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Orphaned & Abandoned Wildlife: Tree Squirrels

Updated: May 8, 2023


 


 

Identifying Squirrel Species

A variety of squirrel species can be found throughout Peterborough and the Kawartha Lakes:


Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis): The Eastern Grey Squirrel is the most abundant squirrel species in Ontario. It boasts grey fur, a white underbelly, and a bushy tail. These creatures are adaptable and thrive in urban, suburban, and forested environments. Although their name indicates they are grey in colour this species can range in colours, including black, brown, and mixture of grey and brown.






Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus): Compared to the Eastern Grey Squirrel, the Red Squirrel is smaller in size and has a reddish-brown coat. They are commonly found in coniferous forests and are known for their lively behaviour and distinctive chattering vocalizations.



Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) and Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans): The Northern and Southern Flying Squirrel is a nocturnal species of squirrels and are smaller in size compared to other tree squirrels. They also have larger eyes and ears, softer fur, and a shorter tail. They are more apt to cling and climb as they are specially adapted for gliding. Their patagium, while small, is already visible from birth. It's important to note that both species of flying squirrel require delicate and specific care. If you come across a flying squirrel, regardless of age, please contact an Authorized Wildlife Custodian immediately.


It can be difficult to tell the difference between Northern and Southern Flying Squirrels. The Northern Flying Squirrel have grey-brown fur and are primarily found in coniferous forests. Southern Flying Squirrels have grey-brown fur with a white underbelly and are found in various forested habitats.



How to tell the Age of a Squirrel

Newborns (up to 2 weeks old)

Newborns have a long tail, small ears, and black toenails, with pink, hairless, and wrinkled skin. It can be difficult to differentiate between species at this age. This age is a critical stage of their development, their best chance at survival is to be with mom. Mom is able to provide the healthy bacteria during feeding that is essential for proper gut health through out their life. Captivity can implicate their chances of survival.

The photo above shows two infant Eastern Grey Squirrel (top and left), and an newborn Eastern Grey Squirrel (right).


Infants (from 2 weeks to 4 weeks)

Infants have fur, erect ears, and may or may not have open eyes. Although, they have a small cover of fur, they are unable to thermoregulate at this age. This means that they are unable to maintain and sustain their own body temperature and need to be kept warm. Their best chance of survival is to be reunited with mom.


Juveniles (from 4 weeks to 12 weeks)

Juveniles look like mini adult squirrels, but don't have a full bushy tail yet. If a baby squirrel has a fluffy tail and can run, jump and climb, it should not require assistance. This is a normal stage of development when they are starting to explore their independence away from the nest.




It's important to note that squirrel development can vary depending on the species and individual squirrel. If you're unsure about the age or condition of a squirrel you've found, it's best to contact an authorized wildlife custodian for advice.


Rodents have extremely sharp teeth and strong jaws, even at a young age. Always wear gloves and use a blanket or flat woven towel if necessary to handle.


Damaged and Disturbed Nests

What do squirrel nests look like?

Tree squirrels build nests, called dreys, by weaving together twigs and leaves high up in trees. They use these nests for shelter and to raise their young. Some species of tree squirrels build multiple nests throughout their territory, while others only have one primary nest. Squirrels have a natural preference for nesting in cavities, often making use of small urban spaces like attics and car engines.


From February to November, any squirrel residing in a shed or garage should be considered to be a mother with babies. Squirrels give birth twice a year, during early spring and late summer. It's essential to exercise caution, as you don't want to leave the baby squirrels without a mother. Squirrels are known to be excellent caretakers and will relocate their young ones to a new den if they feel threatened. However, evicting a mother squirrel always carries the risk of abandonment or separation from her offspring.


What happens if I find a baby on its own?

It's not uncommon for baby squirrels to fall out of their nest or become separated from their mother. If you find a nest of baby squirrels on the ground, there may have been an accident of some sort, such as a broken branch, a storm, or a predator knocking the nest down. Fortunately, the mother squirrel is likely close by and will retrieve her babies if given the chance.

