Pumpkins for Wildlife!

Who doesn’t love pumpkins, especially this time of year? Humans hunt for their favorite ‘size and shape’ pumpkins to decorate or display for the holidays, carve into master pieces for Halloween and cook into scrumptious donuts, pies, muffins, sweetbreads, pancakes, and you name it. It’s pumpkin everything! Most people don’t think about wildlife loving this fruit or is it a vegetable (the debate rages on) as much as humans do, but it’s true! From bats and birds to bears, if a pumpkin is nearby, they are going to eat it. Pumpkins are tempting treats most wildlife can’t and won’t resist. Pumpkin flesh is full of water, so it’s as refreshing as it is tasty. Our wild animal patients and residents at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport will soon be munching pumpkin because some pumpkin loving people ‘over-pumpkin’ and need some place to take all those perishable, post-holiday pumpkins. After Halloween or Thanksgiving is officially over, many wildlife enthusiasts will dismantle their Jack-O-Lanterns or whole pumpkins by breaking them into pieces to put in their woods or yards for their own wildlife visitors and bring the rest to us! They know the wildlife in our care will benefit from the addition of this nutritious food source to their diets and through the enrichment of exploration. At the shelter, we’re known to hollow out pumpkins, save the seeds for the birds and squirrels, and fill them with foods for our vultures, opossums and fox. All the animals seem to enjoy maneuvering the big orange ball and taking it apart to get to the hearty and scrumptious morsels inside. They also do not pass up munching the tasty pumpkin! If you decide to put pumpkins out for wildlife, it’s best to cut them in half or better yet, break them into pieces to ensure squirrels or smaller animals won’t get stuck inside, especially if temperatures drop to freezing. That doesn’t happen often in eastern North Carolina, but it has, and pumpkin flesh freezes to fur! We also don’t want a deer’s head stuck in a pumpkin. That has happened, too. Please don’t feel too badly if critters start munching on your holiday decorations earlier than you’d like them to. They, especially squirrels, are known to do that, even if the pumpkins aren’t carved yet. These gnawing experts will start the carving process themselves! If you have squirrels in your area that get into the Halloween Spirit early and are notorious for carving their own pumpkins, just don’t put them out to early, and that will remedy that. Keep in mind that they don’t know that’s your pumpkin and that you’re trying to make a seasonal statement. You’re basically putting out food for wild animals. So let’s see, who is going to visit you if you put your pumpkins out; deer, rabbits, squirrels, bats, groundhogs, seed eating birds, opossums, raccoons, fox, snakes, porcupine, skunks, if you’re creek or river side or close to marsh lands – otters or beavers, and if you are in bear territory, BEARS (so, if that’s the case, best not put the pumpkins out or at least wait until brown and black bears are entering their winter dormancy, which is usually just after Halloween passes). Okay, let’s take bears out of the equation. If you don’t have bears and your pumpkins are still fresh and not moldy, recycle your pumpkins by making a ‘Snack-O-Lantern’ for your wildlife, because they will love all that pumpkinliciousness! When in season, Zoos around the world provide their resident animals pumpkins for enrichment and special treats, too. From tiny fish and weasels, large Chimpanzees and Red Pandas to huge Hippos and Rhinos, pumpkins provide great excitement for zoo and sanctuary residents. Research states that a whopping 39 million pounds of pumpkins are thrown away after Halloween! That’s about the weight of 1,500 double decker buses! So, instead of trashing your pumpkins, please use them to help wildlife. Humans, who anticipate the set up of seas of orange splendor, go crazy at pumpkin-patch time, but remember animals like them, too! So, what you can’t use at your house or in your neighborhood after the holiday, take them to a wildlife shelter near you, and the staff will present them to some adorable wild ones who will make good use of them. If a pumpkin unfortunately succumbs to mold before you can use it as food for wildlife, bury that one in your garden or yard or add to a compost pile. Pumpkins quickly break down in the soil and worms and insects will be all over the pumpkin yumminess. Then, all the birds and animals that eat worms and insects will be all over them. It’s the whole “Circle of Life” thing. Pumpkins are extremely popular with such a wide range of animals and insects that it would be a shame to let them go to waste. Enjoy the happy, orange season and hope to see you at the wildlife shelter soon, with pumpkins!

