Squirrel Watch: Day 1

Today’s the day! I got my first squirrels from the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley to raise at home until they’re ready to be released back to the wild.

I had signed up for the squirrel home care program when I first began volunteering at the WCSV. But by the time I had completed my initial training and put in the required hours at the center, all the squirrels that had come in had already been assigned to other volunteers. But one of the things I’ve learned since working there is that squirrels have two breeding seasons during the year, so the center started getting new babies earlier this month.

Because I’m a first-timer in the program, I had to wait until the squirrels were at least a few weeks old, because the really tiny ones (called “pinkies” because they have no fur for a couple of weeks) are the most vulnerable, so being tended to by more experienced volunteers increases their chance of survival.

But my time has come! I’m planning to chronicle my adventures in squirreldom on a daily basis, so my readers can learn about this fascinating process while I’m doing the same. So here’s what’s been happening on Day 1.

I picked up two different groups today—one had 2 squirrels, the other had 3. They’re all around 3-4 weeks old, based on their weight. They have a little bit of fur on them, and their ears are no longer stuck to their heads, but their eyes are still closed. They should open in the next week or two.

I’m very excited about my new charges, but pretty nervous as well. Everyone tells me that’s normal. I got them all home around 2:30 this afternoon, and since then have done one feeding. They didn’t take much, but I think it’s a combination of stress and the heat. They seem pretty frisky, so it doesn’t seem like they’re suffering any ill health from undereating.

At this age, they get fed 6 times a day, every 3 hours. Because they’re not eating much, I’m using Pedialyte with a little Gatorade mixed in for flavour. That keeps them hydrated and provides the necessary electrolytes, but it’s easier on their systems than formula, which I’ll try again for their last feeding of the day. We use 3cc syringes with a rubber nipple attached for them to latch onto. After I’ve fed them, while their eyes are still closed, I also have to stimulate their genitals to get them to eliminate waste. (In the wild, their mothers would lick them.) Once their eyes open, they’ll be able to do it on their own.

Right now, because they’re not very active, I have all five in a cat carrier lined with t-shirts that they can burrow inside. (We can’t use towels, because their claws can get caught in the threads.) The carrier sits on a table, with half of it on top of a heating pad on low setting, so they can warm up or cool off when they want. When their eyes open, I’ll be moving them to a cage, because they’ll become more active and want to climb then.

8:15 p.m.: I just finished another feeding. All but one took some of the Pedialyte but, again, they’re all very frisky, so they’re clearly not lacking for energy. It’s frustrating, though. I feel like those mothers that have trouble breastfeeding right after they give birth because their babies won’t latch on. 🙂 I had to mark a couple of their ears with different coloured highlighters so I can tell them apart. Unfortunately, I don’t have a mama squirrel’s keen sense of smell!

One more feeding to go today. Next time will be formula. I hope they all take at least some in; otherwise, I don’t expect I’ll be getting a lot of sleep tonight…

11:15 p.m.: Well, I just gave them their last feeding of the day and it was still pretty minimal, except for one of the guys who at least gave it the old college try. I think tomorrow morning will really tell the tale, since they’ll have gone all night without anything. Hopefully they’ll be more enthusiastic eaters then. Keep your fingers crossed.

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