Orphaned Baby Squirrel Fostering
NOTE: If you find an orphaned baby squirrel, please see this excellent site: Squirrel Tales. It includes all the proper care for baby squirrels, as well as how to find an experienced rehabber in your area. If you are in the Tallahassee, Florida, area, please contact St. Francis Wildlife. This page also has local drop-off locations where you can take the baby for St. Francis to pick up.
From 2003 – 2015 we fostered orphaned baby squirrels as volunteers for St. Francis Wildlife! What an amazing adventure this became! When we lost Dusty in 2001 Gorden always said if he ever got another pet it would be a squirrel (though we've since learned that squirrels do NOT make good pets!)—so when we found this little guy (whom we called "Fuzzy") crawling around in our yard one day, we took him in—and proceeded to do EVERYTHING wrong!
Here's a picture of little Fuzzy (left). So what did we do wrong? First, we just put him in a box with a towel. Baby squirrels at this age that have been traumatized are not able to generate their own heat source and need to be placed with a heating pad under the box you put them in! Second, we tried to feed him BEFORE rehydrating him! The process of digesting their formula takes being hydrated to work properly—so you should ALWAYS rehydrate with pedialyte (or water) first to make sure they can digest their food, or it will cause to become even more dehydrated! Third, we fed him COW'S MILK!!! This is a HUGE no-no with baby squirrels! The proper food is called Esbilac Puppy Formula (the POWDERED version)! The only thing we did right was to use an oral syringe instead of a dropper or baby bottle—which could cause a baby squirrel to aspirate! (NOTE: To learn the proper care if you find an orphaned baby squirrel, please see this excellent site: Squirrel Tales. It includes emergency care, as well as ongoing care if you decide to continue to raise the baby until he is releasable.)
I'm very sad to say that this little guy did not make it. He lasted all of 24 hours in our care. But, as chance would have it—or I believe it was the hand of God(!)—that very day that we lost little Fuzzy there was an article in the local newspaper right on the front page with a very large picture of a baby squirrel being fed by a volunteer for St. Francis Wildlife! It was an article explaining how desperately they needed more volunteers to be "foster parents" for orphaned baby squirrels because every season they get so many that they can't care for them all. So the foster parents would raise them until they are old enough to be released back into the wild. They were offering a free training session that very week for those who were interested—and we were SO very interested! Jacki went to the class, learned all she could, and came home that night with our very first two baby squirrels—Spunky and Tiny!
Our First Babies—Spunky and Tiny
Here is Spunky when he was a little older nibbling on Jacki's ear! You haven't lived until you've had a squirrel nibble on your ear!! We released all our babies (except for one group of siblings) at April's house—the one who trained us as volunteers for St. Francis Wildlife. After Spunky was released, he was a regular visitor at April's place for over 5 years! And every time Jacki would go over there to release another group of babies, she could call, "Spunky! Spunky-boy!" and he'd show up to say hello and take a nut from her! One time she had her back to him (not realizing he was there) and she felt this tugging on the back of her shirt—it was SPUNKY!! He saw she was there giving nuts to the babies in the cage she was about to release and he wanted one, too!
Over the years we learned more and more about the best way to raise the babies. A more experienced rehabber told us that our first babies—Spunky and Tiny—looked very scrawny to her! We had no idea since it was our first time at this. She explained that using the liquid version of the formula (which we had done with this first pair of babies) is not as potent as the powdered version. So from then on we used the powdered formula, and indeed our babies were much healthier—beautiful, white underbellies, nice and full bodies, and just STRONG!
Here's a little girl who was about 4 weeks old in this photo. They are fully furred at 4 weeks but don't open their eyes until around 5 weeks.
Here she is just learning to walk—so cute and wobbly! Her name was Spree—and yes, we named every single baby that came through our home and wrote their name on the cage we had for them to move into as they got older. We had started out writing their names fairly large but quickly had to start writing smaller as we were running out of room across the top of the cage! We eventually ended up writing names all down the side of the cage as well!
Here is one of my special little guys—Fuzzy-Bear—who was named after a mix between Dusty-bear and Fuzzy the squirrel who didn't make it. Fuzzy-Bear was a SWEET little guy! He had the sweetest little face—and yes, all squirrels have slightly different faces and other features, and God took the time to give them each their own, unique personality! Fuzzy-Bear used to "wrestle" with Jacki all the time—rolling around on her arm and "finger-wrestling"!
This is a photo taken of Fuzzy-Bear after he'd been released for a while and had come up for nuts on April's porch where we'd released him. She took this picture and sent it to me to see if I'd recognize who it was. I immediately knew it was my little Fuzzy-Bear!!
This was a batch of babies all snuggled together after a feeding! They just LOVE sleeping all bundled up like this. Baby squirrels HATE to live as singles, so if you ever find just one, please do the right thing and turn it into your local wildlife organization so they can place the baby with at least one "sibling"—they are SO much happier that way!
And here is a little girl named Buttons being all cute!