best always & Happy Halloween,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “SAVE THEM ALL”


“Heat Waves Affect Wildlife”

  With the onset of scorching heat waves, summertime can become a deadly season for all living things. We are very aware of the negative impact extreme heat has on vulnerable human beings in our communities, but we might be in the dark when it comes to knowing what harm may be going on with wildlife that is experiencing near-lethal temperatures that lead to drought and loss of food. June and July topped out with record high temperatures, and we never know when they will hit again! The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport has admitted a few distressed wildlife due to dehydration which symptomized with staggering, loss of balance and confusion. Good Samaritans were able to recognize that something was wrong and that those cottontails, squirrels and birds needed help. Heat Waves have become the new normal and will impact not only our human communities, but all animals and our entire ecosystem. The same things that can happen to humans in sweltering heat happens to wildlife as well; dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Hot weather may cause natural water sources to dry up, meaning birds and other wildlife will be left without anything to drink, but we can help them by providing safe, alternative water sources. Turning your outside spaces into temporary homes for nature is doable with actions like freshening and topping off your birdbath daily or creating a make-shift pond from a washtub or putting down a saucer filled with water. These three simple acts could offer a vital lifeline to some of our favorite backyard critters that will be fighting against decline. Some people hang a “drip jug” over their bird bath, which is a basic plastic milk jug filled with water with a tiny hole in the bottom. The birds hear the dripping, and the sound attracts them for a cool bath and a drink. Leave shallow dishes, which are safer for smaller animals who could drown in deeper containers, in areas where animals are protected from predators. That means keeping your pets away from this area so the animals can drink undisturbed. A few more tips on providing life-saving water are: always clean the receptacles daily to prevent the spread of disease, don’t place the water to close to bushes or trees to minimize predation but do utilize a shaded area to keep the temperature of the water down and keep the water source away from any feeding areas to prevent the water from getting mucky. Along with the clean drinking water you are providing, birds will also be able to bathe which is vital to keeping their feathers in good condition for flight. Regularly watering your plants and gardens will be a lifeline for butterflies and bees. If your plants die, so will the butterflies and their buzzin’ buddies. If your ground area is drying and rules in your community limit grass watering, birds like Robins, Blackbirds and your turtles and frogs will not be able to access earthworms that will tunnel deeper into the ground for safety. A great substitute for earthworms is canned dog or cat food provided on a flat plate in your yard. Or if you agree with the birds that worms are best, meal worms from the pet store or bait shop can carry them through the hot times. We usually see birds and squirrels coming to our feeders and water sources during the day, but in the evening and during the night other wildlife such as opossums, raccoons or fox will visit our makeshift habitat for water and whatever they can find to stay alive during a searing heat wave. Keep in mind that summer is Baby Season, so wildlife Moms and Dads will be doing what they need to do and wherever they need to do it to stay alive so they can continue to care for their offspring. They might even bring their youngsters into your safe haven for food and drink. For those of you with pools in your backyard, you might consider covering the pool or providing an island or incline for animals to crawl out if need be. Hot animals trying to beat the heat or quench their thirst can drown in pools so taking away that access or providing an exit can save lives. Please keep an eye out for heat stressed wildlife. If you spot any critters who look like they’re struggling, call the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport or your own local wildlife organization for help. Be particularly mindful at dusk and at night as many nocturnal animals will be more active during this time. Prepare an emergency kit to keep in your car including water, a blanket/towel and a box. Put a few local wildlife rescue contacts in your phone so you can call for advice if you need it. If you do come across a wild animal who is visibly distressed, wrap them loosely and place them in a cardboard box and place the box in a dark, quiet and cool place. If your distressed wildlife is categorized as a rabies vector species (raccoon, fox or bat), do not touch or pick it up and call a wildlife rehabilitation shelter immediately. This is for the animal’s safety, as well as your own. Also, DO NOT wrap heat stressed animals in wet towels or submerge in water — this can kill them. Just like us, many wild creatures can live for extended periods of time without food but… just like us, they need water. Remember, when you sit back and relax with a tall, ice-cold drink, often to enjoy the sunny weather, our backyard birds and other wildlife might not be having such a good time. Heat waves produce a very negative impact on animals, even mortality. Most humans have a variety of ways to cope with a heat wave, but animals don’t have those luxuries of running water, air-conditioning or places to escape the sweltering environment. So, let’s help our feathered, furred, scaled or shelled friends in any way we can, including offering them a cold one! Water, of course! Cheers!

