I took my last two squirrels of this season to the Center today to join their four “siblings” in an outdoor enclosure for the next few weeks until I can release them all back into the wild.
Speaking of wild, that's the way we're describing this season after the huge onslaught of the wee critters we received. I don't know what the final count is (and there could still be stragglers), but we usually get around 50 in March. This year there were more than 80!
One theory as to why we had such an increase in our numbers is because last year was a banner year for acorns, meaning more food for Moms, meaning more of them survive.
I hadn't actually planned to take any, since I wanted to be available to do two sets in the summer/fall season, since that's usually the heavier season. But after so many came in, we needed every home possible to give the squirrels the best possible care.
I started in the first week of March by babysitting my co-volunteer Carla's fox squirrels for a week while she had guests visiting. Fox squirrels have reddish fur and rounder faces than the eastern greys, which are the most common type in this area. In fact, we usually get very few foxes in the center (and even fewer western greys, our only native species), but this year was an exception for those as well. I think we got three or four times the usual number of foxes, another sign of the strangeness of this season.
I got my own a couple of weeks later—three easterns (one set of two and a single). I also took a single fox squirrel, but that was just temporary because you can't raise the different species together. So the plan was for me to just watch him for a few days until some more came in that we could add him to and give to another home care volunteer.
Sadly, that never happened. Even though he seemed healthy when I got him, and he was eating well for his size, the next day he started breathing really heavily. I thought he might have pneumonia (I hadn't yet seen a squirrel with it, but it is a common problem), so I took him to a couple of more experienced rehabbers to evaluate him. While at the second one, he suddenly went into total shock and within a few minutes he was gone. The fact that it happened so quickly meant he probably had some sort of internal injury or neurological damage, and that there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent it. Of course, that doesn't make you feel better when it happens.
The next day I got a fourth eastern grey—a female who had arrived at the Center extremely cold (which means she was probably outdoors for a while) and severely infested with fleas. Carla had stabilized her for a couple of days, then I added her to my set. She was very listless for a few days, probably due to anemia from the blood loss from the flea bites. She wasn't thriving, but she didn't seem to be getting any worse, until a couple of days later when I found her gasping for air. This time it WAS pneumonia (and just AWFUL to watch!). Fortunately I had some antiobiotics on hand from when I thought the fox squirrel might have it, so I was able to give her some right away. Then I picked her up and looked her directly in the eye (she only had one open by that point) and said, "I'm doing everything I can to fight for you. But YOU can not give up on me!"
Well, I'll tell you, that antibiotic stuff is a wonder drug! Within a couple of hours she was breathing normally and by the next day she was as active and energetic as the others! (It was at this point that she earned the nickname, Miracle Girl...)
Over the next week or so, I got a couple more, bringing my total up to six! (Usually in the spring season, no one has more than four in a set.) They were all doing really well. Then I had to go away for the weekend, so I handed them off to another babysitter. Unfortunately, while I was gone, one of the little guys also died suddenly. Like with my fox squirrel, it was probably some sort of internal damage, and I felt as bad for the woman who was looking after them as I did for the little guy himself.
I didn't have the smaller set for long, though. Within a couple of days, another male came into the Center. He was a little smaller than my guys, but bigger than other ones still coming in, so my set was the most logical one for him to join. He had blood around his nose, which worried me, but it cleared up by the next day.
Everything was going well again. I mean, doesn't this guy look pretty darn content?
By this time, they were all just about weaned and were eating lots of solid food, and it was only going to be a few more days before I planned to put them in an outdoor enclosure. Then I discovered Miracle Girl behaving very oddly. I found her sitting in the cage with most of her body in the water bowl. At first I thought it was funny, because they will get so engrossed in what they're eating that they're completely oblivious to anything else going on in their surroundings. But it quickly became clear that that wasn't the case here.
I took her to see Ann, the wonderful vet tech who works with us, and discovered she was having petit mal seizures, where she basically just zoned out from the world for brief periods. Ann told me that it was possible that these were caused by some sort of infection, so she gave me some medications to treat her with. But she also warned that it could be due to neurological damage or an injury of some sort, in which case she would probably have to be euthanized, since she wouldn't be releasable. (You can't have a squirrel climbing up a 200-foot palm tree only to have a seizure halfway up.)
