Sunday, May 3, 2015
I wish I could say the Miracle Squirrel from the second rescue made it, but he didn't. That blood at the nose presaged a battle for his life, which he lost.
It's hard to have to jump out of a tall tree for help. It's amazing any of them survived that at their tender age. I'm glad, I guess, that the two who didn't make it left this world warm, fed, and loved instead of dying slowly of exposure in the rain.
This is wildlife rehab. You win some, you lose some, and Angel lost sleep for three nights straight trying to save them. She's the hero here.
Angel was down to one squirrel now, but that was SOME SQUIRREL.
When she was pretty sure he was out of the woods, she named him Bushy.
And she began sending me cellphone photos of what Bushy could do.
I was so thankful that we'd been able to save Bushy. He was worth the work and heartache.At least from my comfortable, well-rested point of view. I'm sure Angel would agree. Even though she's the one who stayed up all night with the squirrels I brought her.
I'll keep you updated. At last communication, Bushy was taking solid foods: nuts, grapes, corn, dandelions and birdseed! But still taking darn near a whole bottle of formula at each feeding.
I have always loved fox squirrels. I love them about ten times more than I love gray squirrels. I love their big beefy build, their beautiful color, their fat bottoms, and the phlegmatic way they move, as if there's really nothing here to be concerned about. I also like the kind of forests where they live: mature deciduous hardwoods, which are getting harder to find. The modus operandi around here is to wait barely just long enough for one's timber to be of value, then cut it and cash in. That kind of ever-recovering young forest doesn't constitute "mature" in a fox squirrel's eyes. So we have a ton of gray squirrels, which aren't choosy about forest type, and far fewer fox squirrels in Washington County Ohio.
But Chet the Perfect Dog treed an adult fox squirrel along Duck Creek last week, and that squirrel was just fine up in its tree, but then he looked down at me, figured I must have a gun, and panicked. Lost his head, he did. Little did he know I am a Squirrel Fairy. Anyway, he decided to make a run for it, jumped out of the safety of his tree and landed right at Chet's feet. Duh, Foxy. Duh.
Chet obligingly tied into this gift-wrapped prey item, this Schmoo among squirrels, and snarfled around on him. He never got purchase with his teeth, though, and the squirrel was freaked out but unhurt. I was just leaping on Chet to pull him away when the squirrel broke free and made a fluid, fat-bottomed, slo-mo dash for another tree. He barely made it up there, but this time at least he had the sense to keep climbing and not jump right back down into the middle of things. I stood there laughing my head off at those two, Chet hardly able to believe he'd gotten another chance at a grown fox squirrel, and me shaking my head at the fox squirrel's doofyness. A gray squirrel would never do something like that. What's not to love about fox squirrels?
Now, thanks to this incredible experience, I know a little more of what to do for orphaned squirrels and how to do it, and that's something. I know a new call, and I won't forget it.
Stopping to help: It can be heartbreaking, but it's always worth doing.
Heartfelt thanks to Angel, for all she does.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
I watched Angel feeding the orphaned fox squirrels, and even tried it myself. It's harder than it looks. They wiggle a LOT, and chew the nipple, and choke, and aspirate milk so it comes out their nose, and it's just hard to get it right. I flashed back to learning to nurse Phoebe, how much there was to know about this thing that instinct tells you should come naturally. I mean, if I were dropped 9 months pregnant on a desert island with enough pork chops and ice cream, I would certainly be able to deliver myself of a baby and figure out how to nurse her, but it sure helps to have a midwife right there talking you through it.
Angel explained that you can't push the rubber nipple directly against their young developing teeth or you could damage them so they wouldn't come in right. "Hard experience," she said, and I could hear in her voice that lessons learned the hard way take a toll on the heart. Angel explained that you always insert the nipple from the side, where rodents and lagomorphs (rabbits) have no teeth, then let the baby orient straight on to the nipple once it's in his mouth. Oh. It makes so much sense when she says it, but who'd know that without being told?
The little hands, gripping and re-gripping the bottle, just killed me.
I asked lots of questions. How long do you think they've been without food?
"If something happens to their mother, it takes three to four days before they'll leave the nest."
