WHY?   Wildlife. Habitat. You.

The Iowa Wildlife Center has a simple yet complex message -  our natural world is important. WHY? That's up to each and every one of us to contemplate. Whether it's conserving our flora, saving our fauna, or looking deep into ourselves to understand how we fit into this big picture and what we can do to make certain the magic isn't lost.  Let's go on an adventure together and explore our world. OUR big questions? WHY should we save wildlife? WHY is habitat so important? WHY should you care?

Squirrels - They fly. They climb. They burrow.

by Kathy Stelford, licensed wildlife rehabilitator and IWC volunteer

Nature's acrobats. Many backyard bird feeders can attest to this title for the furry visitors who can eat upside down, sideways or even hanging from the limb of a tree.

Squirrels belong to the order "Rodentia," with 1650 species. It is the largest group of living mammals, comprising forty percent of all present-day mammal species. There are three types of squirrels - the ground squirrel, the flying squirrel and the tree squirrel.
The most common tree squirrel in the Central Iowa area is the Eastern Fox Squirrel. Although a few pockets of Eastern Grey Squirrels survive, the larger, more aggressive "fox" usually keeps its' territory free of these intruders.
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The Northern or Southern Flying Squirrel are found rarely but do inhabit deep woodlands, usually only seen by people nocturnally, perhaps at their bird feeders. The 13-lined Ground Squirrel is a common resident in the midwest and, along with the Least Chipmunk, lives in dens burrowed underground and hibernates for the winter.

The largest squirrel in the world is the Ratufa, found in southeast Asia and sometimes known as the Indian giant squirrel , it can grow to three feet in length. The smallest squirrel in the world is the African Pygmy found in southeastern Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon. Its head and body length is only 21/2" long with a tail approximately the same length.

As I write this, many of the female Fox and Grey Squirrels have already given birth to their spring litters of three or four in March. Last year however, I did receive a baby squirrel the last week of February. They may have another litter in early August.

When born, squirrels are blind, deaf, naked and weigh about one-two ounces. Being unable to see or hear anything gives them no reason to wander out of their nests. That's nature safe guarding her babies. If you find a baby squirrel on the ground at this age there is almost certainly something wrong. They stay in their drey (nest) until about eight weeks old. At about one month, the ear seal begins to open and that is followed shortly by the opening of the eyes. If a squirrel mother has to move her babies during this time, she will carry them by mouth, one at a time. The female raises them by herself.

Spring storms and high winds are the most common reason for babies becoming homeless. Mothers hit by cars or killed by dogs or cats and tree trimming is another probability. Late summer litters also have to face a hunting season that begins in August when the babies are only about a month old - a sure death sentence if their mother is shot.

When a rehabber receives baby squirrels that are less than three weeks old, feedings every three hours around the clock are necessary to ensure their good health and survival.

Feedings can gradually be decreased after three weeks of age. Weaning starts at about six weeks old when the babies are offered cheerios, maple seeds from outdoor trees and tiny bits of apple or grape. Monkey biscuit, a feed prepared for zoos and nutritionally acceptable for squirrels, gets soaked in their milk formula so they begin learning to lick at food themselves. At about eight weeks old, small pieces of pecans and walnuts are offered.

At this same age, weather permitting, outdoor housing should be offered for a few hours a day. Once weaned and eating on their own at about 10 weeks old, they are moved to outdoor cages with nest boxes, feeding trays and tree branches and limbs for climbing. Release usually occurs at about 14 weeks old.

Squirrel diet consists of nuts, seeds, grain and fruit. Nuts and sunflower seeds would be their favorites however they have been known to eat bird eggs. Urban squirrels have adapted to eat just about anything including pizza, luncheon meats and all forms of snack foods. Just as unhealthy for them as for us.

Squirrel's tails serve many purposes - umbrellas that keep them dry from the rain, balance bars when climbing and jumping, parachutes to break falls, and rudders when swimming, something they engage in only when necessary. Flicking of the tail is also a form of communication which translates into "GET AWAY!"

Every year, wildlife centers get calls about bald squirrels. The sarcoptic mite is the culprit and sarcoptic mange is the result. Fortunately there is a cure. And you don't even have to catch the little guy. IVOMEC is a systemic parasitic that kills this mite that burrows under the skin of its' host, laying eggs there that hatch in a few weeks and causing insufferable itching.

By training the affected squirrel to eat peanuts that you throw out, you can treat a peanut in the shell with this drug and it will begin working within 24 hours. The trick is to get it to the right squirrel and to follow this up with two more treatments, each a week apart. This sounds impractical but has proven to be successful in many instances. You will need to work with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for this.
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Cute and cuddly when very young, it's tempting for people to attempt to raise an orphan on their own. Please don't. It's illegal and it's wrong. Even if you get the diet right, that cute wildling will soon grow into an unmanageable juvenile that may bite you, leading to a sad ending for that precious little baby. Wildlife rehabbers have resources and techniques that will ensure their best chance of survival in the wild. Trust "your" rescued baby to a licensed professional and give that orphan a second chance.
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