A September squirrel saga


Every naturalist knows that only those trained in wildlife rehabilitation should take in wounded animals. I know this. But when confronted with a lame squirrel (courtesy of my dog) and a tearful five-year-old (okay, maybe I was the tearful one), what’s a mom to do? With flies already descending on the still and suffering animal, the answer was obvious: wrap the squirrel in an old picnic blanket and deposit him in a bin equipped with water, oak leaves, acorns, hickory nuts, and sassafras.

I realized at the time that there were three distinct outcomes to this course of action: a.) the squirrel could die, b.) the squirrel could magically heal, and c.) the squirrel could live but remain lame. Hello, pet squirrel? Probably illegal, and definitely not on my wish list.

Luckily, fortune shone on my family and Sammy. The squirrel spent most of the afternoon and evening curled in a tight ball, occasionally dragging himself across the bin for a snack. My daughter visited frequently with her sketchbook, supplying our fridge with a slew of sketches in the style of “Beatrix Potter meets Kindergartner.” We went to bed, dreaming of squirrels.

I dreaded the morning squirrel check-in. What if we found Sammy cold and lifeless beneath his pile of oak leaves? But no. Sammy was bright-eyed and bushy tailed, perched on his haunches and peering at his captors with beady black eyes. I sent my daughter to school, pondering the next step.

Apparently, Sammy was the master of his own fate. When I checked an hour later, the screen frame that covered Sammy’s bin was ajar, and Sammy was gone. I like to think that we gave Sammy a night safe from predators, time to heal his wounded legs, and some tasty treats to speed his recovery.

Squirrel enthusiasts like myself are sure to spy leafy, spherical squirrel nests—called dreys—on their woodland walks at Adkins Arboretum, as well as squirrels themselves, intent on preparing for the coming winter. The Arboretum provides prime squirrel habitat: lots of sturdy hardwood trees for nesting, an abundance of acorns and hickory nuts, and, best of all, no large, shaggy dogs intent on a squirrel supper.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator


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