Learning To Speak Squirrel

The week after we acquired Punkin, a five-week-old female squirrel, I received a call about taking in another orphaned squirrel. “Why not?”, I thought to myself. If I was raising one already, how much extra work could two be? Besides, this would provide Punkin a friend to play with.

Two young women brought the little fella to our home. He had just recently opened his eyes. They admitted they had acquired “Gambit” the week before but, after trying to feed and care for him on a regular schedule, it had become more work than they had anticipated. These young ladies told me Gambit had been discovered crying out on the front porch of their Aunt’s house. In the street lay a dead mother squirrel, who had apparently been hit by a vehicle. Whether the baby had made its way down from the nest in search of its mama, or perhaps that the mother was transporting the baby to another location as it was struck by the car, would never be known.

After giving the little guy a quick inspection, we inquired how often and what they had been feeding him. This would be important in transitioning him to a proper feeding regimen and squirrel diet. Because his eyes had just opened, we determined he was about five weeks old – just a week behind Punkin. But this little fella was very tiny and bony in comparison. He also seemed a bit weak and wobbly compared to how Punkin was when we first got her.

Even after two weeks, Gambini had not grown much and continued sleeping most of the time in hit little shoe box.
Even after two weeks, Gambini had not grown much and continued sleeping most of the time in his little shoe box.

As the next days went by, “Gambit” proved to be a challenge for me. First off, I could not seem to get his name right. I had to think really hard about it. I finally gave up trying and just started calling him “Gambini”. For some reason I had no difficulty with that name. Perhaps I had watched the 1992 movie, “My Cousin Vinny” too many times and the Gambini name was stuck in my head. Regardless, I decided to rename him to something I could remember, while still keeping part of his original name.

Secondly, Gambini was not putting on any weight. Likely, this was because the formula was going right through his system and very little nutrient was being absorbed. Loose stools had plagued him from the day we received him, but I kept a positive attitude that it would clear up once we got him on a good, steady diet of squirrel formula. Diarrhea meant daily cleanup, both for Gambini and the little shoe box he was in. During this time, I bathed Gambini every day, which he seemed to enjoy very much.

Not being able to get the loose stool under control, I finally called our family vet, who was very helpful and encouraging. He pointed out the diarrhea could be caused by any number of things. Moving from one caretaker to another could have upset him. Also, what he had initially been fed was very different from what we were trying to acclimate him to. And, even though the transition from puppy replacement milk to squirrel formula had been done very gradually, Gambini’s system might take longer to adjust. Another thing to consider, my vet suggested, is that all wild critters are fairly sensitive to changes in their environment.

Considering this, along with the possibility that Gambini might have an illness, I kept him and Punkin in separate rooms. Still, there were indoor noises that Gambini might not be used to, as I have three little dogs roaming around the house. Perhaps Gambini felt anxious in this new setting. There was no telling what changes and traumas this little fella had dealt with in the last couple of weeks. Still, my vet advised we keep with what we were doing. He just did not feel like this was a case of an intestinal bug or an injury.

Punkin_7797 Punkin_7809

In the early days, Punkin loved to finger wrestle and play tunnel chase in an old mattress pad.
In the early days, Punkin loved to finger wrestle and play tunnel chase in an old mattress pad.

In the beginning, Gambini kept to himself and did not interact with Punkin at all. In fact, he was timid and did not seem to know what to think of this pushy and very inquisitive neighbor of his. Punkin had flourished from the time she arrived here. She was a self-starter at most everything! She even weaned herself from formula. One day she just refused it. She became interested in avocados, apple slices, rodent block, and of course PECANS!! With her constant movement in the small cage, it was obvious she needed something bigger to move around in. We also had the realization that at some point Gambini would need Punkin’s smaller cage. Recognizing this and Punkin’s rapidly developing independence, FD decided it was time to build a larger, pre-release cage for her.

And so for two solid weekends, FD worked at constructing a larger squirrel complex. A lot of thought went into this – cedar wood to withstand the elements, and heavy gauge wire to keep predators out. And, of course, he included a top-notch squirrel house so that Punkin would have a safe nest to sleep in. Nothing but the finest for Punkin… and she loved it! She raced around the cage wire and climbed the limbs and branches FD placed inside. She was unstoppable. By the second week, FD cut a hatch door in the cage and added a ramp for her to come and go from the cage to the porch railing as she pleased. This, of course, was both good and not so good. Good that she was venturing out into a bigger world of exploration. Not so good in that it was my back porch she was quickly taking over!