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“Squirrels, Blurred Breeding Seasons!”

We all know Squirrels! They live among us, are easily recognizable, and what’s not to love about watching the joyful, fast and furious antics of squirrels!? We also have certain expectations of squirrels, especially of the more common variety here in the east, the Eastern Gray Squirrel. We expect EG Squirrels to birth a litter twice a year, once in the Spring and again in the Fall. Wildlife Rehabilitators at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport prepare for incoming baby squirrels, but for the past few years EG Squirrels have blurred the breeding season lines. As soon as our last Fall squirrel youngsters are released into the wild, brand new, pinkie babies are being admitted during the dead of winter, way before Spring! We have begun to see infant squirrel admits year ‘round. At the beginning of February this year, we admitted our first newborn EG Squirrels, which of course means there is no break in the action of rehabbing baby squirrels at the shelter and the continuation of squirrel formula, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables is an absolute requirement. Squirrels are tree-dwelling members of the rodent family of mammals. Eastern gray squirrels build nests or dreys for sleeping, but those nests are being used for more than sleeping these days. Child rearing has become a year ‘round responsibility for Momma Squirrels. The adults may rotate between as many as three nests, depending on the population density where they live. These nests are usually occupied either by a single adult squirrel or by a mother and her kittens which is what baby squirrels are called. Winter baby admits at the shelter present specific challenges such as hypothermia and malnutrition because, one, its cold and two, food sources for Mom are not as prevalent in the winter. Although squirrels are very hearty and adaptable wildlife, if they are lacking nutrition themselves it can adversely affect milk production which in turn will deprive the babies. So, if you are a backyard wildlife feeder who supplements your critters’ diets, adding a little extra to the menu during winter would be helpful. Most people don’t see baby squirrels because the infants are very mindful of their Mom and stay unassumingly quiet in their nest until venturing out fully furred and looking very adult like at 10 – 12 weeks. The shelter usually receives baby squirrels only after a nest has been compromised by weather or predators. Either they have fallen through a weakened nest structure, their tree has fallen, or they have been tossed out during an attack on the nest. So, when you find a baby squirrel on the ground, it’s best to look around the area, while stepping very carefully, to ensure there are no more displaced infants who might need your help. Even if your dog or cat brings a baby squirrel home uninjured, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are orphaned. It’s always best to try to reunite healthy babies with their Mother. If possible (and if it’s not freezing cold out), place the baby close to a tree and monitor the situation from a distance to see if Mom will “rescue” her baby and carry the infant back to one of her nests. There are occasions when Mom doesn’t make it back to the nest due to an unfortunate meeting with a predator, automobile collision or some freak accident, but when possible, always give Mom the chance to get her baby back. Please dismiss the old wives’ tale that wildlife Moms will not accept the baby if she smells human scent because there is NO TRUTH to that. She will just be content, and although we haven’t truly assessed a squirrel’s emotions, might even be ‘happy’ to have her baby back. So, always assess the situation at hand to surmise the probability of reuniting them. If the baby you’ve found is injured; covered with fly eggs (they look like grains of rice) or has ant bites, is extremely cold and crying nonstop (their alarm sound is like a shrill whistle) or puncture wounds are apparent, the infant squirrel is more than likely orphaned. A squirrel infant is totally dependent upon Mom and has the best chance of survival when cared for by its mother. However, when Mom is removed from the equation, foster Moms, such as wildlife rehabilitators, are the next best option. Male squirrels do not raise baby squirrels, even if they fathered them. If you find a truly orphaned or injured baby squirrel, you will have to take over for Mom to save the baby’s life. Get a small box or container without a lid. If the baby is moving around quite a bit, use a covering that allows air flow. Place some soft fabric on the bottom so they will have something to hang on to and not slide around in the box. Put on some leather gloves (they probably don’t have teeth yet but just to be safe). If they are pinkies (no fur and eyes closed), there’s no need for gloves. Gently pick up the baby and place it in the container. Put the container on a heating pad on the lowest setting in a dark, quiet area in your home (a closed-door bathroom or closet is good). If you do not have a heating pad, place a plastic bottle filled with warm water and wrapped in a dish towel in the box. Make sure the lid to the bottle is on tight and the water is not too hot. Do not attempt to feed an infant squirrel, and keep the baby or babies away from any other living beings such as dogs, cats, parrots or other humans of any size. Then, contact your nearest independent wildlife rehabilitator or wildlife shelter for transport instructions. It’s tempting to want to raise a cute baby squirrel on your own, but it’s unlawful and you can be heavily fined in the state of North Carolina for keeping it in your home. So, it’s always best to take the baby or babies to a wildlife rehabilitator who possesses the knowledge and state permits required to take on the responsibility of providing appropriate care which includes assessing nutritional needs, treating injuries, ensuring they are raised properly with other squirrels and creating habitat conducive to learning skills and behaviors essential for ultimate release in the wild. Yes, we know and love squirrels, but we also want to give these entertaining and intelligent little acrobats the best second chance we can.  Thank you in advance for caring, and here’s an interesting squirrel factoid: Did you know Squirrels are named after the old Greek word Skiouros? Their bushy tail is one of their most distinguishing and beautiful features, and Skiouros means “shadow tail.” Good to know!

