Squirrels are great moms!
This baby fox squirrel and her four siblings must have been very confused and frightened when the sound of buzzing chainsaws was followed by a sudden drop that left their nest destroyed on the ground.
If the conditions are favorable, most of the tree squirrels in our area will have a second brood of babies in late summer/ early autumn. Conditions are indeed favorable this year, which means it's not yet safe to prune or trim trees.
The tree trimmers brought the babies to WildCare, where our team determined that the baby squirrels were stressed and dehydrated, but not injured.
We gave them subcutaneous fluids (and microchipped them), and reached out to the homeowners about a possible reunite. They were wary, but agreed to let us try once the tree trimmers had left. We kept the squirrels in care all day until it was time to take them back.
Photo by Melanie Piazza
Upon arrival at the site, Squirrel Foster Care Team leader, Melanie Piazza was very concerned that all of the trees in the yard had been removed, leaving nothing but piles of logs and branches. Although squirrels will generally have more than one nest, what were the odds that this squirrel mother had built a nest in a neighboring tree?
Melanie was relieved, however, when she played a recording of a baby squirrel's call and a female fox squirrel came running down the fence line chittering at her. This was the mother squirrel, and she wanted her babies back!
Melanie and the homeowners quickly set up a reunite box with a heat source, showed the babies to the mother squirrel, and left the area as fast as they could.
Over the next several hours, the family watched through the window, sending play-by-play text updates to WildCare as the mother squirrel came back for each of her babies, one by one. She even took a break between numbers 3-4 as she was exhausted and it was hot! This photo shows her "splooting," that is, spreading herself out flat on her belly to cool herself off.
In the video below, you can hear how excited the family was to be able to witness the event! They are now wonderfully aware of their squirrel neighbors, and they were so grateful for the opportunity to reunite this squirrel family! They also said they wish they had known about the nest, as they would have postponed doing the tree work.
Video and photo above by Mei-Ling Fong
Most wild animals are excellent mothers, and it is very rare that a wild mom will truly abandon her young. If mom is gone, the vast majority of the time it is because something happened to her (she was trapped and relocated by humans, hit by a car, caught by predator, poisoned, etc.).
Different species parent differently. For example, among foxes, coyotes and many songbird species (like these robins), both mom and dad raise young together. But for species like squirrels, opossums and hummingbirds, mom is the sole caretaker.
In this story we are highlighting the amazing parenting devotion of squirrel mothers, who, whenever possible, will retrieve their young.
Note: It is a myth that human scent on a wild baby will deter parents from taking them back. In cases where wild parents reject their young, in most cases it is because the baby is cold.
Photo Adobe Stock
Every year, WildCare's Wildlife Hospital successfully reunites approximately 20% of the baby squirrels we admit, saving a tremendous number of volunteer hours and resources for the injured babies who truly need our care. Especially right now, when we have 55 baby squirrels in care, we're thrilled, and grateful, when a mother squirrel takes her babies back!
We always say that we do an excellent job raising orphaned squirrels, but mama squirrel does an even BETTER job! As long as the baby squirrels are healthy and not injured, we're always ready to attempt a reunite. However, we ask the public...
PLEASE DON'T TRY REUNITING BABY ANIMALS ON YOUR OWN!
A very important note regarding this story and these videos, please do NOT attempt reunites of mammals or birds on your own. You must always call WildCare (415-456-7283) first (or your local licensed wildlife care center) for advice on your specific situation. These are NOT how-to videos!
The reasons you must contact wildlife experts before attempting a reunite are many. Each situation has different, varied considerations and requirements. Only wildlife experts will be able to determine if a reunite is possible and if so, to decipher the best plan with the highest chance of success.
Some considerations are species-specific. For example:
- Certain species, like opossums, do not return for their young. Once baby opossums drop off of their mom's back, they are on their own.
- Birds cannot pick up their young, but some owl species can climb trees before they can fly.
- Age — are the baby animals so young that they cannot thermoregulate? Or are they so old that they will climb out of a containment box?
- Body temperature — a mother wild animal will not take back a cold baby, so it is important to know proper body temperature, and to be able to provide a safe, proper heat source if needed.
- Injury — all babies should receive a physical exam by an experienced wildlife rehabilitator before attempting a reunite. In some cases, the babies need hospitalization and treatment for a few days before a reunite attempt can safely be made, and, of course, sometimes their medical issues are too extensive so they must stay in care at the Wildlife Hospital.
Additional considerations include environmentally-specific things like:
- Will it be too hot, too cold, raining?
- Is the location safe enough to leave babies in a box?
- Is there an outdoor cat in the yard, is it in a construction yard, or is tree work happening?
We have many examples of well-meaning members of the public leaving babies outside all day in an attempt to reunite, not realizing that the baby had a skull fracture, wing fracture, or broken teeth.
Thankfully those reunites were not successful so the injured animals were eventually brought to WildCare, but it would have been much better to get them into care for pain medications and supportive care as early as possible.
It takes years of species-specific patient care experience, as well as reunite experience, to learn how to decipher all of these pieces and put together a proper reunite plan.
