Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Living like Rat Kings

I attached the Purple Igloo to the back of the nest box. Now it is a super-deluxe two bedroom nest box to make any New Yorker envious.

And yet, they are still crammed together.


Screaming Squirrels Day 13

I've lived in my building 3 and a half years. I've never woken up before to such loud racket. It sounded like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park were throwing a block party at 7 AM.

After checking on Theodore and Polar Bear (both asleep), I stumbled outside to find our superintendent trying to persuade two healthy, screaming squirrels away from the back doors and to the trees.

"Loud, crazy squirrels," he yelled to me, leaning on his broom.

Yes, I agreed, uncomfortably aware that I was concealing a smaller, quieter one inside the building. What a weird coincidence!

He asked me what I thought and I told him they were adolescents who likely wandered out of their drey to explore. Their mother would come back and collect them if we could just be patient.

"Oh, I thought they were sick," he said, and we spent the next few minutes watching them and marveling at their fat, awkward bodies. They were nearly adult in appearance (I'm talking Polar Bear sized), but ridiculously helpless. I'd guess they were around 10 weeks old. They froze and screamed any time we came within three yards.

I had to leave, but eventually their busy mother did come back and escort them back up into the trees.

It is a lot quieter now.

I've never heard any noise like that come out of my squirrel. He is for the most part silent now. In our first week, he would quack quietly when he wanted milk, but now that he is on a set feeding schedule, he doesn't even do that. Could it be Polar Bear's silent-as-a-monk influence? Maybe he cries when I am away?

I don't know...

but those squirrels were loud and fat.

Would-be squirrel rescuers: You should wait several hours (if the baby is not in critical condition) before intervening when you come across a young squirrel. You can't assume they are orphaned. 

Sometimes they stumble or fall out of the nest while their mom is out. She will carry them back in when she returns. When they are nearly adult-size their mom takes them outside to train them in squirrel activities. 

You don't want one of those little guys screaming all day in your home. Put your pets inside and check back later. If the squirrel is healthy and not too cold, it's best to wait til dark.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Unpacking Winter Wear

Fall is here, and it is time to unpack all those long sleeve shirts and sweaters.

Polar Bear has his own custom-made winter attire in a shoe box I pulled down. He has gained so much weight, the yellow vest I made him last year was the only one that fit. Even it looks too short.

Let's be honest, Polar Bear doesn't really need winter attire, but he does like the attention. Even people who are terrified of ...ehum... bears, are downright friendly if they see him in a scarf and sweater. Once an old lady said, "I have never seen such a small dog!" And she never will again, I bet.

They say the clothes make the man.

In this pic Theodore is sporting one of Polar Bear's old sweaters circa 2011. I don't intend on taking him on any outings, but I was amused to no end by the fact that he fit in the sweaters.

Next month is October. I might make him a superhero vest for Halloween, if he has not grown up and moved out by then (even the thought makes me sentimental).

Polar Bear is going to be superman with a blue vest and a red cape. The trick or treaters are going to love that.

I know what you are wondering.

He was dressed as a cat last year.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Nest Box

The first day we brought Theodore home we purchased a wooden tissue box from the craft store. It was perfect, because the back slides off for easy cleaning.

As you can see, Polar Bear fits. Kindof.

He has a weight problem. It doesn't help that he is eating all the extra shredded pecans, fruits and veggies.
It is courtesy of the little squirrel food processor that hasn't fully mastered solid food.

The first day we left them in a cage together, I put both Nest Box and Purple Igloo inside. My reasoning was that the squirrel might prefer to sleep alone, even though the temperature drops at night.

When I checked on them, Polar Bear was sleeping halfway in the box and the squirrel was asleep outside next to his tail. It quickly became apparent that the Nest Box is the preferred nighttime sleep spot.

In the end I slid the back half-way off the box. It was the best solution. Polar Bear's rear is still outside the box, but as you can see, they are very content.

There are some great squirrel boxes available for sale online. Here is what other squirrel rescuers have to say about types of safe wood for nest boxes and toys:
http://mothernaturesrescue.webs.com/food.htm, http://thesquirrelboard.com/forums/showthread.php?21422-Safe-Wood-for-Squirrels

The Art of Escape Day 10

Friday, Theodore broke out of his hamster cage.

My friend spotted him hanging out on one of my sculptures by the window. He looked so at ease there, I grabbed the camera.

