My granddaughter (age 7) wants a squirrel as a pet. How suitable are they as pets? I'm thinking not very.
Squirrels, as an undomesticated wild animal, do not make very good pets. They will usually imprint on the family, but all other human visitors would be seen negatively. They are also indscrimiant chewers - this includes any wood or plastic and electrical wires. Squirrels are some of our top "forest protectors" and should be allowed to do their job.
I feed the squirrels in our yard during the winter. Is this bad? If not, what should I give them and what should I not? They eat pretty much everything I put out, such as bread and popcorn on the cob and, of course, nuts. Thanks!
While helping your local wildlife in the winter months seems like a great idea, you want to make sure that you are not over-feeding them. Some species have been know to become too reliant upon feeding stations and neglect searching for food. Offering foods that most resemble a natural diet is always best: mixed nuts, sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, millet and thistle seed are always best. Processed foods ("human food") is very bad for wildlife as most of it is too sugary and fatty to be processed well.
How do we e-mail you squirrel pics?
You can send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please indicate in the e-mail that you took the photo and you are authorizing The Post to publish them on our Web site.
Or, if you're on Instagram, you can post them there, with a #squirrelweek hashtag. Of course, that will require you to have taken the photo with your smartphone. It can be hard to get close enough with your little iPhone lens.
Are there commercial formulas that can be used for nursing infants who have been dislodged from their home and mother? When should they be returned to the wild? Should they be returned to the area discovered or relocated? Many trees are being pruned by homeowners, electrical, phone, and cable services.What happens to the nests in those trees?
There are a few commercial formulas for the various squirrel species but you need either a Master wildlife rehabilitator permit or a zoo accredidation to order them. Any other milk replacer found at pet stores does not offer the proper nutritional ratios. In many states, it is illegal to rehab wildlife without a permit. Call or go online to find your state's Department of Natural Resources to find out about the permitting process or to find a local rehabilitator.
Does DC have an insanely large squirrel population, or is it just me?
Wait, I'm confused. You have an insanely large squirrel population?
Yes, DC has a lot of squirrels. In one of his books, Smithsonian squirrel expert Richard Thoringtonwrites: "A 1977 study in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., documented a squirrel density of approximately 12.5 squirrels per acre--one of the highest densities ever recorded!"
What should we do? Will the mother come get it? What if the mother doesn't come get it, is there someone we can call?
If it is possible, leave the pup under the tree it was found and give mom several hours (depending on the weather) to retrieve it. It can take some time, depending on mom's typical schedule. If she does not retrieve the pup or the weather is too severe, the pup should be brought to a rehabilitator or local humane society. Most humane societies work with their local rehabilitators.
Last year, we had one lone black squirrel join our menagerie of wild life. I've never seen one before! Beautiful and timid. He managed to stay for several months, avoiding the gray squirrels who chased him, and then was gone . This winter a little red squirrel appeared, and although quite a bit smaller than the gray, managed to hold his on and refused to be chased away. In fact, he seemed the more dominant. Are black squirrels hybrid? Do they have temperaments according to color, or are they individuals? Do they live in 'packs' as do other species? Miss the little guy!
Black squirrels are exactly the same as gray squirrels. And white squirrels, too. They are all Eastern gray squirrels. Allow me to quote myself:
The black squirrel and the gray squirrel are the same species of squirrel: Sciurus carolinensis, a.k.a. the Eastern gray squirrel, the only difference being a color variation. The black squirrels evince a “melanistic color phase,” the recessive gene for black coloration coming to the fore.
Rmember when we had to draw those little diagrams in high school, about blue eyes or pea plants or fruit flies? Me neither, but it's the same thing. The genes have to line up properly to create a black squirrel.
There should be no difference in temperment, though I've heard everything: melanistic squirrerls are meeker, no, they're meaner. I think it depends on the squirrel.
Incidentally, our black squirrels came from Canada, of all places, as I explain here: Blame Canada.
Do you have any squirrel rehab facilities near Leesburg VA?
