildwoodsrehab.org, call (218) 491-3604 or write to P.O. Box 3161, Duluth, MN 55803.