Teenage squirrels–like teenage humans–sometimes adventure to far and get lost. Mom is likely close by and will return. Please see the following instructions for what to do in this scenario.

If the original nest cannot be found or is destroyed, a makeshift nest can be created using a basket or box lined with soft materials such as soft blankets or an old t-shirt. The makeshift nest should be placed as close as possible to the original nest site or in a nearby tree. The babies should then be placed in the nest and left alone, as mother squirrels are very cautious and may not approach if humans are present. Please see Reunite with Mom for more information.


What if there is a Squirrel Nest in my Garage?

If you haven't already removed the nest, it’s best to leave it be. Simply open any blocked entries or holes, step back, and give the mother squirrel some time and space to return to her young.


In the event that you find a nest in your vehicle, take care to inspect the squirrels for any injuries caused by the engine. If you notice any wounds, burns or blood, it's important to contact an authorized wildlife custodian immediately. If your car is still parked in its usual spot, leave the nest undisturbed and open the hood of the car to signal the mother squirrel that her nest has been found. If your car has been moved from its regular parking spot, there's still a chance to reunite the baby squirrels with their mother if the move occurred less than 48 hours ago. However, if it has been more than 48 hours, it's best to assume that the babies have been orphaned



Reunite with Mom


Returning the baby squirrel to its mother is the best course of action if there are no signs of injury. Squirrels are exceptional caregivers and will retrieve their young if provided with the opportunity. Furthermore, squirrel moms can provide much better care for their offspring than any human ever could.


Make sure they are warm and dry, then place them in an open box or container with a source of warmth and a soft cloth (flat weave towel or fleece blanket) in a safe spot near the nest or where you found them, (make sure you have prior permission from the property owner).


Its important to note the following:


Please be patient

Leave the baby outside for at least four hours to see if its mother returns. During this time, ensure that the baby squirrel is kept warm and comfortable by replacing the heat source as needed. If the mother doesn't show up, you can play the sound of this video to call her attention. Remember to play the video only once, as repeating it may draw other predators to the area.


High Traffic Areas

Alert your neighbours and put a sign on the box to let other people know that the squirrel is waiting for its mother. If there are many dogs in the area, nail the box to a tree, wall, or fence 4-5 feet above the ground to protect the baby. Make sure you have permission from the property owner if the baby was found on private land.


In the Rain

If it's raining heavily, bring the baby inside and keep it in a warm, dark, and quiet place until the weather clears up. During heavy rain, mother squirrels are unlikely to be searching for their babies. If it's only lightly raining, cover about half of the box with a piece of cardboard to provide some shelter.


Late in the Day

If you come across a baby later in the day, leave it outside for the remainder of the day, and bring it inside overnight. Ensure that the area is dark, peaceful, and warm – you may need to refresh the heat source frequently. Do not attempt to feed or give water to the baby, and return it outside again in the morning.


If Mom doesn't come back

If you've waited at least four hours and kept the baby squirrel warm, it's likely that the squirrel has been abandoned. While it's rare for mother squirrels to leave their young, unforeseen circumstances may prevent them from returning. Remember, it's illegal to keep wild animals and attempting to care for them without proper training and permits can be hazardous to both humans and the animals. If the mother does not return to care for the squirrel, it's best to contact an Authorized Wildlife Custodian for assistance.



Temporary Care

While you are waiting to hear back from a wildlife rehabilitator, keep the baby squirrel contained in a dark, quiet place. Make sure it has a heat source, even on a warm day babies can get cold, so give it a heat source.

  • a clean sock filled with dry, uncooked rice, and microwaved for one minute (please make sure its not too hot)

  • an electric heating pad set to “LOW” and placed under half of the box.

Do not give them any food or water – digestive complications from improper feeding can cause serious, sometimes even fatal complications.

The best way to help wildlife in need is to contact your local authorized wildlife custodian as soon as possible




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