I was both worried and proud that he figured out how to get the door open. Now I am locking the door at night with dog leash clips.

Last night they broke out again. I say they, because I have reason to believe it took both of them to push the cage to the edge of the tray it was sitting on.

 For now there is a book on top of the cage, while I work to prep the office room (a glorified walk-in closet) into a free range habitat.

A Very Squirrely Situation Day 9

The reason I named this blog Squirrel Manual is because baby squirrels should come with one.

There are wonderful moments: Theodore's tiny teeth began to appear on Day 9.

And there are anxious moments. Here is a prime example of avoidable terror:

I noticed Theodore started gasping out of nowhere while I was feeding him. His mouth opened and shut and his little arms stretched out in front of him. Choking? Heart attack? It sure looked like it, until he inexplicably went back to normal and insisted on finishing his meal.

It happened the next time I fed him. Exactly the same. I tried feeding him slower. I tried feeding him less. I tried positioning him different ways. Each time the gasping would last about 3 to 5 seconds and then he would go back to eating as though nothing had happened.

With concerns of pneumonia, I scoured the online squirrel community and discovered what other rehabbers call "the feeding trance."

Turns out it means he's really enjoying his meal. So much so that he is trance-ing out on me.

Squirrel Rescuers
Don't panic if you notice your squirrel stop eating and start gasping during feedings. It is called the Feeding Trance and it is perfectly normal. They grow out of it eventually. You should only worry if you see milk come out their nose.

If you see a small amount of blood while milk feeding around 6 weeks, it is likely the teeth coming in. Teething squirrels like to nibble on everything. Give them plenty to chew on. Be sure to squeak and pull away if it pinches you (even if it doesn't much hurt), so as to convey pain and teach the squirrel to be gentle with these new teeth.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Theodore learns to use the wheel

Day 7 and 8

 The first week blew by so quickly. I am comparing pictures and it is clear that Theodore has grown considerably. His tail fur was short on Day 1 and now it is fluffing out like a bottle brush. He is starting to swing it around when he plays with Polar Bear.

Polar Bear is gaining weight eating all the shredded pecans. Theodore still can't figure out how to chew and swallow solids.

All in all, our squirrel is acting more like a house cat. He drinks milk, but sometimes pushes the bottle away, as though he no longer likes it. He mostly sleeps and grooms with the Bear.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Day Six: An Education

Theodore watches everything as though he is studying for an exam. I brush my teeth. I fold laundry. I make coffee. I click away at the keyboard. His huge dark eyes follow. He sits quietly, like that nerdy kid in the front row. As he grows and gets fatter, I find myself worrying less about his health and more about his education.

Please stop paying attention now.

I mean, how many squirrels in the wild brew coffee? They aren't outside in the cold morning, leaning against a tree sipping at a steaming acorn mug. They probably don't have a tail signal for hot beverages. They focus on more squirrelish activities, like pretending to hide nuts.

They do that.

I read all about how obsessed they are with hiding their stashes from each other. Like furry little drug addicts, they are constantly paranoid another squirrel is watching them. They have been observed reburying nuts up to five times. Somehow they memorize all of this and keep track of which ones are about to germinate.

Squirrels have a huge field of vision, by the way. And natural built in sunglasses. That must be nice. You'd never misplace them.

By Day 6, I realized I need to plan for his education. I need to get creative and teach him useful skills like jumping.

Some things seem instinctual. Potty training, for example, appears to be hardwired into him. He has started alerting me when he needs to go. When I put him in his hamster cage, he goes in the corner. I read that they NEVER go in their nests. Oddly, Polar Bear is following his example.


My squirrel potty trained my rat.

Now I am working on my squirrel education. BBC has some interesting videos

Day 5 Pecans

I read somewhere that pecans are a good nibble food for squirrels around 6 weeks.

What a mess.

One or both of these guys has crumbled all the pecans, taken down the water bottle and knocked over the litter box.

Polar Bear loves pecans. He loves nuts and seeds of any kind really, but I wanted to tempt him with a big pile of pecans to see if he acted any differently towards his new buddy.
Surprisingly, he left the pile untouched for at least half an hour. I don't know. Maybe I fed him too much that morning.

Anyhow, I read that squirrels have to practice eating for a week or more before they figure out how to swallow solid food. This must be the practicing. Good thing I bought a ton of pecans!