best always and Happy Spring (Baby) Season!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All

“The Earliest Babies!”

Squirrels! It’s always infant squirrels and usually Eastern Grays, who arrive on the baby train first at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC. That train pulled in on February 5th this year and the babies onboard still had their umbilical cords attached. Late January and early February, they are brand new to the world and out there in the trees with Momma Squirrel doing her best to keep them fed, safe and warm in the dead of winter. Gray squirrel litters, which occur in the Spring and Fall, number between three and five infants, and as newborns they are commonly referred to as pinkies because they are born pink and hairless. Within one week their skin turns gray because fur is developing under their skin. The first sign of hair emerges as little whiskers. Flaps of skin open and become ears the third week of life. Their eyes don’t usually open until they are between four and five weeks old. These little ones generally stay in the trees quiet and unassuming until Mom allows them to venture outside the nest unless something bad happens that Momma cannot control. It could be Mother Nature playing queen of the mountain with a tornado or hurricane that topples a tree where squirrels reside. Even if the tree is not damaged and remains intact, high winds could cause the nest to fail, expelling squirrel babies. Most Mother squirrels have back up nests when the need arises to move their litters. Predators such as cats, crows, snakes or raptors can attack the nest or sometimes it’s another adult squirrel exerting dominance that causes infant squirrels to tumble to the ground. If you find a baby squirrel on the ground, it’s best to look around (under pine needles and leaves) while stepping very carefully to ensure there are no more displaced infants needing your help. A_CSMAG_IMG_7908XEFido or your cat, LuLu, may also bring a baby squirrel home uninjured, so it’s best to try to reunite the baby(s) with Mother because sometimes healthy young squirrels found on the ground or transported by your pet are not orphans. They simply need help being returned to their mother, and if you monitor the situation to ensure the youngin’ is not in danger, you’ll witness the mother squirrel “rescuing” the fallen healthy baby by carrying the infant with her mouth by their scruff back to the nest. Even when the baby looks too big for Mom to handle, she will manage. There are those occasions, unfortunately, when Mom doesn’t make it back to the nest due to meeting her demise by predator, automobile or some freak accident. Let’s assess the situation first. If the baby you’ve found is bleeding, covered with fly eggs (they look like grains of rice) or ant bites, extremely cold and crying nonstop (their alarm sound is like a shrill whistle and when you hear it, you’ll never forget it!) or presents with puncture wounds, the infant squirrel is more than likely orphaned. When a baby squirrel loses its mother, it is in desperate trouble because squirrel infants are totally dependent upon Mom. A baby squirrel has the best chance of survival when it is cared for by its mother, however, when Mom is removed from the equation, foster Moms, such as wildlife rehabilitators, are their next best option. If you find you truly have a case that supports orphan status, you will have to step in and take over for Mom to save this baby’s life. Get a