When you see a baby squirrel come tumbling out of a tree you’re cutting down, what do you do? What if you discover a baby squirrel following you all around, with no sign of mom anywhere? Here are some pointers for what to do in those situations when you think a baby squirrel may be in trouble.
It’s not the time to hone your lumberjack skills…
If you’re cutting down a tree in spring (which you should avoid whenever possible since baby wild animals are usually living inside) and baby squirrels tumble out, STOP what you’re doing immediately.
If any of the squirrels are bleeding or clearly harmed, you’ll need to contact a wildlife rehabilitator immediately.
If the squirrels are unharmed, put them on the tree stump, or in a shallow wicker basket attached to the remaining tree trunk, and give mom a chance to reclaim them. It may take her all day to find a suitable nest, so don’t give up hope!
If it is at all cold outside, you will need to provide a heating source for the baby squirrel. (Mom won’t retrieve her babies if they have become compromised, so maintaining their body warmth is vital.) Place a hand warmer, hot water bottle encased in a sock, or a heating pad on low inside a shallow container like a shoebox and place a flannel shirt or small towel on top. Then place the squirrel on top of the flannel shirt or towel. Make sure that the squirrel is not covered by the shirt or towel, so that mom can find him!
Fight the urge to feed the baby anything – you want his hungry cries to attract mom. If he vocalizes, record his cries with a recording device or your smartphone and play the sounds outside – often the cries of hungry babies will bring mom running!
Be sure that there are no free roaming dogs or cats anywhere near the baby squirrel. Keep your pets inside and beg your neighbors to also!
A fuzzy over-night guest…
If the baby isn’t retrieved by nightfall, you will need to bring him in overnight, because the mother squirrel won’t be active after dark (and the young squirrel is likely to get preyed upon). Don’t call a wildlife rehabilitator just yet. Bring the baby inside, place him in a cardboard box with an old flannel shirt as nesting material, and leave him in a safe, quiet place overnight. Try again in the early morning, as soon as there’s daylight. Again, don’t feed him – you want his cries to attract mom in the morning. (Also, it’s easy to feed baby squirrels wrongly and cause them to aspirate (get fluid in lungs), which is fatal.)
In the future, avoid doing any tree cutting work in the spring and summer. Baby squirrels have 2 litters a year –one in the spring and another in late summer. Many other wild animals including raccoons, woodpeckers and other songbirds, and birds of prey also use tree cavities in the late spring and summer for raising young. The best way to avoid harm to wildlife is to wait until late fall to do any tree work. Even then, always check any tree cavities to make sure they are not occupied (since some wild animals will use tree cavities in the fall and winter too).
What’s this, a baby squirrel on the ground?
If you simply find a young squirrel on the ground, first take a moment to assess his appearance. Is the squirrel clearly injured or bleeding? Is the squirrel dehydrated? (Gently pinch the skin –it should snap back into place. If it doesn’t, he’s badly dehydrated). Is he covered in external parasites like ticks, fleas, or fly eggs (which look like yellow dots)? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then the squirrel needs to be taken to a wildlife rehabilitator.
If the young squirrel appears healthy, follow the instructions detailed above to try to reunite the squirrel with his mother. (If that doesn’t work within 24 hours, then call a wildlife rehabilitator.)
If you move, you must have food…
Okay, but what if you’re just going about your business, and a young squirrel starts following you? And won’t go away? This behavior is typical of a juvenile squirrel who has lost his mother. They’re hungry and follow anything that moves. In this case, the squirrel is usually orphaned and a rehabilitator should be called right away.
When your cat gifts you with a baby squirrel…
What if your cat brings home a baby squirrel? In this case, the baby squirrel will definitely need to go to a wildlife rehabilitator (even if he looks uninjured). Cats have sharp teeth that penetrate the skin easily, leading to septic infection of their victims (which is fatal). The baby squirrel will need to go to a rehabilitator to receive antibiotics and treatment. (When you do take the squirrel to a rehabilitator, please consider also making a donation to aid in the care of this injured young squirrel.)
The final solution here, once the squirrel is placed with a rehabilitator, is to keep your cat indoors, allow him access to the outside only with a leash and harness, or build a “catio” or cat enclosure to allow him to safely enjoy the outdoors while also protecting your local wildlife.