One Goofy Squirrel

Adventures of a Volunteer • By Amy Sanders

One hot August day I shifted from feeding baby birds (who had grown big enough to be in the aviaries, and no longer hand fed), to feeding baby squirrels (2020 batch 2).  This means moving from the first room of the barn to the back room, called “Jackie’s Room,” where baby mammals are typically kept.

As I was assessing the groups and figuring out who was to be fed when, in the back, northwest corner of the room in a very large cage is a larger squirrel going nuts (excuse the pun).  He was being incredibly interested in what was going on, and not paying much attention to things squirrels usually do. I know the rules though—interact as little as possible with the animals since they are wild.  So, while he was distracting me, I stayed attentive to the introduction of what was where, and who to start with from Jennifer.  Finally, I ask, “What is going on with that squirrel back there!?”   

Jennifer told me he was hand raised, recently brought in (I’m surmising whomever had him didn’t like his adolescent ways as much as his baby ways?), and unfortunately had imprinted on people.  Having been handled a lot, he had grown accustomed to people.  The plan was to put him in the squirrel shed with another injured squirrel as soon as the injured fellow was well enough, and see if the tame one would “wild up.”

A silly aside: Sometime later, I would witness this goofball tame squirrel playing with a spot of sunlight on the back wall.  He’d shoot to the back, tackle that nasty spot with all his might, only to find it had disappeared as soon as he got to it.  He’d shoot back off to the front, and then, to his great astonishment see that it had reappeared.  Back and forth, back and forth, like a cat with a laser light toy.  It was really funny but my efforts to pull my cell out and record distracted him and I only was able to capture one pass at the invading spot before he became more interested in my camera.

Fast forward several weeks.  The goofball has spent a few weeks with the wild squirrel.  There didn’t seem to be much change.  Jennifer asked if I would release him on my property.  First, I have a large wild property, so he won’t be bothering neighbors, and second, I feed birds and squirrels on my property so he won’t starve, even if he doesn’t get his act together. Our hope is that he at least becomes predator smart (outside of people that is).  I was happy to take him home—a nice little fellow to entertain me outside.  Little did I know what I was in for.

Squirrels come to their new release locations in a nesting box so they have a safe space while they acclimate.  The boxes have holes for hanging on pre-placed nails (though someone changed the distance of the holes in at least the last two boxes I’ve received!).  I couldn’t actually even get to my prepared tree because poison ivy has gotten going at its base, so I wandered around a bit, pondering.  Better to place him farther from the house where he might wild up better but might not find the feeding spot, or better to place him nearer to food and hope he finds the wilderness tantalizing?

Ultimately, I opted to tie the box to a tree next to my art studio.  I put it on the far side of it so he wouldn’t be able to see in the windows. It was a warm day and after I had him placed, and removed the towel in his doorway (whereupon he appeared immediately), I snapped a quick pic, and retired to the porch at the back of the house to cool off and read for a bit.

About 15 minutes later the chaos began.  BANG!  CRASH!  Indoor cat zoomies, back and forth and back and forth.  My goof of a squirrel (who I was now calling Goober), was running back and forth along the length of the porch, oblivious to, or enjoying, the cats.  He was trying to figure out how to get on the screens and join me, I think.  Fortunately, the lower windows on the porch are plexiglass (you know, cats).  He wasn’t able to figure out what to make of it.  Eventually though he realized the upper windows were what he wanted.  So, he jumped on the lilac bush.  “Don’t you do it!” I hollered at him.  He crouches to jump, I jumped up and off the bush he flew back to the ground.  Less than 2 minutes later he is on the outside shower, ready to leap.  “Don’t even think about it,” I screeched.  He crouched.  “NO!!!!” I screamed at him, and off he went again.  

I realized my relaxation time was not to be.  I headed for the studio.  Not 5 more minutes and he was at the studio, out on the ground chattering away a mile a minute.  CRASH!  Again, the banging and chaos resumed.  He had found the window by the entry way, right next to the studio, and was hanging on the screen.  That was way too much for my cats to bear so both of them had fired their bodies into the window, he jumped off, they chattered at him, he chattered at them, they ran into the studio windows to see if they could see him, he saw his chance and BANG, he’s back on the entry way screen.  I went out to shoo him away.  Not one to be easily deterred, he jumped on my shirt and started doing laps around my body.  I walked to a tree where he jumped off, ran up, ran across the low roof, into the gutter and down the wall back to the screen.  I tried again to shoo him.  No luck.  He jumped back on me, and ran between my outer shirt and my inner shirt. 

Oh dear.  I knew I was outdone here by the superior intellect of a squirrel who wanted to come in the house. I knew that I couldn’t grab him to remove him—he’d likely bite.  But staying curled up in my shirt wasn’t going to do.  I walked back to the tree, lured him out of my shirt with a walnut, and zoomed inside to consult Jen (and within seconds he was, of course, back on the screen).

Jen and I talked a bit.  A clear offer was made to return him.  “I don’t want him wrecking your house trying to get in,” she said.  “I don’t want him euthanized,” I replied. “Oh, we won’t do that!  We’ll release him here and let him wreck this house!”  Too funny.  Armed with some new thoughts, and a desire to prove my superior problem-solving skills I decided to try some more to see if I could get Goober to behave better.

First task: Put storm windows on all window screens he’s been on.  Also high on the list of things was telling everyone who comes by the house with any regularity, to watch out for Goober.  Drive slowly when coming in, don’t panic if he jumps on you. Please don’t grab him to remove him—he might bite if grabbed.  Walk briskly to his tree, and he’ll probably jump off (he never did jump on anyone else, though he did jump on me a couple more times). 

Fortunately, the next day was a cold one.  I closed up every window, and the door to the porch (sorry kitties!).  I avoided going outside at all costs. I put a critter cam by his box so I would know the following day if he had been there. It was my hope he’d give up and go explore.  

And he did. I saw him several times eating, and 7 or 8 times he flew his body at the screen that was now a glass storm window before he finally decided something had changed and that was no longer a viable option. Realizing he couldn’t see me, or the cats, apparently somewhere along the way he decided to go off and see his new turf.  

Fortunately, his new turf appealed to him.  The critter cam showed him going to his box for the night, but the next day I only saw him once and never saw him at his box.  The critter cam showed his last approach to the box at about 5:30 on Day 3.  He did not stay in his box that night.  Day 4 I saw him once eating.  He never approached his box.  

Now more than a week later, I rarely see him, and in fact am not sure anymore if I am seeing him or another squirrel.  Goober appears to have finally decided being a squirrel is a good idea.  Happy life, buddy, and thanks for the laughs!

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