One of the most beloved creatures found in nature is the squirrel. These furry, inquisitive animals are excellent climbers, playful and a delight to watch. There are over 300 different species of tree, ground and flying squirrels found throughout the world. The squirrel that most people are familiar with is the tree squirrel, which includes both the common Eastern gray squirrel and the red squirrel. These fascinating mammals can be found in neighborhoods, parks and wooded areas, because they receive their diet and lodging from trees and other plant life. Since we share the same space, it is important that we are mindful of their needs and learn to peacefully co-exist. This is particularly true for baby squirrels, who are born extremely vulnerable and helpless. Find out how to take care of a baby squirrel.
Gestation Period and Birth
Squirrels mate one to two times per year, depending on the species and availability of food. Tree squirrels generally mate once in the fall from August to September, and again in the spring from February to April. After mating, the female will chase off the male squirrel in order to protect her litter. Female squirrels must be well nourished and maintain a healthy weight in order to breed successfully; if food rations are scarce, they may only be able to produce one litter. The average gestation period of a squirrel is five to seven weeks. Newborn squirrels are born hairless, blind and toothless. They must rely completely on their mother for warmth, nourishment and protection from the elements and predators. Infant squirrels are unable to regulate their own body heat for the first six weeks of life. The mother keeps her babies safe and warm by constructing a large nest out of tree branches and twigs, insulated with grass, moss, pine needles and leaves. Squirrels can have litters ranging from two to five babies at a time. They will remain in the nest with their mother until they are fully weaned at around six to ten weeks of age.
Newborn squirrels weigh only 15 grams on average. They are born pink, without any fur. Their ear flaps are not fully developed and lay flat on the side of their head. After two weeks, you will begin to see some gray fur start to grow, and the ears begin to move out from the head. At four weeks, squirrels are much more recognizable. Their ears are now standing up, their eyes may start to open, fur is starting to get thicker, and their lower incisors are developing. At five weeks of age, the squirrel is completely covered with fur, and their upper incisors are coming in, allowing them to try to eat solid foods. At six to seven weeks of age, squirrels may venture out of the nest, as they now have better motor skills and are able to run around and play. At this time, they still need nourishment from their mom, but are beginning to eat more solid food. By eight to ten weeks of age, the squirrel should be fully weaned. Once the squirrel is able to leave the nest, it is referred to as a juvenile squirrel. The juvenile squirrel is fully developed and looks like a miniature version of an adult squirrel. They are extremely active, and they are able to eat an adult diet, including cracking their own shelled nuts. However, the juvenile squirrel is still very vulnerable to predators. It is important once they leave their mother that they find a safe place to nest and an ample food supply in order to survive on their own.
Protecting Infant Squirrels
One of the greatest threats to squirrels is not other animals, but humans. It is important that we take steps to safeguard infant and juvenile squirrels and their habitat. Begin by protecting your home from a squirrel invasion. This is for both their safety and yours. Keep your roof in good repair, and make sure that your home is sealed properly—especially in the winter months—so that squirrels do not nest in your attic. However, if you do find that there are infant squirrels who have made their way into your home, do not relocate them until they are fully weaned. It is also important to protect any squirrel nests on your property. They are much larger than bird nests and typically easy to spot. Wait to trim any tree branches that may be housing infant squirrels until they are old enough to leave the nest. If the mother squirrel is frightened away from the nest, it leaves the babies extremely vulnerable.
If you find an infant squirrel, your initial goal needs to be to maintain body temperature and reunite it with its mom. If you can locate the squirrel’s nest, place him there and watch for the mother’s return. If the infant squirrel is orphaned or you cannot find its nest, then you will want to keep the baby warm and hydrated while you contact your local wildlife rehabilitator. Place the squirrel inside a small box, lined with a cloth, t-shirt or newspaper (do not use a towel because their sharp nails will get stuck, resulting in injury). Place a heating pad on the lowest setting or a hot water bottle underneath the bedding to help maintain the squirrel’s body temperature. In order to rehydrate the squirrel, give it one milliliter of Pedialyte in a dropper every 30 minutes. Do not feed the squirrel milk, because this is extremely harmful and will do more harm than good. It is important to get the squirrel professional care as soon as possible.