I was pretty devastated at that point. And the next day she seemed even more listless and out of it, so I was really worried about what was going to happen. But then I told MYSELF that I couldn't give up on her at this point and I just had to keep giving her the meds and hope that they would do the trick. And, well, they did!!!
I put her back on formula as well, to ensure she was getting a good mix of nutrients. She was tired for a few days, but she started eating more solid food as well, and then climbing and jumping around the cage again. By this point, I had taken four of the other squirrels to the Center, and kept the smallest one so that she wouldn't be alone (and because I figured he could use the extra development time as well).
She finished her antiobiotics last weekend and Ann suggested I keep her through the week to make sure she didn't have any kind of a relapse. But she's been totally fine ever since. You can see her, “I ain't gonna let nothin' stop me from gettin' back out into the real world where I belong!” attitude here:
So I packed her and her brother up this morning and put them in with the other four. We had set up two nest boxes in case there was any conflict between them, but they were accepted back into the fold without a problem. It probably helped that I had done a t-shirt swap a few times while they were separated, i.e. I had taken a t-shirt that smelled like the two at home and put it in the nest box with the other four, and brought one of theirs home for inside the cage. This was Carla's idea, and a very smart one I must say!
So now I'm empty nesting again. While I'm thrilled that everything's back on track, it is a little weird to not have them in the room next door. I keep wanting to go and throw a few pieces of broccoli in the cage. (Miracle Girl was addicted to the stuff!)
Now we get a bit of a break. But the next season starts up again in late July/early August, so I won't be squirrel-free for long...
Blog of the Day
In addition to writing Susan CFA's Update, a blog to help investment professionals improve their own writing about financial topics, Susan B. Weiner is another squirrel nut. (Ba-da-bump!) She's even published multiple essays about squirrels—as well as myriad other topics—which doesn't make me jealous at all. (Ha!) AND, she also lived in Japan for several years and has relatives in Canada. So you can see why I like her... :)
I'll write more about this season's squirrel adventures later, but for now I'll just post a few pics to remind you why it is I love doing this!
I've also joined the fundraising committee for the Center. We're currently planning our biggest annual fundraiser, Jewels in Flight. It's going to be an evening event this year (previously it was a Sunday brunch) and we're holding it at Hakone Gardens, a gorgeous Japanese tea garden in Saratoga. We'll have tastings from five different wineries, a delicious buffet dinner, live music, a silent auction (including a gorgeous wildlife-themed custom made by my very talented and generous friend Liz!), and a special visit from some of our educational animals, including Fala, a rare albino crow. So I think the event is going to be really great.
It's on Friday, May 30th from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., so if you're in the Bay Area and would like to attend, you can download this PDF file for more information. If you can't attend, but would like to make a donation to the Center, well, that would be greatly appreciated as well. :)
Blog of the Day
I also wanted to call out Gretchen Roberts, who publishes the blog, for her great essay that appeared on Thursday on babble.com, a parenting site. It's called “Booze Clues: Why I let my kids drink” and it appears in their Bad Parent column. (I think if I had children, this would quickly become one of my favourite sites...)
Last Thursday I brought my first set of squirrels back home from the Wildlife Center and released them. Yay!
I actually got a bonus squirrel out of the deal. I had been down at the center a couple of days earlier. When I checked out the enclosure, I was quite surprised to see a black squirrel running around with my guys. What probably happened was that s/he escaped from one of the other enclosures and whoever caught him/her didn't know which one s/he came out of. Oh well, no such thing as too many squirrels in my mind! :)
My volunteer colleague Carla came with me to the center, where the gang had already been caught and placed in two small release cages. We brought them straight back to my house and placed the cages on the lawn, facing some trees and a bowl of water. I also spread some food out for them so they wouldn't have to go too far afield at first to find some.
Then I lifted the front panels to let them take their time to come out on their own. Well, four of the six ran out almost immediately, but one in each cage wasn't quite ready, so I had to do a little coaxing.
Here's a short video of the experience.