This is Cosmo and Windy (and their "nest mate" Cindy)—our very first "pinkies" (newborns). You'd never know those were baby squirrels, would you?! They were only a few days old at this time. It is extremely tricky to raise pinkies since they are so tiny they can easily aspirate if you feed them too quickly. Also, it is very tedious for the first few weeks because they need feeding every 1.5–2 hours!!
This is what Cosmo and Windy looked like all grown up! See how beautiful and HUGE they've grown! You could literally FEEL it when Cosmo would jump on your shoulder—THUD! Jacki sent this photo to the local newspaper since it was around Thanksgiving and these little guys had been rescued by two city workers who found them after their tree was blown down in a bad storm we had. Here's the article that was printed in the paper. It was ind of cathartic since our squirrel-raising journey had begun with another squirrel photo in another newspaper article…
Around this time we had the privilege of taking in a non-releasable girl we called Ariel. She had been found as a baby and fed all the wrong foods—the wrong formula (cat formula) and then corn, seeds, and nuts as her main adult diet—squirrels REQUIRE greens and other veggies or they will develop something called metabolic bone disease from a calcium deficiency. This is what happened to little Ariel. She started having seizures, and eventually her back end was paralyzed. She got around by dragging herself across the floor. The person finally turned her in to another rehabber, Gail, who asked if we would be interested in taking her. We decided to adopt her as a squirrel we could keep instead of having to say "goodbye" to…
Ariel had always been kept in an aquarium for her safety like we do the babies. However, we were trying to see if she could get any better, so we fixed up a cage for her with lots of extra padding in case she fell and let her "be a squirrel"—climbing, running around, etc.! She had a blast in that cage! She could get around with the best of 'em! Just watch the video below to see for yourself!
We also did many other things to help with her calcium problem to see if she could regain any feeling in her back end. We named her Ariel after the "Little Mermaid" because she also had no legs that worked—and at the end of the story, she got her legs back! This never quite happened for our little Ariel, but she had the best life a little squirrel could hope to have in her condition! The photo at the left shows her with her "bling"! That lasted all of about 2 minutes—MAYBE! The photo at the right is one of Ariel licking Jacki's fingers. Squirrels will "groom" each other (kinda like monkeys do!)—and they will groom US too! What a cool feeling that is… We would call it a "squirrel-i-cure"—as in manicure but with the squirrel using their teeth to clean out your cuticle area!
After we lost Ariel to liver cancer, we had another little girl we couldn't release—miss Muffin! She was about 6 weeks old when we got her from St. Francis Wildlife, and they thought something was wrong with her and knew we were really good with caring for "special needs squirrels"(!!) so they asked if we would take her. She was doing fine but eventually lost one of her bottom teeth and the ones she had left were all crooked (malocclusion). Squirrels MUST have their top and bottom teeth match so they can keep them ground down because their teeth grow like our hair does—constantly! If we had released Muffin into the wild, it is entirely possible she would have had her teeth overgrow, which would have caused her to starve to death. So she took residence in the large cage we had raised so many babies in and lived a good, long life for a squirrel—8.5 years!
As you can see, Muffin was always getting into things! She loved to sleep among the stuffed animals we had on top of a bookcase in our spare bedroom. She loved potato chips and we could rattle the chip bag and she'd come from anywhere in the house to get her chip! She also would swipe goodies and run off with them to make sure we didn't take it away from her—the photo of her on top of our cabinets was one such occasion!
The video below was taken one evening when Muffin decided her nest box on the refrigerator that she used when she was out running around needed more stuffing! She kept running back and forth getting more and more tissue to stuff into her box—never realizing she was grabbing the SAME tissue from the top of her box and putting it in the bottom! She did this for over 30 minutes that night! I called it "Muffin Being Blonde"!!
Many have never heard of flying squirrels—we've had the pleasure and privilege of rehabbing several of these little cuties! They are so adorable—their fur soft as silk, very sweet personalities… The little babies are so tiny—like trying to feed a wiggling grape! You literally have to lay them across your thumb and just aim for their mouth with an oral syringe using an intubation tube on the end so it will fit into their tiny mouths! Fully grown they are only about 2.5 ounces and will fit in the palm of your hand!!
We had the best time with these little guys! As they grew, we would start "flying lessons" with them—we would stand a few feet from each other and hold out our arm with a flying squirrel in our hand and let them "fly" to the other person—getting further and further apart as they got used to flying (which is more like gliding). One time we had 5 flying squirrel babies at the same time and they were literally flying all over the dining room—from the curtain rod, down to us, to the top of Muffin's cage! One time my sister, Michelle, was here and she said to let one fly to her. When the baby landed right on her face, she screamed so loud!! Good times…
Shortly after we got Muffin we raised some baby flying squirrels—one of which was going to be non-releasable due to some health problems he was having. Flying squirrels really HATE being alone—even as adults! They will live in groups all together—as many as 30 flying squirrels have been found living together in ONE knothole!! So Jacki put the word out to her rehabber friends nearby, and someone in Georgia had a baby flying squirrel that almost didn't make it. She had nursed him to health, and he was doing well, except he had neurological problems due to a head injury from his fall from the tree. His name was Rocky…
Rocky got tired of waiting for us to give him a pecan, so he climbed in the jar and helped himself! Now THIS is what you call "squirrel heaven!!"
