Anna Gibbs

My life as a new squirrel mom – Part 2

It’s been two weeks since my first post about Hazelnut, and four weeks since the day I started rehabbing him. That means it’s also been four weeks since I’ve slept through the whole night. My alarms are all set at 4 am, 5 am, 6 am, depending on when I fed him the night before. The middle-of-the-night alarm is painful, but far less painful, I’m sure, than the uncontrollable and frequent alarm that is a human baby. So, thank goodness that Hazelnut is a squirrel.

   

That being said, at seven and a half weeks old, Hazelnut isn’t much of a baby anymore in squirrel terms. I place him at the teenager phase. He’s irritable, feisty, and doesn’t respect authority. When I try to clean his face after feeding (the dried formula clumps and makes the fur fall off his cheeks if I don’t wash it off), he chatters moodily at me. I’ve noticed that he’s started using his paws to wash his face, so he’s old enough to take on that responsibility.

I mentioned briefly in my last post some interesting behavior that helped us determine his gender, so I’ll elaborate now. I’ve learned a few fun facts about squirrel genitalia. One is, as I wrote last time, that baby squirrels can’t pee without genital stimulation. (He can pee on his own now, and he does so joyfully and with full projectile through the wires on to my carpet.) Another fun fact is that when baby squirrels still have their eyes closed, they will clamp their mouths on to anything that resembles a nipple. In the case of a squirrel litter, usually around four youngsters, that can sometimes mean a brother’s penis. I chuckled when I read this factoid in my research – “how bizarre!” exclaimed naive me – but didn’t pay much mind to it (besides its fun fact value) because I only had one squirrel and no extra penises to worry about. But Hazelnut solved that problem with ease. I found him one night curled into a ball sucking contently on his own personal nipple. I had to nip that in the bud (pun intended) once it became inflamed. One night at 4 am when I woke to feed him, it looked so painfully red that I was afraid to feed him in case he couldn’t pee out of it. I spent a long time reading reddit posts that early early morning. The solution ended up being feeding him more frequently with smaller amounts. So I went from every five hours back to three and a half hours, which I’ve worked back up from since then. Now I can feed him every 7-8 hours, and he’s much healthier down below.

                           Hazelnut is a real ham when he eats. He’s naturally dramatic.

Now that he’s a teenager, I’ve really enjoyed watching him blossom into his sassy self. He had his first blueberry early last week (his first fruit!). He grabbed it from me and promptly turned his back to me before eating it. He loves green grapes and avocado, but he turns his nose up at a growing list that currently includes blackberry, apple, and banana. Recently he’s become tougher to wake up for feedings in the night, which is endearing and reminds me of myself in middle school (and now, who are we kidding).

              His first blueberry! I moved to the side to snap a pic after he turned his back on me.

On our second trip to Amherst last weekend, Hazelnut hung out  with all the guys in the living room one evening.* It was a Friday night, and so Tinder was the primary activity (I’ve learned that with college males, it’s either that, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, or cooking pizza). A couple of the guys took pictures of each other to update their Tinder photos. Yes, full-on photo shoots occurred. And, yes, Hazelnut is featured in a Tinder profile now. Hazelnut’s first dating app experience.

              Hazelnut hanging with the boys (and me, above).

When we got home on Sunday, my dad had helped bleach the old rat cage (yes, my brother used to have pet rats named Jem and Scout) so Hazelnut could grow into a bigger space. He had transitioned a couple weeks before into a wire cage that I borrowed from my squirrel guru Vicki, and that fit him well. But he was starting to climb more and was definitely going to need more space. He started spending time during the day in the rat cage and sleeping at night in his old wire cage.

      Left: transition wire cage. Right: bigger rat cage. 

By Tuesday night, I moved him to his small cage to sleep, and he simply would not have it. He wanted to be in his new big kid house. After fifteen minutes of insistent gnawing on the cage door, I gave in (is this what parenting feels like too?).

His energy is vibrant now. He used to only run around right after feeding, like a sugar rush. But now he wakes up frequently and dashes around his cage like – well – a squirrel. He chatters at me to wake up. He finally opened his first peanut yesterday after two weeks of trying (so proud). He has a few new toys in his cage and a nest box, and he seems to feel comfortable and entertained in his albeit small space for a squirrel.

         His tail has become so much bushier in just a couple weeks! It’s a pretty noticeable difference in these two pictures. 

But for all his teenage moments (he takes perverse delight in running on to my back where I can’t reach him and peeing on my t-shirt) and his tiny sharp nails that have dug tic-tac-toe boards into the backs of my hands, there are many sweet moments that take me back to the night he opened his eyes for the first time. I’ll just note some of them here –

When he eats, he wraps one paw around the syringe and the other around my finger.

He likes playing hide and seek under the towel. He’ll poke his head out, and then hide once I move towards him, and then poke his head out from another spot of the towel.

He lay on his back one night and wiggled around while I tickled his tummy.

He likes to nibble on my finger. His teeth feel like a fingernail.

In the mornings, he stretches his front legs and yawns. He stretches his little paws forward one at a time like he’s reaching out for something and then sleepily climbs into my hand.

I think I’ll keep him. 😉

Squirrels can be released at 12 weeks, so we’re about 4 weeks away! Stay tuned for another update soon. 

*Note/disclaimer: I’ve done a lot of reading about how to keep a squirrel as wild as possible during the rehabbing process so it can be safely released to the outdoors. Generally it’s recommended that they only be exposed to one person for feeding and that they otherwise have limited human interaction. However, interactions with other living things are also essential for their social development. I have been the only one feeding him, except for the one photo shoot instance, which was *sorry ladies* staged and so totally safe in terms of Hazelnut having an experienced feeder (as choking is a risk with babies). I’ve also decided that cat/dog/predator exposure is much more dangerous to Hazelnut than people exposure, since he’ll still be around people all the time in backyards. Being friendlier “in the wild” to a neighbor doesn’t seem particularly dangerous to him, in my opinion. (Still, though, it’s important to note that Hazelnut has interacted with a limited number of humans, and only been held by a few.) I do have two cats so I’ve kept the door to my room closed for the most part so Hazelnut doesn’t feel comfortable around them. Squirrel rehabbing has been a total learning experience, and I’d love to have a conversation about it 🙂 no negative energy or judgement though please. I have done my research and have a lot of help from experienced rehabbers, so I’m not going in blind! (On that note, if you have found a baby squirrel, research is so important, and in most cases finding an animal control officer, wildlife hospital, or local rehabber as soon as possible is essential to their survival)

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