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
Squirrels - They fly. They climb.
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
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.
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
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.
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.