So everything was going along just fine, until... I was taking the t-shirts into the garage to put them in the laundry, when I was startled by something jumping right in front of me. Yep, at some point, a couple of the squirrels must have noticed the inviting interior and decided to check it out. Which would have been fine with me until I suddenly remembered I had some set mouse traps up in the rafters from a problem I was having a couple of years ago. Yikes!
I was glad I had Carla with me because, between the two of us, we were able to handle the situation. First of all, I got a broom so I could block the squirrels from the traps and then used the handle to trip them. Then I remembered my pool skimmer, which we could use as a net to try to catch the little rascals. Unfortunately, they were still too fast for us to actually trap them, but our efforts managed to get them to run back out into the yard. And that's when I started breathing again... :)
So the release turned out to be a little bit more of an adventure than I had been expecting, but once everything was settled down, I could enjoy watching the squirrels start to get to know their new home. Yay!
Here's a first look at my new set.
The first one I got, the black one, opened his eyes today. One of the others also had just a slight opening in one eye at the last feeding.
The three smaller ones are still a little thin, but they seem to be getting a little more robust and energetic at each feeding. Two of them had bloody noses first thing this morning, but those seem to have cleared up. The weird thing, though, is that not one of them (not even the big one) has peed once for me while stimulating them. They don't seem to be uncomfortable, so I assume they've been going in the carrier (you can't really tell, because at this size we're talking just a few drops). They have been pooping to various degrees and, as I said, they seem healthy otherwise, so I'll try not to worry too much about it for the time being.
Three more squirrels came into the center today. I brought them home and kept them separated from my other guy until their next feeding, then put them all in together. I have one more feeding to go today, so I'll have a chance to see how they're getting along before I go to bed.
The three are siblings—two girls and a boy. They're all around 90 grams, and their eyes are all still closed. While they were at the center, they were apparently sneezing blood, but they don't seem to be doing that anymore. I was also warned that one of them was a little lethargic but, again, that didn't seem to be the case when I fed them. Still, I'll keep them on Pedialyte until I'm sure they're all doing okay and are ready to start on formula.
I was glad to get them. I had felt bad for my first guy for being all alone, even though it didn't seem to be bothering him at all. It was also weird just having one to take care of. The feedings went really fast, I can tell you that!
While I was at the center, I went outside to check on the set I took in a week and a half ago. Boy, have they ever grown in that time! I saw four out of five of them (the fifth was either buried in the t-shirts in the nest box or snoozing in the hammock), and they all looked very chubby and healthy. They'll stay there another week or so and then I'll be bringing them home again to release them. It's so nice to see that the work I put in with them while they were here has definitely helped them. This really is one cool gig!
Well, I'm a Mom again.
There are still some stragglers coming into the wildlife center, so I picked up a new little guy today. He's already about 120 grams, but his eyes haven't opened yet. I was supposed to get two more that are currently at another volunteer's home, but apparently one of them has diarrhea, so they want to get him stabilized before handing him off to me. But whether it's those particular ones, I'll definitely get another two or three in the next couple of days, so this guy won't have to be alone for too long.
My new charge is almost completely black, totally different from my last bunch. Because I just picked him up today, I'll wait to take some pics so he can get settled into his new environment. I've fed him once since I got him home. It's really weird to be holding such a small one again.
As for my first set, I'll be going into the center tomorrow to pick up some more formula, so I'll check on how they're doing. I'm really looking forward to seeing them again!
I finally have a chance to report on how the transfer to the enclosure at the wildlife center went last Monday.
The first challenge was just transferring them from their cage to the cat carrier. Three of them went easily; the other two, not so much. But eventually I managed to snag all five of them. I put some of their bedding in the carrier with them so they'd have familiar scents around them during the trip.
Here's a picture of their new home:
It's 4' x 6' x 8', which gives them a heckuva lot more room for running and climbing than the little cage in my spare room. Before I moved them in, I did a little prep work. I had taken the nest material from their hammock at home with me and filled up their new hammock with it, and spread some food around the ground to give them an incentive to come out of the carrier.
I then put the carrier in the cage and left it open, then left the enclosure to watch them. After about five minutes, the biggest guy decided to check out the situation.
It didn't take him too long to start exploring his new surroundings.