You should try calling the Wildlife Rescue League of Virginia at 703-440-0800. You leave a message and one of the hotline workers will contact you with the nearest rehabilitator.
This weekend I found a young squirrel that appeared in need of help. I feed him some pecans which he ate. Now he follows me around like a drag. I tried to ignore him, but he sits on the carport and cries. Is there someone I can call to come get him. He is very friendly hops right into your hand.
You can always try calling your local humane society. Many humane societies work closely with their nearest wildlife rehabilitator and can get you more information. Some Animal Control Officers will even transport the animal from your home to the rehabber, depending on which county you are in.
This is Bob in Columbia. We have a white squirrel and have read they are very rare. Will he or she eventually mate with a grey squirrel and have offspring who are grey. I m assuming that white is recessive.
There are (at least) two types of white squirrels: albinos and ones that have a very light coloration. Olney, Ill., is known for its albinos. Brevard, N.C., is known for its light grayish squirrels.I don't know the exact genetics involved. I would have said the odds of two white squirrels, um, hooking up in our area (as opposed to Olney or Brevard) were rare. But just today someone sent me a photo of some white squirrel porn! I'll attempt to add it to The Grid, which this week is about squirrels.
I wrote about white squirrels last year.
The article says "Squirrels can't digest cow's milk, so the rehabilitators use a special formula designed with the proper fat content for the age of the squirrel." But I noticed that the Fox Valley formula for baby squirrels, which is the one recommended by rehabbers, uses milk protein, which I assume is cow's milk. Is this the case? And what does your formula use?
All powdered formulas are made from cow's milk unless otherwise specified as soy, almond or rice. Companies that create powdered formulas for wild mammals have heating, cooling and dehydrated processes that denature the lactose sugar, making it more digestable. We combine a few different powdered formulas as the squirrels age to better mimic mom's changing milk supply.
Dear John, I'm a regular reader of the Washington Post and I thought I would point you to a music video by a DC area band, Masked Superstar, which features delightful squirrel antics. I edited this music video for the band from original footage that I shot. Here is the YouTube link in case this might be of interest. Thanks, Marshall Sharer
Cool. With a name like "Masked Superstar" I thought maybe you'd feature a raccoon in the video. Probably a little harder to get video of those nocturnal things.
Why do you rehabilitate baby squirrels, when they are flea and disease carrying nuisance rodents? Would you also rehabilitate baby rats?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. They are a native species that have existed across the Eastern United States for much longer than we have. In some habitats with endangered tree species, the squirrel plays a keystone role in contiuing their survival. And we would rehabilitate the native rat species in our area if they were not driven to extreme endangerment by the introduced black rat and Norway rat.
Newly relocated from Houston to DC, I was delighted to read about "Squirrel Week"! I am a bird lover and a squirrel lover. Squirrels are funny varmints and easy to train with a handful of nuts. I love observing them in the park, on the golf course, and in trees! I have a pinterest board just for squirrels! Thanks for acknowledging these backyard little friends.
Thanks for reading. Tune in to tomorrow's column, about the eternal battle between squirrels and birds...well, about the battle between squirrels and humans who don't like seeing their bird seed pilfered.
Can the American Red Squirrel mate with the Eastern Grey Squirrel? There are several on my college campus that I swear must be hybrids.
They can hybridize, though not very often as their temperments differ.
I got bit by a squirrel last week and haven't gone to the doctor. Am I going to die?
While squirrels are not a known carrier of rabies, any warm-blooded animal can contract and pass the virus. It is always advisable to seek medical attention when bitten by any wild animal, just to be safe.
My squirrels are eating my tree buds. Does that harm the tree? Do their mothers teach them to balance on telephone wires?
Balancing along electrical wires is a learned behavior, though it is very similar to climbing up to the tips of a tree; they get better with each trip. And tree buds are a large part of a squirrel's diet in the early Spring months. If the trees were damaged too greatly, they would change their chemical composition to make their buds taste bad.
what do you call baby squirrels?
