Making a Difference - The Squirrel Sisters
Updated: Sep 14
Our neighborhood has many hawks so the only reason I noticed this one was because of the desperate call for help coming from beneath its talons. It was a squirrel. Hawks pierce them with their talons until they stop screaming and then the feast begins. This seemed a particularly sad cry and later I found out why.
The next afternoon, while walking Leah, I saw a little brown blob in the gutter. On closer inspection, it was a baby squirrel, curled in the fetal position and being attacked by flies. I hadn’t wanted to get involved, but it was alive, and had to be tended to. Fetching an old tee shirt, I made a soft nest to keep it safe and warm (I later found out it needed to be much warmer).
It settled nicely into the shirt nest, and I called The ARK, the local mammal rescue/rehab organization in Hilliard, FL. I was referred to Ralph, a certified rescuer who quickly responded.
My neighbor, Sally, for whom I named the (surprise) second kit, called to say that there was another baby in the same location. I added it to the nest and the two babies snuggled together.
They were adorable, with oversized heads, soft furry little bodies, and beginnings of fuzzy tails. Thinking about their absent mother, who probably was dinner the previous day, increased my determination to save these little cuties.
Ralph texted before arriving that he would arrive by tow truck. I texted back that the squirrels were very small (my attempt at humor). It turns out that Ralph drives a tow truck, not to accommodate the rescues but because he also rescues people and their vehicles!
He gently cupped the babies in his hands, examined them, and pronounced them girls. When we discussed the situation, he said it was highly likely that those babies were the children of the hawk’s dinner. My heart melted when I realized that cry from the squirrel was not just fear and pain for herself but her worry for the babies back in the nest.
Blind, cold, abandoned squirrel kits (babies) move backwards in search of warmth, easily falling from their dreys (nests). When I showed him where they were found, Ralph identified their drey, directly across from where the hawk ate their presumed mom.
Kits can survive 24 - 48 hours without food, but lowered body temperature and dehydration are the biggest risks to their health. Ralph said the first thing he gives them is Pedialyte (unflavored) to help replace electrolytes and rehydrate and he incubates at 32 - 33 degrees C.
These sisters, Sally and Stephanie, are three to four weeks old. By six weeks their eyes will open; they will be eating solid food by eight weeks. Ralph is currently rehabbing 13 baby squirrels, and other mammals including baby armadillos and a baby flying squirrels. As they mature, he reduces contact with the kits and slowly weans them from human interaction, eventually moving them into a larger cage outdoors from which they will be released.
Ralph mentioned five most important considerations for unlicensed wildlife rescuers of baby squirrels (or other baby mammals such as raccoons or armadillos):
Call The ARK Wildlife Care and Sanctuary in Northeast Florida (located in Hilliard) to be referred to a licensed rehabber and for further instructions, (904) 424-6543. If you live elsewhere, check online for wildlife rehabilitators or this website page of the Humane Society of the United States.
DO NOT feed the baby unless instructed by a licensed rehabber. Feeding them anything other than Pedialyte or formula made for small mammals can severely injure or kill them (never cow’s milk).
Keep the baby warm. Even in hot weather the baby needs the warmth of its mother and siblings. An air conditioned homes are too cool. A heating pad or even towel soaked in very hot water in a plastic bag will help.
Keep the baby away from children and pets.
Turn the baby over to a licensed mammal rehabber. There are different rehab licenses and bird rehabbers likely aren’t licensed to handle mammals as Ralph is not licensed to handle bird
Several people discouraged my rescuing pesky squirrels. It just isn’t an option when you see a baby in need. All my motherly instincts kicked in and I cooed over them when I finally held them in my hands under Ralph’s watchful eye. Kits are cute and helpless. And it was a nod to their mom, whose cries were probably more for her babies than herself. Thanks to Ralph, her babies will live
Being a rehabber is a labor of love and very expensive; while they get some supplies from rehabilitation facilities, most rehabbers pay for food and medicines themselves. Kits' special food costs $120 per bag and lasts one to two weeks for 12 squirrels. Ralph now has 13 in his care. If you rescue a baby mammal and turn it over to a certified rehabber, please consider making a contribution toward its care. Additionally, Wildlife Rehabilitation facilities like The Ark Wildlife Care and Sanctuary
need help, too. Ralph told me that many in Louisiana lost their facilities during the recent hurricanes and are struggling with the cost of keeping their rescues safe and well fed.
A rehab website featured the story below and it resonated with me. Perhaps it will with you, too. It doesn’t take much to make a difference and a little bit of effort on my part made a difference for each one. This one is for you, Ralph:
adapted from “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley (1907-1977)
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”