It took about another ten minutes before a second one ventured out, but she wasn't quite ready to completely leave the carrier yet.
The last three weren't quite so forthcoming. After waiting another 20 minutes or so, I pulled the t-shirts out of the carrier and placed them in front of the door, hoping that would encourage them. Nope. Then I tried tipping the cage to let gravity provide a little assistance. That worked for one of them, but the other two really dug their claws into the side of the carrier. So I stepped outside again to give them a little more time and space.
Well, after another 20 minutes or so, I decided I was going to have to play “bad cop.” I picked up the carrier and just dumped 'em! They scurried out pretty quickly and immediately made their way to the back wall, where they plastered themselves and remained virtually immobile until I finally had to leave, about half an hour later.
By that point, the other three had all been inside the hammock and the nest box, so I figure the other two would eventually make their way to those safe places as well. They had moved a little while I waited, so it wasn't like they were totally paralyzed with fear (although I definitely felt pangs of guilt watching them cling to the wall like their lives depended on it...)
All in all, I was there for about three hours. It was hard leaving them, but I knew it was the right thing to do. When I got home, that spare room sure seemed empty though!
P.S. The exposures in these pics are all over the place because the enclosure had areas of bright sunshine right beside total shadow, so I had to keep changing the setting to compensate for the difference. And since these guys weren't exactly standing still for me (except for the last two :), I didn't have a lot of time to experiment...
More pics. My little charges will be heading back to the Wildlife Center tomorrow to spend a few weeks in a large outdoor enclosure until they're ready to be released. So I'm posting a bunch more photos so we won't forget them while they're gone. :) The good news is that they will be back, as the plan is to release them in my own backyard. I already have a few eastern grey squirrels here, so we know it will be a suitable environment for them. Until then, though...
Another video. I shot these clips by holding the camera, rather than using the tripod, so they may be a little shakier than usual. But it was easier for me to follow the action this way.
These were taken when they've been going to town on the solid food after their formula feeding. I had tried avocado when they were younger and they didn't seem to go for it. But as you'll see in the last shot, that's not the case anymore. One of the things I find really funny about these guys is when one of them is eating something, like a grape or a dandelion leaf, and another one tries to eat it at the same time, even though there are plenty more of the same thing in the cage.
I don't have a shot of this, but one of the girls was able to crack open a walnut yesterday. Previously, they could only get into them if they were partially cracked already, but she definitely got this one started all on her own.
On another note... I've mentioned a few times about the wonders of Pedialyte for taking care of the squirrels' various health problems. Today, I ran across this article about some athletes swearing by it as well:
Again, a routine day today. In fact, unless something unusual happens in the next few days, or I get some particularly great pics or video footage of the gang, I may not post about them again until Monday. They'll be fully weaned by then, so I'll be taking them all back to the center to be housed in a large outdoor enclosure for a few weeks. There, they'll be able to run and climb a lot more and also get used to being outside, while still being in a safe environment. After that, they'll be ready for release.
Sigh. They grow up so fast. :)
Nothing special to report today, so I'll just post a few new pics. I was able to take these through the open door of the cage, so you can actually SEE the squirrels here... :)
I love this first one, with the little guy just peeking his face out from the hammock.
The rest of these are of my biggest guy, who's often awake while the others are having a snooze.
I was finally able to get my little guy out of the cage today—twice! In the morning, he only drank 3cc of formula, but my bigger goal was to weigh him, since I hadn't been able to for a couple of days. Well, easier said than done... When I put him in the shoebox on the scale, he wouldn't pause for the second it takes for the scale to register the correct weight. Instead, it kept rotating through a list of numbers, ranging from about 180g to 290g! Not too helpful. But I was able to weigh him this evening, and he seems to still be gaining weight, so that's good.
He was acting a little funny today, though. When the four others were running and jumping around the cage, he was either staying in the hammock or hiding under the shoebox. I can't see any signs of anything wrong with him health-wise, so I'm not sure why his behaviour has changed (he used to run around as much as the others). Maybe he's just been eating more solid food to make up for the lack of formula, and that's making him a little less frantic? I'll be keeping a closer eye on him tomorrow, though, just to make sure everything's okay. He did take in 12cc of formula at this evening's feeding, so I don't know if that will make a difference or not.
I'll be reducing their feedings to once a day starting tomorrow. They're all large enough now for this final step before moving to an outdoor enclosure. However, I wasn't comfortable just going straight from twice a day to once a day (seems like a pretty dramatic change), so tonight I fed them about half the amount of normal, and I gave it to them a little earlier so they'd go a little longer overnight without feeding. That way I hope that going a whole 24 hours between feedings won't be quite so shocking to their systems.
Today was a fun day. I turned the squirrels' cage into a bit of a jungle gym, by putting some dead branches from my oleander trees through the wires and using some binder clips on each end to prevent them from slipping back inside the cage. Watch a couple of the guys checking them out:
One of the gang seems to have weaned himself, which would be fine except that he's the smallest of the bunch. For both feedings, he retreated to the back wall of the cage where I couldn't reach him. This was the same guy who was climbing the wire front of the cat carrier before his eyes were open, and who then opened his eyes when he was still quite small, so it's possible he was the runt of his litter and is underweight relative to his age and level of development. I've been putting the leftover formula from a feeding session into a shallow container and placing it in the cage so he can drink from that if it's just a matter of him not wanting to be hand-fed. I did see one of the squirrels drinking from the bowl, but it wasn't him, so I don't know if he's taking advantage of the option or not. Oh, well, I'm sure if he was hungry enough, he'd come forward. It certainloy doesn't seem like he's suffering from any loss of energy...
A couple of new developments today:
Not much else to report. Everyone's eating well and jumping around the cage like crazy. It's nice to not have to worry so much about their health as I did when they were smaller. Basically, I'm now just working towards weaning them over the next week or two, so they can be transferred to an outdoor enclosure for a few weeks before they're released. Boy, the time sure has flown...
And, we're back.
I actually picked the gang back up on Tuesday, but haven't had a chance to post again since then. They're all doing really well and are MUCH bigger than when I sent them off to the babysitters—they're all over 200g now and my biggest crossed the 300g threshold this morning!
The first day back was a bit difficult, because they weren't as trusting of me as before when I tried to pick them up. And we have a new, bigger cage, to give them more room to climb, but it doesn't have the best door setup for getting them in and out. And I can't just put them in a shoebox after they feed anymore, because they can open it. It took me a while to figure out another option. I didn't want to just put them in my cat carrier, because they will go right to the back of it, making them hard to reach (and making it easier for one to escape while I work on taking out another). So I put a couple of boxes in the back of the carrier and pressed towels in the gaps, so it's not so deep. After a couple of shaky feeding sessions, it seems to be working out well now.
They're all sleeping in the hammock now (when they're not all running around like maniacs, which is quite a bit of the time!). At first I had it set up too close to the door of the cage, so it was really hard to get the squirrels out. But I moved it back a bit, and now that's actually the easiest way to grab them. In fact, it's funny. A couple of times, a couple of the squirrels have been scurrying around the cage but, when they saw me taking the others out to feed them, they crawled into the hammock to wait their turn!
On the other hand, one of them has figured out that if he doesn't want to be caught, he just has to crawl up the back wall, where there's no way I can reach him. I'm not worried about it, though, because I figure he must not be hungry when he does that.
When I got them back, they were down to three feedings a day, which I kept up until yesterday, but today I reduced them to twice a day. Almost all of them were refusing to eat for at least one of the feedings each day, so they should be fine on the new schedule. They're definitely enjoying the solid food and natural items in the cage. When my friends were here, we went for a hike one day and I was able to gather a few pine cones, which they like to gnaw on. And I've been putting in branches from trees in my backyard that have seed pods on them, and they're really going to town on those.
Here's a video of three of them having a grand ol' time!
I left my squirrels with their “babysitter” this morning and I miss them already! But Connie is one of the most experienced members of the squirrel team, so at least I know they're in terrific hands.
Since I don't have much to report today (fortunately, they were all in peak health when I handed them over), and I won't be posting again for another week, I thought I'd just share some more videos and pictures.
Spider Squirrel, Spider Squirrel
Does whatever a Spider Squirrel Does...