Many years ago, I came home from shopping to find my two adult, male cats, sitting on the front lawn, guarding a baby squirrel(hairless and two inches long) between them. I was dumbfounded. Aren't cats a predator? What is a squirrel's most dangerous predator? Man/automobiles? Owls? Cats & dogs?
Wow, pretty cool. Here's another example of interspecies affection, from CNN: Squirrel adopted by cat learns to purr.
Owls and hawks take squirrels. So do dogs and cats. I think man (and woman) is probably their biggest worry. We take their habitat and we run them over with cars. Of course, they squirrels then move into our habitat (our attics) and they aren't exactly terrific at getting out of the way of cars.
Dr. Thorington at the Smithsonian said a squirrel's natural instinct when confronted by a predator is to zig zag, or run around crazily. That will confuse an owl, but it doesn't work with a Buick, which is why so many squirrels seem to get plastered after running away and then running BACK INTO the traffic.
I have a 9 week old squirrel; I have had for 8 weeks. I found him as a pink baby. We cut his tree down and his momma never came back for him. I have been taking care of him and he is now in his BIG cage climbing all over branches and living in his box (Finally). He is eating good solid food, and getting his formula twice a day now. I have found that I need to cut back on the nuts because is bypassing the kale, broccoli, Mazuri block, and Zupreme primate dry food. Anyway I am going to release him back in to the wild @ like 18- 20 weeks. I live in the wood and a good distance from the road, so I am going to release him on our farm. I wanted to get the best way of releasing. Also when is the exact time to release? Is 18-20 weeks a good age? When is the right age to stop giving formula, if they are eating solid foods well? Oh one more question... he is the only baby, he is not with other squirrels, is this ok? Thank you for your time
I wanted to touch on this question, but the answer would take a lot of time, and you would be best advised to call Second Chance Wildlife Center at 301-926-9453 and speak with one of the staff rehabilitators. She will need to gather more information from you that would be easier done through a phone call.
My father-in-law noticed that his new Lab mix puppy was standing over something in the yard. He shooed her away and noticed that it was a baby squirrel. The squirrel wasn't visibly hurt, so he put the squirrel in a box with towels and attached it to the tree nearby. He never saw the squirrel's parent(s) come by, so he took the baby to a wildlife rehab center. Just out of curiosity, is there a chance that the parent(s) could have come back? I don't know how old the baby is, or how long the box was in the tree.
Mom squirrel ("Dad" plays no part in child rearing) never strays too far from her nest, especially when the pups are very young. Placing the fallen pup in a shoebox under her tree is a good start, just know that she may need a few hours to discover the box; the pup is not going to call to her. If/when she discovers her pup, she will retrieve it and bring back up to her nest. At least an orphaned pup being raised at rehab center will have a better chance of knowing proper "squirrel manners" that they learn off each other when they are group housed.
What is the composition of the food mixture best for them?
I wanted to touch on this as well - it is actually illegal for me to give out advice on how to raise an orphaned animal outside of "bring it to a rehabilitator". Maryland's Department of Natural Resourcs will yank my permit if I do. I trained for over 2 years to get my permit and am still required to take Continuing Educational Units each year to maintain my permit.
I was sitting on the steps by the fountain in Pershing Park eating my lunch and suddenly realized I had a squirrel tail growing out from the side of my lap. I had put my lunch on the step between the step I was sitting on and the one my feet were on and apparently the squirrel was hungry and feeling rather brave. I'm glad to say he didn't bite me and about the time I realized he was there, the squirrel bounded away about 5 feet and started chattering at me before I cleaned up what remained of my lunch and left. Bizarre, eh? Or is this the result of lots of other picnickers feeding the local squirrel population?
Not only does Washington have a lot of squirrels, it has a lot of brazen squirrels. I think that's because so many people feed them. If you're sitting on a bench on the Mall you're sure to be approached by a squirrel with its paw out. Why wouldn't they?