Rocky was a sweet little guy. He made friends with his "buddy" very quickly, and both were doing fine until one evening we found the other little guy had passed away in his sleep. So when the other two babies were released, Rocky was alone. He really bonded with Jacki—sleeping all cuddled up around her neck—but he really needed some buddies! Remember Gail, the rehabber we got Ariel from? Well, she just happened to have two flying squirrels who she was willing to let us take in to be with our little Rocky…
Charley and Tiger
Charley and Tiger fit right in! In fact, Jacki is convinced that Charley was in fact a flying squirrel we raised and released in Gail's neighborhood that we called Shadow! He was the only really dark-colored flyer we had raised, and he was larger than most of the others, so it was easy to tell it was Shadow—but we called him Charley! He had come down Gail's chimney one night (possibly to escape the owls that were around at the time) so Gail took him in. Tiger was a little guy that Gail had raised. He had lost part of his little tail, but he was one of the sweetest little guys ever! He would go to sleep on Jacki's neck just like Rocky did and let her scratch and pet him for hours! Though he was an adult when we got him, Tiger loved to drink formula, so since we knew how good it was for him, we'd offer him some every time we fed whatever babies we were rehabbing at the time…
Our last adoptee also came to us through Gail—Peanut! Peanut had been raised by another lady who noticed she was starting to have teeth problems and turned her over to Gail to care for before things got any worse. Gail offered for us to take her as a companion for Muffin (who was also female). However, we quickly learned that grey squirrels to NOT like to share a nest!! So we had to separate them into separate cages if we wanted any peace around here!
Peanut was one of the sweetest squirrels you could ever imagine… She NEVER tried to bite or scratch us! Just a very loving little girl. Please understand that this is NOT typical of squirrels! I said before they do not make good pets—and they do NOT! It's usually not a matter of IF you get bitten, but WHEN and how often!! Peanut was just special in that way. In this photo, Peanut had found a bag of Oreos on the counter and got on top of them. She looks like she's bowing her head and saying the blessing—"Lord, thank you for this bounty I am about to tear into!"
Peanut doing her raccoon imitation!
Peanut eventually lost both her bottom teeth so we had to feed her baby food or ground up food for the remainder of her life. She was the oldest of all of our non-releasable squirrels (about a year or so older than Muffin)—yet she outlived them all! She loved to explore all over the house to see what she could find, and she had the cutest habit of going to sleep "on her head" as we called it! Baby squirrels do this—they lean their little heads over and tuck them under a little and go to sleep in that position. Peanut is the only adult squirrel we ever saw do that! (see photo).
Because of her teeth issues, Peanut repeatedly dealt with abscesses in her jaw area and we had to take her to the one vet in town who worked with wildlife and have them lanced surgically. She was on antibiotics for much of her latter years. Now THAT was an experience—trying to give a SQUIRREL a dose of liquid antibiotics!! She would shake her head back and forth rapidly to get rid of it and we would have to hold her still to get the medicine into her! But we managed, and for about 4 years we kept her infections at bay. But just last year (2015) we lost her. This is one of the last photos of Peanut. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, and she gently "groomed" my fingers—it was a sweet time together. I think of all the squirrels we lost over the years, Peanut was the hardest because she was the sweetest. It's hard even now to write about…
Between 2003 and 2015 we raised and released over 75 squirrels! Was it hard to let them go after getting so attached to them? You bet! But Jacki would go and release each group of babies, and something about seeing them explore their new world and find—and jump into—a REAL tree for the first time just made it worth it all! You just know it's all RIGHT… The video below was taken when Jacki released Smokey—his first trip to "the tree!" Smokey and Shelby were both raised from tiny pinkies and both grew to be very large, strong squirrels!
There were also several that kept coming back to visit April and Gail in the neighborhood where we released our babies. One of the most beautiful girls is Shelby! She was a fall baby in 2009 and was last seen just a week ago (2016). The photo is one of her taken by Gail when she comes up to get nuts from her, which she does on a regular basis! Shelby is also the squirrel I used for our logo! It does my heart good to know my babies are still out there doing great and being taken care of by such wonderful ladies as Gail and April! I wish we lived somewhere that had enough land to release our own babies, but this is the next-best thing!
I've had friends ask what's the point of rehabbing orphaned squirrels. After all, there are so many of them! Well, I say it matters to THAT squirrel! And if you look down at those sweet little faces as you're feeding and caring for them—and see how totally dependent they are on you—and then see them grow into big, beautiful, strong, healthy adult squirrels being released into the wild where they belong—well, it's all worth it!