Three to four DAYS?? These little things have been starving that long?? It's amazing they're still alive. I had guessed correctly that they were driven out of the nest by hunger, but I'd never imagined they'd been in trouble that long. Man. A bird would have been dead within 24 hours.
How many babies in a typical litter?
"Four. There should be two more there."
A chill went down my legs to my feet. Oh no. Nonono. I packed up my stuff, thanked Angel, and headed out. It was getting dark, and I could only think about the other two squirrellets, sure to be there somewhere.
I raced back to the site. It was really raining now. I listened from up on the road, not wanting to go back down that awful hill when it was slippery and getting dark. All was silent. When I found the two crying babies this afternoon, I had listened, but hadn't hear any more.
Reluctantly, I went home. But the thought that there were more squirrels chased me to bed, and woke me up the next morning.
I had a busy morning which segued into noon and suddenly I looked up and ran to the closet to suit up for a run. I looked at the sky. Pregnant again, and threatening a downpour. I didn't pack a raincoat. It was warm. Chet and I headed out, toward the cowpasture and the steep hill.
And upon getting near, my unbelieving ears picked up a weak peeping from way down in the woods. From the same spot. Another night and half a day had passed. And there were more.
It began to rain, then to pour. I picked my way over the fence and down the slope again and started searching beneath the nest tree.
I was too late for this little boy. Thinking perhaps he was just torpid (as well as soaking wet and cold), I picked him up to warm him. But something, probably a shrew, had come up from beneath and, well, his underside wasn't pretty. I feel sure he was gone before that happened, though.
The forest floor is a hard place to be a baby.
Still there was a peeping. I looked up and saw a tiny squirrel wobbling around atop the nest in the now-pouring rain. Unbelievable. It was agitated, its tail up, moving jerkily.
I called to it as Angel had told me to, sucking my cheek in against my teeth, making a loud squirrelly smacking sound. It became even more agitated, and suddenly leapt into space and landed at my feet.
All the air went out of me, and I stood there, my head ringing with the wonder and disbelief of it all.
It had landed well, on soft leaf litter, as well as you can land, falling 40 feet.
And it was as if that tiny animal knew that the only way it was getting out of this predicament was to leap practically into the arms of a most unlikely savior.
Suddenly I realized that it was no accident that the second squirrel had also jumped from the nest at the moment had I arrived yesterday. They'd heard me crunching around in the leaves far below, and hoped against hope that it was help they'd heard.
My eyes filled with tears at the realization that they were like people jumping from a burning building, hoping someone might be down there to catch them.
Well, I was. Again.
I picked the dear little thing up and again, there was blood at the nose, and it didn't look great, but it was better than being stuck in the nest in the pouring rain.
Another male. All four had been males.
It was getting on to time for Liam to come home, and it was pouring hard, so I stuffed the little thing into my sports bra and, one hand to my chest, ran for home. I felt fleas leave the cold little animal and riffle against my skin. The rain had picked up, and Chet was doing his hanging-back thing again, only moreso this time. He had started for home, wanting no part of this pouring rain, another squirrel rescue, or the temptation that went with it. I called to him to wait for me and he stood, one paw up, his ears pasted back, his back hunched, the picture of impatience.
He led me all the way home, and was so glad to finally make the front porch. Mether. Open this door. I am soaked! I have to scrubble around on the carpet and dry myself, snort like a pig and kick my arms and legs straight up! Now! NOW!
I peeled off my soaked clothes and quickly dressed, keeping the squirrel swaddled in down the whole time.
I called Bill and he was just coming from out of town, picking Liam up at the evening bus on the way. I told them to wait at the corner and I'd meet them and show them something they'd never seen.
Liam's eyes got big as saucers when I got out of my car, reached into my bra and pulled this little squirrel out.
Bill took our picture. It was a moment.
I drove to Angel's house again, and held the squirrel while she mixed up another bottle of formula.
Another day out in the cold and rain, and this last one was somehow still alive. Angel told me that the big male, the one with the bloody nose, had died around dawn. The fall had been too much for him. She had buried him out back, and wept. After all these years of helping animals, her heart is just as tender as ever. She still had one left, the smaller male from that first batch--the baby I told you to remember. This would be the third I'd brought. The fourth was dead on the ground. At least I had accounted for all four of them. Two down, two still with us.