Interestingly, I went to Marlinton, West Virginia, a couple of years ago for a "roadkill cookoff." The little town square had no squirrels in it. In West Virginia squirrels associate humans with getting shot at, often to be eaten.
Is there a cure?
It requires an antiparasitic, which can be dosed orally if the animal is brought to a rehabilitator. Not only are there mites living on the animal, but also in the nest, so several doses are often needed, plus time for the net infestation to die off.
I have squirrel in my attic. How can I capture or stop them climbing up in the attic? I have tried capturing using peanut butter, but they just walk by it.
You can try some humane exclusion methods. If you know where the squirrel is nesting, placing a small radio right next to it that you can leave on 24 hours a day will encourage the squirrel to leave, and taking any pups if it is nesting female. If it is a single squirrel, wait until it is out of the nest and then stuff the entrance with rags soaked in undiluted Original Scent Pine Sol. The chemicals are intolerable to an animal with a sensitive nose.
I read somewhere that squirrels have a better sense of hearing than depth perception. So a month or two ago when I saw a squirrel run out in the road as I was driving, I braked gradually and honked the horn. Seemed to work quite well: the little guy raced off and up a tree.
Thanks for the advice. I'll try that next time.
I have frequently observed one, and only one, of the many squirrels in my semirural neighborhood, slowly nibbling or licking its way along one of the mortar lines in the brick foundation of my garage. What's up? Teeth sharpening, mineral deficiency?? Similarly, during one winter, a sugar maple tree's bark was chewed up by one squirrel. In last two years, that has not happened. Rogue mutant squirrel now passed away??
Re mortar - could be a mineral deficiency, or could have tasted good to that particular squirrel. :)
Re maple - that particular maple may have had good tasting bark and that particular squirrel may have passed on. The tree could have also altered the chemicals in its bark, making in inedible.
In the wild, they do not have to participate in random chewing to keep their teeth filed down (rodent teeth growth throughout the animal's life); just keeping up with the daily nest care, taste-testing and eating suffices.
I volunteer with a rescue group that keeps animals in a national chain pet store. Every so often, someone comes in with a baby squirrel or bunny that they found and want to save. Most are very, very tiny; usually they buy kitten formula and hope for the best. Other than trying to lower their expectations about success, what do you tell lay people who want to help a baby squirrel? I know a squirrel/bunny wildlife rehabber, but there's only so many she can handle at one time.
The best thing to do would be to refer all of those clients to the rebailitator you know. Even when she gets full, she could best advise them on how to find another rehabilitator or to contact the local animal control for them to locate a rehabilitator.
I was on the Hill and had a jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookie, a squirrel came by I gave my uneaten cookie to the squirrel, he took the entire cookie in his mouth and hopped away, I have frequently wondered was this a bad thing to have given the squirrel?
Cookies do pretty much the same thing to squirrels as they do to us - fill us up with unnecessary empty calories. I usually also recommend against hand-feeding wild animals. All to often it is these "tame" animals that end up attacking people that do not have food or approach someone who does not like their kind and could do physical harm. While I always appreciate anyone willing to lend a hand, feeding animals is usually best left to the animals themselve.
Brittany - Can that bird you are holding in your photo eat a squirrel?
It could, but being as osprey, would much prefer fresh fish. :)
No question, but Squirrel Week is incomplete without a link to this faux-commercial called "Nolan's Nuts": Link It's okay for squeamish people like me, as there's a happy ending for the animatronic squirrel.
Oh man, that is a sick commercial. Funny, but sick.
Thanks so much for this chat. We always have a few injured baby squirrels around, but this year the cat population in my neighborhood seems to have increased. If a cat gets to a baby squirrel first, but I can retrieve it alive, what should I do? I assume injuries/disease from cat would make survival even harder...
If a cat has found the pup before you or the squirrel mom, it should always be brought to a rehabilitator. Cat's have a strain of Pasteurella bacteria that is pretty virulent and can cause acute illness in most small animals. Rehabilitators have different antibiotics on hand (ordered through a veterinarian) that can combate these infections.
