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To me one of the most fascinating things about wildlife rehabilitation is learning the species-specific traits and building on those to help prepare the animal for release. Also learning the different personalities within the group. All of my experience so far has been with the very common grey squirrel. Yes fox squirrels are in this area but are in small pockets away from people. Yes I had read about them and knew the feeding requirements. However reading papers little prepared me for an actual encounter with critters that I soon would think of as funky gremlins in squirrel suits. So was to begin my

Spring of the Fox Squirrel.


It is almost baby season and I am ready! I have a 2.5 lb. can of 33/40 a can of multi milk, syringes, LRS, and cages. Hot dog, bring on the greys. Little was I to know the very first squirrel of the year would be a fox squirrel and with that, all bets are off.

After almost three days of convincing, the woman that had the fox squirrel decided to give him up. It was a three-hour drive round trip, but the pick-up was made and he was here. He had not had much to eat over the last 3 to 4 days, Pedialyte and evaporated milk, Pedialyte and KMR, Pedialyte and Just Born…Oh boy.

At this time I am the proud owner of a brand new digital postal scale…accuracy! Now the weigh-in: Holy Cow! 144g and his eyes are still closed, his back feet are almost as long as my thumb and his bones are huge. At some point my brain goes into park and I draw up a nice .7cc of LRS for hydration, which he takes and goes crazy wanting more. After a bit of head scratching I realize it should have been 7cc. I must rethink my plan here; this guy is big! On March 25th his eyes opened and his true personality began to emerge: he was a pig, plain and simple, with the pig noises included. When I told Jennifer I had a baby fox squirrel she asked me if I had any 20cc syringes??? Huh! "Just get um' you'll need them soon". I had no idea how soon.

One day while feeding I didn't get my puny syringes changed in time so Crackers came roaring up my shirt making the pig noises, grabbed my shirt collar and almost sucked my shirt off. I am praying for the delivery of the big syringes soon. Weight gains were remarkable and I had to question the fancy new scales that I had bought. He did not gain in the nice 2 to 5 grams of the greys, but at 10 to 15 a day! Yep, scales are off, must take them back. However, by this time I had greys in and their weight gain was normal. What is this eating machine? Crackers became known as the Food Monster, then Tank Baby.

Things just got even stranger. One morning I was greeted by a bunch of pig noises, even the greys were making them. My other half, Don, standing at the door, pointed to the fox and said "Him, yep him. He's the one." Thankfully, the greys decided they were much too dignified to make such noises and quit after a while.

By this time I had gotten in another eyes closed fox baby I called "the little dude" which soon become "Dude." As soon as his eyes opened the pig noises became a crescendo!

Crackers is now about 8 weeks old and I thought of introducing him to water. I started using a water bottle instead of a shallow dish as I usually would. Floor space is a premium with something that big. Two tablespoons of distilled water were added and the bottle was attached to the cage; it is supposed to take a bit for them to catch on so I went to fix dinner for the crowd. I could only have been gone 5 minutes and when I came back in there was that horrible rodent upside down under the bottle, with a death grip on the spout and blown up like a balloon! Looked like a wino under a keg! I grabbed the water bottle to look and saw that one tablespoon was gone. Crackers looked dejected that his fluid spout was missing. By this time Don had heard me telling him " LOOK, I TRY SO HARD TO SAVE YOU AND YOU DO THIS!" I stimulated, he peed buckets, and Don is laughing so hard he is doubled over. After Crackers was done peeing he waddles over to the cage bars and burps at me; this sends Don into more fits of laughter as Crackers, with as much dignity as a squirrel with a dragging belly can muster, turns and waddles into his nest box. Ok, fox squirrels don't need water.

Food was also a source of concern. They could go through tons of it; formula became one of the things that came in 5-lb. bags and when half empty you reordered. Even though eating blocks, biscuits and other things, that syringe with the formula was the big treat. I found out too late that fox squirrels can be hard to wean. Gee, now you tell me.

As the greys were progressing on a normal note I was soon to find Dude, although smaller, had just as many wacky traits as Crackers. One thing that never changed was feeding time. Both squirrels would come pounding to the cage door, pig noises included. When the door was opened they would not wait to be lifted out but would grab onto my shirt, climb right up grab the syringe, inhale the food, pad back down my shirt and back into the cage. Gee, talk about feeling used. Anything in a syringe was loved and cherished: you were what brought the syringe.

I really have to say here that both were growing (rapidly) into beautiful animals, although Dude would never have the size of the big guy he was much more agile, while Crackers was very laid back. Dude liked to do what we called his moray eel impersonation. He would slowly come out of his nest box (they were cardboard and the opening was even with the perch) slowly, and not all the way, grab whatever struck his fancy and slowly, back himself into the box. Whatever went in was never seen again. The only problem with this was when my finger became the prize. I was cleaning the perch when he slithered out gently, grabbed my finger and went back in. "Ah, hey Dude I'm still attached." Not to worry, he was just checking things out to see if it was a keeper. After sucking on it a bit, and with no formula appearing, I guess he decided it wasn't worthy. The other amazing thing about these guys was their extreme gentleness; it was like they had no teeth or nails; finger sucking or swallowing was a favorite past time. I now know how a mouse feels when found by a snake.

Their other great passion was their piece of fake fur, the greys would spat and play, the fox squirrels went to war. You could hear the thump, thump of them and the shaking of the cages. Dude kept his fights to the daylight hours while Crackers, being the brave squirrel, would wage war at night. While sitting at the computer at 9:00 one night, I heard the worst noise coming from the squirrel room. Yep, Crackers in full fighting form, also sweet grey faces eyes wide wondering at the commotion. So, for the sake of quiet I brought him to the computer room and plopped him on the back of the chair where he proceeded to tell me about his life, my decorating and various other things until at 10pm when he finally got tired.

The boys also had their own funny movements. When they would run as youngsters they moved like defensive linemen running down the football field. Don called them "little linebackers." The "Fox Squirrel Stomp" is another favorite: heads down, bouncing from their front to their back feet--thump, thump, thump. Then if they got real excited with this they would add spinning to it; and when really pumped they would go sidewise, never losing that rocking horse or bucking bronco look.

Ok it is time; I held Crackers up so Dude, who is younger, can be in the release pen at the same time. Crackers still wants that 20 cc's of formula every night. I know by his size that the formula he is getting is not sustaining him one bit; so one night we had a talk. I put my fingers through the hardware cloth of his pen, and explained that there are no syringes in the wild and that he is not, I MEAN NOT, getting any more; this is it. He looked at me with those huge brown eyes that almost look through you and with a flip of his tail came charging over, pig noise going, and ever so gently tried to swallow one of my fingers. Oh what a squirrel.

After spending some time in the release pens on July 3rd Crackers and Dude hit the trees as free squirrels. Both are doing well; their larger than life movements, the funny noises, and their quiet dignity will stick with me forever. We laughed at them, loved them and watched them grow and return to where they were meant to be. It was an honor.

WildLife Rehabilitator: Nonda

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