911 Advice for Squirrels
“I found an orphaned eyes-closed baby squirrel. What do I do?”
Often baby squirrels fall out of their nests (sometimes 20 feet high or more). The mother squirrel WILL come back and get baby/babies. Factors that contribute to a squirrel falling from the nest are: weather, large birds/raptors, tree maintenance businesses, and so forth. Fire ants, cats and dogs are the primary causes of death in baby squirrels as well as falling from great heights causing internal injuries and/or concussions.
Here’s what you do if you find a baby squirrel on the ground.
Immediately look around for the mother and where the nest might be located. The nest may be too high for you to put the baby back but if possible that is the ideal course of action.
Check for injuries/bruising. The baby should go to a wildlife rehabilitator if there are any injuries. However - we may still be able to reunite the baby back with its mother IF the injuries are not life-threatening.
Get a high-sided box and place a clean t-shirt along with the baby into the box. Either secure the box as high into the tree as you can OR place the box in a safe location away from predators. The mother should return for her baby within 2 hours.
Leave the area so that the mother will feel that it is safe to retrieve her baby, but monitor from a distance.
IF THE MOTHER DOES NOT RETRIEVE HER BABY AFTER 2 HOURS HAVE PASSED, THEN IT IS TIME TO BRING THE BABY INSIDE AND CONTACT A WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR.
“How often does the mother feed the babies?”
Squirrel mothers feed their babies constantly during the first few weeks of life. The mother’s nipples “drip” rich milk so that the babies can nurse every 1-1/2 hours to 2+ hours throughout the day and night. As the babies become older they nurse at less frequent time intervals until they are ready to start tasting and eating their natural foods.
“I have picked up the babies -- won’t my scent keep the mother away?”
NO -- the mother will not abandon her babies just because the scent of a human is on them.
“The mother has not returned to the nest and/or retrieved her baby -- what do we do now?”
If you know that there is a nest of baby squirrels and you have not seen the mother in over 24+ hours, several things may have happened including the death or capture of the mother.
The babies will start crawling out of the nest seeking food and will usually fall to the ground.
Heat or cold have driven the babies out of the nest.
You just haven’t seen the mom come back to feed her babies. Remember -- she will only leave her newborn babies for a short time during the first few weeks of life and thereafter for short times to forage for herself. You will usually not see her at night or after twilight.
“How do I know whether the babies are old enough to be released?”
Squirrel babies stay with their moms for 12 weeks and longer. She will teach her babies how to survive in the habitat she has chosen and her children will disperse from that location to start their own lives based on their maturity. It is not uncommon for young squirrels to seek out human help if their mother has been killed or captured/relocated. If a squirrel’s eyes are open that does not mean that it can fend for itself in the wild. It is vital that you contact a wildlife rehabilitator to get help in determining the age of the squirrel in question.
“My cat/dog just brought in a baby squirrel. What do I do now?”
Cats puncture and dogs crush. If there are any injuries whatsoever, a rehabilitator should be contacted as soon as possible. Cat bites are almost always fatal, so if there is broken skin on the animal then its life is compromised... Keep your cats indoors!! Cats are the killers of millions of species of wildlife each year! Follow the stabilization protocol located at the end of this advice sheet.
“The nest has been destroyed and the babies have no cover. What do I do?”
Squirrel mothers will relocate their babies and rebuild a nest. Squirrels often build more than one nest just for this eventuality. Give the mother time to gather her babies (you can help by placing them all in a t-shirt-lined box in plain sight for her to find). Intervene only when common sense tells you to do so, as in a storm, freezing weather, or intense heat.
Please follow the instructions below IF:
The nest cannot be re-established;
The babies are in imminent life-threatening danger;
There is no sign of the mother (at least over 24 to 48 hours);
The babies are injured.
If any of the above stated situations fits your particular scenario, then contact a state-permitted wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. If the baby squirrels are determined to have been abandoned and you need to transport them to a rehabilitator, please do the following:
Use a small container such as a shoebox. Punch air holes in the lid.
Line the shoebox with a clean t-shirt or baby receiving blanket that you do not mind giving up.
Place the babies inside the shoebox and put a rubber band around the box and lid, securing it for the ride.
Babies must stay warm. Fill a clean tube sock with uncooked white rice and tie off at the cuff with a piece of string. Place the sock into a microwave and heat for 1-2 minutes. Place the sock inside the shoebox and put part of the t-shirt or other piece of clean cloth over the sock. You don’t want the sock to be so hot that it could burn the babies. The babies will crawl next to the warmth of the sock and stay there for the ride to the rehabilitator. Another option is to put a wet washcloth (wrung out) into a ziplock baggie and microwave until warm but not hot. This acts as a portable heating pad!
If it is going to be a length of time before you can get the babies to a rehabilitator, please do the following:
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FEED THE BABIES -- TO DO SO COULD CAUSE THEIR DEATH
Follow the instructions above as per the shoebox or other small container.
If you have a heating pad, set it on low and place the pad on a non-conductive surface (your bathroom counter or washing machine lid will do just fine).
Place the container with the babies half-on and half-off the heating pad. This will allow the babies to move away from the heat if they need to.
Squirrels require a specialized formula. Alone, most replacement formulas are not sufficient in ingredients to sustain a growing baby squirrel. A rehabilitator has been trained to offer the formula appropriate for this species and knows the correct feeding schedule and protocol of rehydration. You also run the risk of aspirating the baby by using an incorrect feeding utensil (such as a baby bottle with nipple). Mom squirrels also stimulate the babies after feeding in order to help them eliminate. This process is vital to their health and life. Baby squirrels are incredibly fragile and do not take handling by humans well. They will die of stress if handled improperly. Keep baby squirrels away from children, household noise (such as vacuum cleaners and so forth), domestic pets and bright light.
Squirrels do not make good pets. They are wild things and have wild instincts. They do not trust humans and do not accept other domestic animals as companions. Please do not consider keeping these incredible and fragile creatures as pets -- to keep a squirrel in a cage for the rest of its life is to doom it to a life of sadness and broken spirit.
For further information, please contact:
Diana Orr -- State-permitted for small mammals
Wildlife Rehabilitator specializing in the eastern cottontail and other native lagomorph/hare species
WildRescue, Inc. / Rabbit Rescue / Rabbit’s Rest Sanctuary
Copper Canyon, Texas Phone: 940-241-1242
firstname.lastname@example.org www.rescuedrabbits.org www.iwrc-online.org
911 Advice for Squirrels
Copyright Diana Orr All Rights Reserved August 2004