Can people volunteer at wildlife rehabilitation centers? What kind of volunteer work is available?
Most wildlife centers are volunteer-based and information about each volunteer program can be found on the website of each center. Many require an orientation and/or training session.
This spring I've found a lot of my daffodil bulbs, which I planted last fall, sitting on top of the ground, apparently dug up by someone. Would squirrels do that? And if so, is there a way to discourage it? Do commercial animal repellent products work?
You said: "We combine a few different powdered formulas as the squirrels age to better mimic mom's changing milk supply." Could you explain more about mom's changing milk supply?
Just like any other nursing mammal, mom's milk changes as the babies grow, altering to best fit the babies' current needs, whether it be more/less calcium, fat or protein.
The squirrels in our neighborhood have been going wild chasing each other around our decks, through trees, etc., for the past week or two. Is it mating season or are they just showing dominance? I know for certain one of the chasers is female and another is male.
It's the Spring breeding season. Some males just do not understand "no means no." :)
Years ago, a squirrel bit my dachshund. I admit, my dachshund and his sister dachshund were barking up a storm while the squirrel retreated to a tree. All of a sudden, the darn thing ran down and bit my dog. How common are squirrel bites?
Not very frequent and usually only occur when the squirrel (a prey species) feels like a strong offense is the best defense. Like all wild animals, they would much prefer a safe exit than a life-endangering stunt.
We have adorable, but ravenous, squirrels living in an iron pine tree in our backyard of the house we moved into last summer, in the Willow Glen area of San Jose, CA. There are certainly others in the neighborhood as well. We have a number of fruit trees getting ready to share with us: Kadota Fig, Santa Rosa Plum, Loquat and Cherry. The squirrels are at the ready to have at them. We want them for human consumption for us and our friends. How may we rid our yard, in a kind way, of these cute critters?
I'm getting hungry just thinking about all that fruit. I asked Dr. Thorington for advice and he said that he'd heard reports of moth balls working as a deterrant. This Web site claims moth balls work, too. You could check with your local agricultural extension agent.
I've also seen people recommend that you feed the squirrels, the idea being, I suppose, that if it's easy for them to get the nuts you leave out for them maybe they'll leave the fruit alone. It strikes me as a little like paying protection money to the mob.
They are destructive tree rats breeding up to three times a year. What is next, sewer rats?
Actually, they only have 2 breeding seasons, though the female will go back into estrus if she loses a litter early in the season. And squirrels play a very important role in forest survival; I know they can be an suburban nuisance, but they are only trying to survive in a world that we are rapidly changing. I feel everyone else would do the same if placed in the same situation; that's why all those alien attack movies are so popular. :)
And we do not rehabilitate "sewer" rats. Those are brown Norway rats that we brought over on ships when we came to the Americas and they have all but wiped out our native (and extremely small and beneficial) native rat species.
Do you ever get to rehabilitate the red squirrels with the tufted ears? They are SO CUTE. Are they from around here? What kind are they?
Those are red squirrels and our area is a little too far South for their comfort. They are much more common in New England and Canada.
John, how did you become interested in squirrels? My friend rehabs squirrels; three week old squirrels are so very cute! And a lot of work!
I used to feed a squirrel that would come onto our porch at our old house. She would even sit on my lap. Big mistake. She ended up chewing a hole in our wire screen over the window to get to the nuts inside. And yet, there was something about her...
Then three years ago a reader asked whether squirrels' tails grew back. The answer is they don't. But when I spoke to a squirrel expert from Chicago he said, "Everyone has squirrel stories." I asked readers for some and Squirrel Week was born.
I've always been a fan of Discovery's Shark Week and so I modeled Squirrel Week on that. I'm hoping The Post will spring for a huge inflatable squirrel to mount on our headquarters building.