shoebox or box about a foot square or a large Tupperware container (without the lid on) or another small suitable container. Place some soft fabric at the bottom but not towels as they can get their claws stuck in the loops and end up twisting legs trying to free themselves. Put on some leather gloves (they probably don’t have teeth yet but just to be safe). If they are pinkies, there’s no need for gloves and don’t worry about the fabric used, just choose a soft one. Gently pick up the baby and place it in the container. Put the container on a heating pad on its lowest setting and choose a dark and quiet area in your home (a closed door bathroom or closet is good) to house the little one. Then, contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitator or wildlife shelter for transport instructions. If you do not have a heating pad, place a plastic bottle filled with warm water and wrapped in a dish towel in the box. Make sure the lid is on tight and the water is not too hot. Do not attempt to feed the infant squirrel, and keep the baby or babies away from any other living beings such as dogs, cats, parrots, children or larger humans. A_CSMAG_IMG_7909EIf, at dusk, you find a cold baby that exhibits no conditions requiring medical attention, it would be best to keep the little one in that dark and quiet area on the lowest set heating pad, as stated earlier, over night. Most Mothers will be settled in for the night at dusk anyway to ensure her litter remains quiet and safe from predators. The next morning, place the baby at the base of a tree close to where it was found and earnestly monitor a reuniting attempt with Mom (1 to 2 hours). Most of us have heard the old tale that has become a widespread misconception that wildlife Moms will not accept the baby back if it emits human scent, but that IS NOT TRUE! She will just be happy to have her baby back. If the reunite does not happen the next day, you will need to give the infant its best chance of survival with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who will most likely have other young squirrels to litter-mate with your rescued squirrel. If the young squirrel you found or who found you by running up to you is eyes opened and fully furred with a bushy tail, he or she needs to be taken to the wildlife shelter right away. Juvenile squirrels will not be running up to you unless they are in trouble, mainly orphaned. The juvie needs to be with other squirrels to ensure behaviors required to survive in the wild are learned. All wildlife, including squirrels, have developmental, nutritional, housing and handling requirements that are species specific and must be met if the animal has any chance of survival, and it’s important to keep in mind that raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal in North Carolina unless you have a state permit. Squirrels are weaned between six and seven weeks of age, but will continue to nurse until ten to twelve weeks. A_CSMag_2016SquirrelInfantEWildlife rehabilitators also follow the same developmental process by extending syringe feedings of formula until the juvenile weans and will continue to provide squirrel formula in a dish to be lapped along with offering a variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts until they are behaviorally capable and ready for release. Yes, they are cute and it’s tempting, but squirrels need other squirrels to be raised properly and to live the longest and best squirrel life possible!