Polar Bear meets Theodore (Days 3 and 4)

Before you make any hasty judgements about Polar Bear, you should know that he is one of the sweetest, gentlest creatures on the planet. He and his kind...ehum...bears are misunderstood.

Anyhow, he knew something was up Day 1 when I brought the squirrel home. From his vantage point on his purple plastic igloo, I am sure he could see and smell the new comer. On Day 2, he wanted to know what I was "squirreling away" in that tissue box across the room. He inspected the empty pockets of my bathrobe where Theodore had been sleeping.

Day 3, he sped up the introduction by hopping off his home and trying to get in the hamster cage I was keeping Theodore's nest box in at night. They got a chance to sniff at each other. Polar Bear was single-minded about getting to know the squirrel after that. Granted, he is a lonely old Bear these days, but he has always been friendly.

Well, so much for trying not to confuse the squirrel!

Polar Bear is channeling his paternal side and has taken it upon himself to teach the squirrel acceptable grooming practices. They both like to sleep, so all Day 3 and 4 they just slept and groomed. Each time they are reunited after feedings they pile into or onto the igloo (because the bear can't fit all the way in the tissue box.

I don't know. Maybe Theodore thinks Polar Bear is a squirrel that has lost all his tail fur. That to me is the main aesthetic difference between ehum...bears and squirrels, and also why humans like the latter more.
Theodore was a little more active on Day 2, despite the fact that I was still feeding him the wrong formula in the wrong type of bottle. I found that he liked being patted or burped like a human baby after feeding.

He took to his wooden tissue box nest right away, and would sleep either there or in my bathrobe pocket.

I started spot cleaning him that day too and looking for any sign of parasites in his thin fur. Didn't find anything.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Day 1. Theodore

This is Theodore. On September 11th, 2013 he crawled into my path. I had never seen a squirrel so small. To my surprise, he tried to climb my shoe while I restrained the dog I was walking.

If you find a baby squirrel, it is important to try and reunite it with its mother.

Theodore's mother could not be located. He was lethargic and dehydrated. I made the choice to intervene and set myself to the task of rehabilitating him. He was very trusting from the beginning.

With absolutely no knowledge of squirrels, my first objective was to keep him alive. I knew from rescuing other baby wildlife to look for bruises and check for dehydration (Gently pinch the skin between the shoulder blades. If the skin does not go right back into place when you release it, you have a dehydrated animal). I warmed his lightly furry body with my hands and rushed to the pet store for milk.

It was there I made my first two mistakes as a squirrel rescuer. I bought cat milk and the kitten baby bottles. Later, I learned through research that the cat milk is toxic and baby bottles can cause them to drown (see below for safe alternatives). No wonder he threw up after the first feeding! It took me three days to realize I was feeding him the wrong stuff.

I was able to keep Theodore alive, despite my initial mistakes. I credit this to determination and dumb luck. I kept hunting online for information, and found these websites:
 Squirrel baby feeding care
They may fight over who came up with the information and recipes, but they both had a hand in saving Theodore, so I thank them from the bottom of my heart. I will put a link to the scalded milk formula below.

By the end of day 1, I learned Theodore was roughly 5 weeks old. His tail was about the thickness of my thumb. He simply ate and slept. I carried him around in my microfiber bathrobe pocket, and eventually put him into a wooden tissue box stuffed with bedding.

Special Notes for squirrel rescuers:
It is much safer to get a syringe style feeder (available at Duane Reade and other drugstores) and put one of the kitten baby bottle nipples on the end of it. You can slowly feed them by pressing the plunger. Remember to pierce the nipple with a hot pin and not to feed them too much. You want them to have to suckle slowly, so as not to choke. ((FEEDING CHART)
When you are done feeding them, wipe their little faces clean.

If they are under six weeks you will need to gently rub them with a tissue or damp cotton swab to make them go potty.

Kitten and puppy milk formulas are both dangerous to squirrels DESPITE what wildlife rehabilitation centers are saying. They are toxic. The Esbilac formula has been altered recently and is NO LONGER safe. See here: http://www.ewildagain.org/Nutrition/Esbilac%20Manufacturing%20Changes.htm

 Scalded Milk Recipe  This is not only cheaper, but better.

So a quick squirrel review: 1) Keep the baby warm. 2) Feed the baby scalded milk in a syringe with a cat bottle nipple 3) Help the baby go potty. Those are things I wish I had known on Day 1.