Hi, I have so many squirrels, as neighbors have dogs and I don't - so my yards is like a squirrel sanctuary. But I'm an avid gardener, and they dig up all of my plants and eat/chew blueberry bushes and jades, and just cause so much damage. How can I get rid of them? I live in a small city. Thank you!
Small stakes with small rags soacked in Original Scent Pine Sol (and nope, not getting paid for ad placement, stuff really works) placed throughout your garden will help deter the squirrels. That stuff is pretty caustic to their sensitive nasal cavitites; not enough to injure, just enough to deter. :)
If you call a humane society and they pick up the squirrel, won't they just euthanize it? I'm so sad about that squirrel that's crying in the driveway.
Depends on the individual humane society. Montgomery County Humane Society brings Second Chance nearly a thousand wild animals each year rescued from citizens, whether drivers picked them up from homes or they were dropped off at the front desk.
When I was a kid, my family saved three baby red squirrels whose mother was killed by a dog. The wildlife rescue who gave them to us gave us these bottles and formula to feed them in, but it was still really tough! They chewed on all of our deck furniture, tried to escape in the house, and used to run up and hide in my mom's pant leg when they were scared. We transitioned their box outside as they grew up and they did return to the wild. But I certainly wouldn't recommend them as pets. Even hand raised like ours were, they were still wild animals.
Yeah, I'm sensing that a lot of readers want info on how to raise squirrels as pets. Brittany is probably too polite to say it, but that's a crazy idea. While there are heartwarming tales of squirrels living with humans, those certainly must be in the minority. Your average squirrel is not going to see you as a friend. And anyway, he belongs in his natural habitat.
I have squirrels in the small space between my roof and ceiling. I'm pretty sure there are babies up there. I plan to seal the area where I believe they entered my roof area but I don't want to close them in. How can I tell if the babies have left the nest? Should I be safe and wait until the end of April to seal the opening?
April, unfortunately, is too soon. Try placing a radio left on 24 hours a day near the nest, loud enough to annoy the squirrels, but not so loud the neighbors complain. :)
Letting her move her children out to her back-up nests (they all have at least one) is best method to ensure the heatlth and safety for all involved. Human trappers are also trained and licensed to deal with this problem.
You said "feeding animals is usually best left to the animals themselves." Feeding squirrels is very controversial in the park near where I live. But I believe that many squirrels would otherwise starve to death in the winter when they are unable to find any nuts or buds on the trees.
Squirrels start cacheing and burrying food supply in August/Sepetember, and will continue until everything is packed away. They scent mark each stored food item and have excellent spacial memory. If hording animals become too relient upon the human food source and neglect to follow instinct, they could pass away during a rough winter if the human is unable to continue. If left alone to follow their natural path, they will make the best decisions for themselves. They have survived a very long time without us and should continue to thrive without us.
We had a squirrel along with a cat and a dog for one year in my teens. We found the squirrel in a park - it had fallen apparently out of a nest, and it appeared to have just been weaned. We took him home and my mother immediately sent me to Woolwoths to buy a toy badby milk bottle. We nursed that squirrel back to health and he lived with us for a year then got very horny and began knawing on the window frames so we released him back into the wild. Sugarfoot was an immense pleasure to my family of six mom, dad, four boys. Sugarfoot got along splendidly with us all he was just such a joy to have around. He never bit anyone and he used to ride our dog around the house. He'd go from person to person at the dinner table begging food scraps from us. He was my sleeping partner that whole year he was with us. He would go under the blanket and squiggle along my body till he found a desired curling area and go promptly to sleep. I will never forget Sugarfoot as long as I live. Bless you "Sugarfoot " I am seventy years old wish he was still with us! Rodney Washington D.C.
This sounds like the rare case where the two species got along well. Of course, even if you don't have a pet squirrel, you can still enjoy watching their antics outside. Cheaper than cable TV!
I am so glad that I was able to spend this time with all of you and I hope I was able to clear up some of the mythos surrounding the Eastern grey squirrel. Any further questions can be directed to SCWC's Facebook page at facebook.com/SCWC.org. Thank you so much for caring!