best always and Happy Spring!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of



“Baby BOOM!!

Blog_SquirrelLitterTis’ the season, but not for Christmas carols, twinkling lights or sugar cookies! This season is what wildlife rehabilitators affectionately refer to as “Baby Season,” while we display frozen smiles and ready ourselves for months of nonstop feeding, cleaning and loss of sleep. We wish all wildlife babies could be raised by their Mommas, but circumstances such as severe weather, felled trees, precarious nest locations and predators prevent that from happening. So, the next best chance at survival for these little orphans or displaced babies is tapping a wildlife rehabilitator’s expert knowledge of care for a variety of wild species, as well as their compassion and stamina to ensure all little furries and feathers will eventually live their life wild as intended. That is exactly the focus when wild infants are brought to our care at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport! We know when the Bradford Pear, Cherry, Dogwood trees and Azaleas begin to floral in explosions of color, wild babies are a blooming too. Our first baby arrivals this year were infant squirrels, who lost their home after a tree was cut down. Squirrels are fairly cooperative babies to raise, although they quickly grow into frantic little teenagers whose next developmental stage will be acclimating to the outside in an enclosure designed for that purpose. That’s like graduation from middle school for these crazy little furry folks! Neonate opossums came onboard shortly after our fast and furious tree climbers. BlogMay2015_Opossum_BabiesToo bad Mom couldn’t raise them, but luckily, a timely Good Samaritan happened upon the scene to rescue five tiny possums who survived a car accident that killed their mother and siblings. Opossums show up in much larger litters than squirrels; 5 – 12 rather than 3 or 4, and baby possies won’t suckle formula from a syringe. They have to be tubed to get the nourishment they need, which means a skilled wildlife rehabilitator must thread a tiny, flexible tube down the baby’s esophagus and into its tummy to deliver the formula. When you have 30 or more infant possums that are too young to lap from a dish, that task tends to be quite time consuming, and they don’t eat just once a day, actually, every 3 to 4 hours! When the temperatures warmed up enough for folks to start working in their yards and dogs and cats began discovering nesting areas, infant Eastern cottontails arrived. Bunnies, although cute as furry buttons, are not the easiest or most cooperative babies to care for because they become highly stressed during captivity. Blog_Baby CottontailsXFortunately, cottontails develop and mature faster than squirrels and opossums, and although still small, are ready for independence four to five weeks from birth. Last week, our first baby bird nestlings, which happened to be three Carolina Wrens, were carried through the admit door for safety because the rescuer’s cat had located their nest. BlogMay2015_They are hardy and putting away a massive number of mealworms that are hand fed to each wren every 30 minutes. (The babies in this image are Mockingbirds, who were more cooperative about getting their picture taken!) We receive many calls from nature loving folks who discover wild babies in precarious situations to include believing the babies are abandoned and want to know what to do. So, if you are the next person who makes a wild baby discovery, this is our guidance: If Mom is truly not around to care for and protect the infant(s) and chances are the infant(s) will die if left in the elements, without food and protection, as well as, exposed to predators, wild or otherwise, an intervention is necessary. After noting exactly where you found the animal(s) place the babies in a breathable cardboard box with a lid or in a paper bag and move them to a dark, warm and quiet area of your home. The area where you found them is important because some babies might not be truly orphaned, so the opportunity to return them to their mother may still exist, as is the case with many cottontails. Don’t keep the little wild ones in your home any longer than necessary due to state and federal laws regarding wildlife. Do not re-handle or allow children or pets to come in contact with the young wildlife you have rescued. Next step is to get them to a wildlife rehabilitator by checking online to find one in or close to your area. All babies need to stay warm, and wildlife babies are no different. If you are unable to get them to the rehabilitator right away and they are not fully feathered or furred, a heating pad on the lowest setting, placed under the box will prevent hypothermia. If you don’t have a heating pad, a plastic bottle or zip-lock plastic bag filled with warm water can be placed in a corner of the box. The babies will naturally move toward the warmth as needed. Ensure the bottle cap is tight and the zip-lock bag is sealed. Do not feed the babies. Feeding anything to a dehydrated or cold animal will probably kill it. Also the wrong formula can cause death. Every animal species has their own unique diet and an unlicensed member of the public is not expected to have that knowledge, so no one should feel badly about not knowing how to care for the possum or bunny they found. Also keep in mind that it is illegal to keep a wild animal at your home if you do not possess the appropriate Federal or State permit to do so. Wild animals are not toys or pets and should be treated with the befitting respect they deserve. When transporting the babies to the wildlife center or an individual wildlife rehabilitator do not check on them as you drive or hold them on your lap. Wildlife is unpredictable, even babies, so your attempts to check them or hold them could become a dangerous situation while driving. A trained and licensed wildlife rehabilitator will have the means and know-how to provide the best chance of survival and ultimately, a wild life for the animals you were so caring and compassionate enough to save. You can feel very good about getting them where they need to be to ensure they receive their much appreciated and precious second chance.