Famished, the new refugee lit into the bottle like a little fiend.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Serializing this story, keeping you all on pins and needles, reminds me of Ronald Reagan's old joke that my father loved to tell, about the family with the miraculous pig. It had saved them all from a fire. It went out and fetched the paper every morning. Etc. Etc. It was TERRIFIC! It was SOME PIG.
A visitor noticed that it had only three legs and commented on the fact.
"What's to become of this wonderful animal?"
"Oh, we're going to eat it," the farmer replied.
"EAT it? You're going to eat this wonderful pig that's saved you from a house fire, that fetches your paper every morning?"
"Yep," the farmer replied.
"A pig that good you don't want to eat all at once."
You who have been flapping your hands (oh how I loved that comment!) should remember that I still have a book to finish. Why would I disgorge the story whole in one huuuge post with 50 photos? It took me an entire day (and a long one at that) to construct the series, and I mean to ride it awhile.
I have to!
When we last left Zick, she had her hands full of squirrel.
I cannot tell you all the instant effects of being suddenly thrust into the position of caring for something so dear and at once so alien. There's a rush of oxytocin, the awww such sweet babies! hormone. I checked--was I letting down? Close...durn close.
Then there's the need for information. Googling "feeding baby squirrels." Then there's the moment of panic. I'll be honest.
I'm a licensed rehabiliator, but I'm skilled only at caring for birds. That's not to say I couldn't learn to be a mammal rehabilitator, but my learning curve would be very steep, and I needed to give these babies the best chance I could. There is a LOT to know about raising mammalian neonates. What I know you could put in an overturned thimble:
Keep them warm, clean and dry. Feed them...something. All night long. All day, too.
One thing to love about feeding baby birds: They sleep. All night. Yes, they get you up at the buttcrack of dawn, and you feed them every half-hour until you drop exhausted into bed, but once there you CAN sleep. Not so with mammals. You're up two, three times during the night. On call for the foreseeable future, and sleepless. I don't do mammals. I did two of them, and one is in college now and the other one only wakes me up when he sleepwalks. Thank you very much, I'm done raising neonate mammals.
I was worried about internal injuries. I didn't like what I was seeing on the bigger baby. The smaller baby looked OK. Remember that baby.
OK. Get them home. Then get help.
It was clear to me they'd been without food a long time. They were only faintly warm to the touch. I could fix that.
Warm them up. Make them a nest. Put them in the little Playmate cooler with hot water bottles. The flip-top one I use for baby birds and yogurt, too.
Now call someone who knows what to do. Just what people who find baby birds do, who wind up calling, email, texting, and Facebook messaging ME. Answering as I do sometimes scores of queries every day, it was interesting to be on the "HELP ME!" end of that equation for once. To have all my fingers crossed that someone knowledgeable would actually pick up the phone when I finally found the number I was looking for.
She was home. My squirrel angel. I exhaled. I introduced myself and launched into the story. I saved her the trouble of asking "Where are you?" (a question I must ask of every single caller) by giving her my location first.
The only thing I had on hand that seemed remotely suitable as food was baby parrot hand-feeding formula. It might work, being grain-based, but I sensed these babies needed something more milklike, as they are mammals, and their teeth were only just coming in. She agreed. What I really hoped was that she'd be able to take them off my hands, do this thing right. But being a rehabber myself, I didn't want to come at her squawking, "Take these things! Make this YOUR problem! Now!"
which is what we wildlife rehabilitators hear all day long.
I'm always on the receiving end, and I know how that feels, to have an anonymous caller re-route your day, and probably the next couple of months of your life, with something they've just picked up and desperately want to get rid of.
She agreed to take them, and I could hear her getting busy mixing up warm formula, washing and prepping the tiny bottles she uses. I said a prayer of thanks, spared the precious babies my ham-handed attempts to feed them and jumped in the car with a cooler full of warm sleepy squirrel.
I cannot tell you how sweet it was to see these little creatures take sustenance after their ordeal. I'll just have to show you.
From here, it gets interesting. Because Angel told me some things about fox squirrels I hadn't known.