As lawn and landscape pros, how often do you run into wild animals that need help? Despite living in suburban NJ with three dogs that run amok in my fenced yard, I’ve had my fair share of injured baby rabbits, possums, squirrels, and don’t get me started on the birds! Every Spring I find myself defending naive fledglings against savvy neighborhood cats! Most of my rescue attempts, frankly, don’t end well as the cats’ persistence seems to far outweigh the baby birds’ minimal survival instincts. Except this week!
My latest animal in trouble was a baby squirrel–found in the grass by one of my dogs on a walk. Eyes still shut, and just a tiny little thing at probably around three weeks old, the squirrel was laying in an incredibly vulnerable place near a busy trail of cyclists, dog walkers, and skateboarders located next to a baseball field.
Now normally you should put the squirrel back in the nest if possible—or leave the baby for the mother to find and carry back to the nest. Unfortunately, people often think they are “helping” an “orphaned” baby by bringing him home when they’re actually putting the baby at greater risk. (Mother deer, for instance, will often leave their babies in a safe spot while they go search for food.) I’ve learned this over the years. But there was no visible nest or squirrels in sight. Given the unique particulars of this high traffic situation, my husband and I decided the baby’s best chance was to bring him home. We put him a box with soft bedding and a heating pad underneath for warmth.
Internet sources talked about the risks of dehydration and the need for them to drink. Following online advice, I was able to get the little guy to sip at Pedialyte from a “baby” bottle for small animals. Rescue organizations hadn’t answered our phone messages, so when evening hit, we brought his heated box into our bedroom for the night, and set the alarm for Pedialyte feedings.
He made it through the night, including a few frisky attempts to climb all over me when he wasn’t interested in drinking. By the next day, a rescuer called us back. She was at capacity but said we shouldn’t be “feeding” him. They can aspirate the fluid into their lungs and get pneumonia. So much for the Internet and best intentions—but he seemed to be doing OK.
Finally, another rescuer had room to take him in. We had an appointment to drop him off, when someone made a suggestion that seemed highly unlikely to work. They said to put the baby under the tree where he was found and play a recording of a baby squirrel in danger. They had done this once and it worked. They provided us with the audio.
My husband and I debated. We had limited time to get the baby to the rescuer, but we also wanted to give this idea a shot since it was the best possible outcome. With just ten spare minutes until we needed to leave for the rescuer, we went back to the tree.
As I looked once again to try and locate a nest, I suddenly saw a squirrel on a low-lying branch. Shout-whispering to my husband, I told him to quickly put the box down and play the recording! He opened the box and moved across the street to not scare the adult squirrel we hoped was the mother. Then he played the recording.
Her response was immediate and she ran down the tree and across the street in the direction of the sound, then scaling the closest tree. It had worked, but with more accuracy than we counted on. Clearly, the noise was more of a draw than the actual baby in the open box at the foot of the tree. She had run right past him.
Then my husband moved under the nest tree with the baby squirrel, took the baby out of the box and placed him in the grass. This time, my husband played the recording right near the baby. And the mother squirrel actually came and got him–tucking him into a hollow inside the tree (which is why we couldn’t spot the nest.) It was a wondrous thing to witness! Luckily, my husband captured it on video below.
We have since gone back to the tree to check if the baby has fallen out again or been rejected by the mother in any way, but nothing. We also don’t regret taking him home when we found him. In the few minutes we spent back at the tree playing the recording, a man tried to walk by with a dog. The spot was just too busy for a defenseless baby animal.
Why share this story with Turf readers? Because it might be a good idea to have a policy for how to handle orphaned or injured wildlife you may run across as you service sites—especially since these situations tend to elicit different responses from different people. Do you know the proper procedures depending on the type of animal or situation? Do you have a list of rescuers available? Is it acceptable to lose work hours in aid of an animal? Or do you simply tell the property owner and leave it up to them?
For me, I’m definitely keeping the squirrel audio on my phone! Who knew such a simple tool could save a little life?
For more articles on animals and Nature, see: