Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Squirrels are like peas

There's a spring crop and a fall crop. As the baby bird nursery is closing down, the wildlife center is feeding the fall crop of squirrels, bins and boxes of them all over the place. I don't know where they come from or who brings them in. Some are so young that their eyes haven't yet opened.

After watching the frustratingly slow job of feeding the very young ones, I learned how to feed the older squirrels, the ones who are--in a word--squirrely. All are fed formula with the same kind of 1 ml syringes used for baby birds. Unlike with birds, the amount of food squirrels get is strictly regulated. The incentive to follow the rules is simple: too much food and they get diarrhea. If I understood correctly, they're fed from syringes rather than baby bottles in order to control the rate at which the food goes into their gullets. Some are reluctant to eat; others want to inhale the food. Literally. If the rate of consumption is too fast, they'll aspirate the formula and can get pneumonia, which would be quite a waste after all the work of trying to get them to survive.

It may seem strange for an organization to spend so much of its resources on common animals like gray squirrels and crows but this center has made a decision to value all living things. Once they're released, let nature sort them out.

The squirrels I fed today were close to being weaned. Group #20 is a litter of five, ear tags on the right for girls and on the left for boys--or the other way around. You reach into the bin, grab a squirrel, set it on a towel and insert the tip of the syringe into its mouth. Some are smart enough to remember, "Oh yeah, this is where the food comes from." With others, you have to cram that syringe in and start fueling up (no gag reflex, like birds). The little light bulb goes on and the squirrel stretches out its back legs and grabs the syring with its hands while going, "Whoo-eee, gimme more of that stuff."

Except for the one who insisted on acting like a teenager. I gladly gave her to the woman who was teaching me. This squirrel wanted to run, jump and dance, none of which she could do because she was being restrained. So she confined herself to wriggling and scrambling, taking a bit of food, then wriggling and scrambling again. After half her feeding, we put her in a box to reflect on her behavior while we finished feeding the others. On the second attempt, her manners were a little better, but not by much.

The experienced volunteer who had been teaching me how to feed squirrels said, "Well, that blows my theory that girls learn faster than boys." I think she meant squirrels.


  1. You have lots of patience and that's wonderful of you to help the poor little nut cases :) lol

  2. We never get to see any squirrels here.

    How great to hear that they get fed and looked after.

    Big Nose Pokes
    The Thugletsx