Happy Spring Baby Season!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of

Save Them All


A Squirrel’s World

CSIMG_0483FBThey just keep coming in and surprisingly, without being tossed and blown by a hurricane or tropical storm this year. Infant squirrel admits are status quo after heavy rain and big wind activity, but the number of displaced and orphaned squirrels has been unusually high for the past few months and can only be chalked up to our wet summer, possibly weakening nest structures or causing trees to fall. At the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, infant squirrels in every developmental stage, from pinky to fully furred, can be found in containers or chew proof enclosures in every room and also in the personal care and homes of staffers or volunteers. Squirrels are familiar to almost everyone and are the second-most fed and watched wild animals, after birds. Most of us enjoy their antics and find them entertaining and if I may go so far, lovable. There are more than 200 squirrel species living all over the world, except Australia. In Eastern North Carolina, we are blessed with Eastern Grays, Fox and Flying Squirrels. Most wildlife rehabilitators have great fondness for raising young squirrels to release, because, although messy and capable of fast and furious squirrely behaviors in adolescence, they are the easiest and usually, the hardiest of all babies to rear. You don’t have to coax a baby squirrel to drink its formula from a syringe. The problem is getting the syringe full and the nipple in front of their face fast enough! Sep2013Squirrel1EWhen we keep their tummies full and give them comfy, warm places to sleep, they are content and we’d like to think, happy, although their facial expressions never change much. Most of the squirrels coming in during this second breeding season of the year are Eastern Grays. They can start breeding at five and a half months, but usually breed for the first time at age one. The first litter of naked, toothless and blind babies is born in February to March, the second in June to July. Normally, two to six young are born in each litter. Aug2013EEThe gestation period is about 44 days; the young are weaned at seven weeks and leave the nest after 10 weeks. However, second breeding season youngsters will spend the winter with their mother. Eastern gray squirrels build a nest known as a “drey” in the forks of trees, consisting mainly of dry leaves and twigs. Males and females may share the same nest for short times during the breeding season and during cold winter spells squirrels may share a drey to keep warm. Unfortunately, they have been known to also nest in attics or exterior walls of a house, where they are deemed pests by home owners. In addition, squirrels may inhabit a permanent tree den hollowed out in the trunk or a large branch of a tree, which, of course, is more preferred by humans. Eastern Gray Squirrels are members of the Rodent family and spend most of their lives in trees. They grow 17 to 20 inches long and have grayish-brown fur, except for their bellies which appear white or very pale. The bushy tail, used for thermal regulation and to sign an alarm by vigorously tail flicking, often has silvery-tipped hairs at the end. The squirrel’s greatest tool may be its tail, which it also uses for balance, shade from the sun as an umbrella, a blanket and as a rudder when swimming. They have incredible balance and rarely fall from trees. FB_MG_7201XThey also run headfirst down a tree trunk, which happens rarely, if ever, with other animals. Communication among Eastern Gray Squirrels involves both posturing and vocalizations which include a squeak similar to that of a mouse, a low-pitched rumbling noise, a chatter and a raspy “mehr mehr” sound. The Eastern Gray sports four fingers on the front feet and five on the hind feet. Their bounding stride can measure two to three feet when at full speed. Their diet includes: acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts, beechnuts, maple (buds, bark, and samaras), Yellow Poplar blossoms, American Hornbeam seeds, apples, fungi, Black Cherry, Flowering Dogwood, grapes, sedges, grasses, American Holly, mushrooms, insects (adults and larvae), bird eggs, amphibians and if hungry enough, might snatch a baby bird or frog. Squirrels have four front teeth that never stop growing but stay short due to constant wear and daily grinding they receive by constant gnawing.They gnaw on bones, antlers and turtle shells, likely as a source of minerals sparse in their normal diet as well as the need to grind. Don’t forget all the bird feeders they raid that are not squirrel proof (and even the squirrel proof ones, usually aren’t). Squirrels are problem solvers and can figure those challenges out! The Eastern Gray Squirrel is a scatter-hoarder that hides or buries food in numerous small caches for later recovery. Each squirrel is estimated to make several thousand caches each season. The squirrels have accurate spatial memory for the locations of these caches, and use distant and nearby landmarks to retrieve them. Smell is used only when the squirrel is within a few inches of the cache. Eastern gray squirrels are more active during the early and late hours of the day and tend to avoid the heat in the middle of a summer day and do not hibernate as some folks think. Predators include humans, hawks, weasels, raccoons, domestic and feral cats, snakes, owls and dogs, so they have reason to employ defensive tactics such as freezing in place and zigzag running at warp speed! Eastern grays can live to be 20 years old in captivity, but in the wild may live up to 5 -12 years if they stay healthy, rely on their good senses of vision, smell and hearing and can outmaneuver the many predators trying to take them out! Although some people have a love-hate relationship with the squirrel, we can’t ignore their great value to our ecosystem. Squirrels help control plant populations by eating many seeds, fruits and insect populations. They are a good means of seed and nut dispersal, and therefore help reforest trees and other plants. They are highly intelligent and fascinating to watch. Of course, they can get into a little mischief, but because they are so cute and lively, most of us just deal with it and have fun trying to outsmart them, which is not easy!

Happy Holiday Season Everyone!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All