Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Happy Squirrel Story

Gray Squirrel
This is NOT any of the squirrels in this story. Wouldn't you think I'd have taken at least one photo?!

I love crows, even if sometimes I don’t like them, such as when they’re squawking early in the morning when we’re trying to sleep or raiding a nest of my backyard songbirds. In July, they finished off a robin nest on my block, and the voracious gulping noises the babies made somehow seemed ugly rather than comical when I knew exactly whom it was they were gulping down as the adult robins screamed helplessly. Now in mid-August, those crow babies are still insistent when they’re hungry, and the whole family combs the neighborhood looking for easy meals. 

My crows don’t realize it, but the little boy next door and I kept them from getting a nice lunch on Sunday. Reese came over to my house about noon to tell me he’d found a baby squirrel on the ground and didn’t know what to do. He led me two doors down to a tree in the little boulevard space between the sidewalk and the street. The city planted that row of trees 10 or 15 years ago and they’re not all that big yet, but the tiny squirrel was blindly going around and around the trunk, sometimes trying to climb but her claws and muscles weren’t quite ready for that. Her eyes hadn’t been open long, and she didn’t seem able to focus well yet. I’ve never before seen a squirrel nest in such a young tree, but there it was, and here we were, so near and yet so far.

Several neighbors were gathered. One young father was wearing work gloves to avoid getting human smells on the tiny mite, but didn’t know if he should pick it up at all or not. Another one got a ladder and climbed as far up in the tree as he could to get the squirrel back into the nest, but the limbs were too small to support him. No one knew exactly when the squirrel had fallen out—the woman who first noticed her said she’d seen a man walking his dog past when the dog started lunging, and she saw the squirrel on the ground when they passed. She said she’d been seeing dogs acting strange since the day before, and thought the squirrel might have been there since then, but no one had actually seen it on the ground until an hour or so before I got there.

A few of us were still there a few minutes later when two squirrels ran in from my yard to the tree next to the nest tree, both chattering. One of them ran from the branches of one tree into the nest tree, and ran into the nest. Five or ten minutes later, she came out and stretched out on a branch—from beneath, I could easily tell she was a nursing mother. But the little squirrel was all curled up on the ground, and she didn’t notice it. She eventually climbed back into her nest.

We couldn’t leave the little mite there—a lot of dog walkers come by, and though Peabody Street isn’t a major thoroughfare, the tree is dangerously close to the road. I raised a few baby squirrels during the time I was rehabbing, but haven’t done it in years. Back in the 80s, I’d use a formula designed for puppies, but don’t know what the current best practices are. So I left Reese out there keeping track of what was happening at enough of a distance that the mother might come down and get the baby, and I went in my house to call Wildwoods, our rehab center in Duluth.

The woman who answered said I should try to get the squirrel to squeal—she recommended squeezing it or pinching it just a little harder than seemed comfortable. She said the sound usually makes mother squirrels come running. So I tried it, but I’m just not good at rough handling of tiny things, and the best I could do just got the squirrel grunting a little.

Fortunately, Reese had used his digital camera to make a video of the baby squirrel earlier. He played it for me, and sure enough, he’d inadvertently captured little squirrel squealing. As soon as the mother heard the sound from his video, she charged out of the nest, rushed down the trunk, and snatched up her little baby, holding on with her teeth as the baby curled itself around her neck. The mother scurried up the tree into her nest, and that was that. I love happy endings. Of course, my crow family would not consider this a happy ending at all, but they never even knew they’d been denied a succulent meal. 


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