In this video, keep your eye on the shoebox to the left of the cage. That's where I put the squirrels after I feed them, which makes it easier to keep track of who's already been fed without having to pick up the same ones up over and over again.
And check out these two pics. I took the first one on the third day I had them, and the second one this morning.
Everyone was in great shape today. Just in time for me to hand them over to someone else...
I have some friends coming into town on Wednesday, so tomorrow I'm taking the gang over to another volunteer's house to look after them for the next week, then I'll get them back. It's going to be weird not planning my entire day around their feeding schedule!
I forgot to mention yesterday that my big guy has passed the 200-gram mark! Pretty soon we'll have to start feeding him through the cage, 'cause they start to become unhandleable at about that size/age.
I'll have some more videos to post tomorrow. I've been trying to take some more still photos as well, but it's almost impossible now. They're constantly on the move and my auto-focus lens can't keep up with them!
My little girl is back to 100%, if not more. She's completely full of beans, and I'm lovin' it!
Instead, today's worry was that two of the other squirrels weren't taking in much formula for a few feedings in a row. They're supposed to drink 10-15cc per feeding, based on their weight, but one was only drinking about 5cc and the other about 3cc. This isn't unusual for a single feeding, but this happened at last night's final feeding, this morning's first one (when they hadn't eaten all night), and the next one as well.
They were clearly healthy—very squirmy and pooping well. So my concern was that they might be eating too much solid food, and starting to wean themselves way too early. But fortunately they were guzzling the stuff down like crazy at 5:00, so all seems well again.
Whew... when I signed up for this gig, I had no idea there would be so many little things that could cause me so much stress. I have NO idea how parents do this for 18 years!
I spent most of today worried about one of my girls. She's the smallest one of the group, although only by a few grams. She's also the one who's had occasional digestive problems, with some minor diarrhea and constipation. But recently she had been totally fine. In fact, even when she had those issues, she was always one of the more active ones when I would feed her. She would excitedly clutch at the syringe and when I reached for another one, she would run all around my lap until the next nipple showed up. And I've been saying all along that, as long as they're running around full of energy, I figure they must be fairly healthy.
But at last night's final feeding, when I picked her up from the cage, she was almost limp. She showed no enthusiasm for eating at all and didn't struggle when I held her up to look at her belly—not like her at all. So I figured she must have overeaten during the day and by morning she'd be fine.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. She was pretty much the same, so that's when I really started to worry. She didn't want any formula so I gave her a bit of Pedialyte, hoping that would help. But she hadn't improved by the next feeding either. She also had diarrhea. Not really awful, but worse than she'd had it before. So I gave her some more Pedialyte, but I practically had to force feed her. In fact, I didn't notice right away that some of it wasn't going in her mouth, and when I turned her around, she was all wet on her face and her front leg. That really freaked me out until I realized what had happened. After I finished feeding them all, I left them to sleep but couldn't stop worrying about her. I had to go in before the next feeding to check on her. I just picked her up to see if she still had any diarrhea, and was relieved to see she didn't. AND, she fought a little against me as I was holding her. A good sign.
I have to admit, though, I was holding my breath when I went in for the third feeding. I made up some less concentrated formula for her (I didn't want to skip it altogether, as she needs the fat and protein in it). When I put her on my lap, she immediately started to move around and, then, when I held the nipple in front of her, she took it right into her mouth. I was so relieved! It was like she was a completely different squirrel from a few hours before. I'm going to have to write a letter to the president of the company that makes Pedialyte and let him know what an amazing effect it has—on squirrels at least!
At the final feeding, she was the same again. I wouldn't say she's 100% better yet—maybe 85%? But that's a huge improvement. Of course, I'll probably still be a little anxious tomorrow morning to see if this improvement “holds.” But I'm sure I'll sleep better tonight.
When I lost that one little squirrel that came in a few days after I got this gang, of course I was sad. But I had only had him for a few hours and he had a number of scratches on him, so I felt like there wasn't anything else I could have done for him at that point. But if anything happens to one of these guys, who've been coming along so well these past three weeks, I know I'd be devastated and would definitely feel like I must have done something wrong. I so want them all to “graduate” back out into the wild, but today's incident has made me realize that I can't take anything for granted yet.