The majority of our baby squirrel intakes result from tree trimming, but we also see babies come in due to weather-related events, such as windy or stormy weather which can knock down nests, or a heat wave where babies that have gotten too hot crawl out of the nest to cool off, and then fall.
In cases where babies are in fact orphans (the mother has died and has not been back to the nest for a long time), they will, out of desperation, start crawling around looking for food. In most cases, this causes the desperate little squirrels fall.
These are situations where a reunite is obviously not possible, and we can determine this by the level of emaciation and dehydration in a baby squirrel. We would never attempt a reunite when we can tell the babies have been starving for some time (another reason to not attempt reunites on your own).
Photo by Alison Hermance
It's not easy being a wildlife mom!
It is incredibly challenging to be a wild animal mother, especially in an urban setting!
All around us, squirrels and other wildlife are going about their business, and raising their young, while dodging cars, tree trimmers, dogs and cats, poison and a million other human-related hazards.
These animals are survivors, and they deserve our respect!
These babies' rescuer was out walking her dog and found these two babies on the sidewalk, stunned and with bloody noses. She ran home to get a box, collected the babies, and brought them to WildCare. They are both Eastern Gray Squirrels, and the blond baby is one of the color morphs we'll occasionally see in Eastern Grays.
We examined the little squirrels and cleaned them up, gave them fluids and medications for pain, and let them rest. A short while later, we saw that they had regained their energy and were very active, so we called the rescuer to ask about reunite. She drove back to the location to get us the exact address and sent us photos of the exact tree.
Photo by Melanie Piazza
While she was there she said an adult squirrel was yelling at her and running up and down the tree.
We knew that had to be the mother squirrel, and that we had no time to waste! We asked our Wildlife Hospital Clinic volunteers who were on shift that day if anyone could drive the babies over to the reunite site. Volunteer Selena did, but she didn't have experience with squirrel reunites, so we asked Lucy, our Squirrel Team leader, who lived nearby, to meet her and arrange the reunite box and set-up for optimum results.
In the video below, you can see the mother squirrel grabbing her blond baby (she eventually took both little ones) to take him to a new nest site. You can watch her running the gauntlet of cars, FedEx delivery vans and other hazards a wild mom like this squirrel has to run to survive in our neighborhoods.
Video by Lucy B and Selena
Labor Day Weekend Reunite
These two Eastern Gray Squirrels fell and landed on a driveway late in the day over the Labor Day weekend.
Both arrived at WildCare with blood on their faces from split lips, but overall these youngsters were okay.
We kept them overnight to make sure they didn't have additional injuries, gave them fluids and medications for pain, cleaned their faces, and fed them special squirrel formula every four hours.
The next day, we set up the reunite box with the heat source and played baby squirrel calls, and the mother squirrel came running down the tree! But then she went back up the tree and didn't come back for a few hours.
Our WildCare team had to leave, but the rescuer/homeowner and her son were eager to help, and they kept an eye out all day, making sure the box holding the baby squirrels remained undisturbed until the mother squirrel returned.
They captured the great video below, and they were so excited to participate!
Note that the palm tree in the video is actually on their driveway, not on a busy road.
Video and photo above by Jennifer Craig
Setting up a successful reunite attempt takes hours of time, but it is absolutely worth it when it is successful!
A nest of eyes-closed baby squirrels will be in care at WildCare for on average 10-14 weeks! Baby squirrels must go into care with a dedicated Foster Care volunteer, who will feed them specialized squirrel formula every 3 - 4 hours while they're young. As they age, baby squirrels move into larger caging and learn to eat nuts, acorns, fruit and other things, still requiring daily ongoing care. Even releasing healthy rehabilitated squirrels takes time and manpower.
Not only do reunites save WildCare's resources for injured and orphaned animals that truly need our care, it is best for both the baby animals and their mother to reunite the family whenever possible.
So many people make our squirrel reunites possible.
First the animals must be rescued by a caring person, and brought to the Wildlife Hospital.
Then our Medical Staff goes into action to do the intake and medical exam, and evaluate and stabilize the little ones, while our Front Desk team talks to the rescuer to determine the situation, the location (the exact tree!) and other details including permission for us to go on the property. These details are absolutely necessary in determining whether a reunite is possible.
If the babies are given clean bill of health, the next step is to organize someone who can take the babies to the reunite site, set it up and stay to wait/watch. Sometimes this can't happen for a day or two if tree trimmers are still on the job, or if the babies need a little more care, so they are fed every three hours in the Wildlife Hospital and go into home foster care at night. We have the best success with reunites that happen immediately after the babies are rescued, or at sun-up the following morning, but we have seen reunites succeed up to three days later.
In the best-case scenario, the homeowner is willing and able to monitor the reunite box from inside a building. As you can see and hear in these videos, watching a mother squirrel come back for her young is an incredible experience! If a reunite is not successful the first try, the babies will go back into care to receive subcutaneous fluids and squirrel formula until the process starts again the next morning.
Thank you so much to all of our rescuers and foster care volunteers who help us make these reunites possible!