Gambini plays chase by himself on the outside of the cage while Punkin steals a walnut from Gambini's squirrel house!
Gambini plays chase by himself on the outside of the cage while Punkin steals a pecan from Gambini’s squirrel house!

At first, I was not too keen about this flying hair ball with a tail racing all around my back porch. Also, she watched for me constantly. No sooner than I could get out the back door with her food plate of vegetables and fruit in the morning, she would leap onto me and climb all over my arms, legs and body. “Ur-ur-ur-ur-ur-ur” she would chortle. “OW! Aaaaaaaagh!” I would respond to her razor claws racing all around my body. “Ur-ur-ur-ur”, she continued, until she reached the food plate I carried. While still perched on my arm, she checked out her food buffet. And every day brought the same ritual. The only thing I found to distract her was to bring a cracked pecan with me. That, at least, would keep her from attacking me for a very short time.

Punkin in Morning Glories_7963

I was surprised to find Punkin eating morning glories on several occasions. She nibbled vine, leaves and the flowers! But of course pecans are her absolute favorite!
I was surprised to find Punkin eating morning glories on several occasions. She nibbled the vine, leaves and the flowers! But of course pecans are her absolute favorite!

While Punkin flourished, Gambini continued to have digestive problems. He was a lot more work to care for than she had ever been. For several weeks, I kept him in the smaller cage, until finally he became a little more inquisitive about his world. I continued to give him daily baths which he still seemed to enjoy. He already knew, instinctively, to groom himself after a bath. He became more active in his small cage, racing around in the early mornings and just before dark. But still, he spent most of the day hiding in his little cardboard nest box in his little cage which, during the day, I set next to Punkin’s larger cage on the back porch.

Finally having a little company on the back porch, Punkin seemed to enjoy scaring Gambini – pouncing on his cage and frightening Gambini while I tried to feed him his formula. Gambini was still intimidated by Punkin, until the day she tried to enter his cardboard box, and then I realized he did have a ferocious bone in his body! The squealing, chattering, and growling that came from within that box when Punkin breached its entrance, let her know she had gone just a little too far. And, after that confrontation, Gambini no longer seemed afraid of Punkin. He might race away from her at times, but it appeared to be a game in which he was building skills and muscle. Sometimes, he even outwitted her in their games of play. He might be half her size but, when it came to these games of play, he did not let that bother him one bit!

Punkin on the porch rail, considering a further jaunt across the yard to her favorite hackberry tree.
Punkin on the porch rail, considering a further jaunt across the yard to her favorite hackberry tree.

Now, Punkin and Gambini share the squirrel complex together. They each have their own squirrel box in the large cage, though I have seen them go into each other’s houses at times. Often, Punkin steals Gambini’s pecan stash. Gambini runs her off most of the time, but not after Punkin has the “goods” securely in her mouth. And then, there are those wonderful moments when the two of them are both in Gambini’s house together, and getting along just fine. In fact, just last night, which was unusually cool, I discovered they were nestled together in Gambini’s house, keeping each other warm.

The small hatch door remains open all day so that the two of them may come and go as they please. We close it each evening when Punkin and Gambini settle into their squirrel houses for the night. Recently, Punkin has been venturing out to a favorite tree near the back porch to spend most of her day. Gambini still enjoys the safety of the cage, and I am glad to report that, just this week, he is finally over his digestive problem.

It won’t be long before the call of the wild will take both of these little charges out into the woodlands, where they belong. When they are ready to leave the cage for good, we will move their squirrel houses down below the slope and mount them in tall trees. We will keep food handy for them this winter too, because they will not likely have time to build stores or prepare caches of edibles. And I know, as the autumn winds blow, and snow falls gently this winter, I will be tempted to wander into the woodlands, gently calling, “Ur-ur-ur-ur-ur”, and hoping to catch sight of Miss Punkin or Gambini.

The mighty Gambini atop the squirrel complex.
The mighty Gambini atop the squirrel complex.

© 2014 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


61 thoughts on “Learning To Speak Squirrel

  1. No doubt I have gushed at you before, but this is just such a remarkable story. You lead a delightfully charmed life!

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    1. Thank you for such a lovely comment. I know how fortunate I am… it is a wonderful place to roam with so many beautiful creatures. It is a true delight to hold these babies, feed them, and observe their habits and movement.

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  2. Wow FD that palace … err cage is fabulous :0 Do squirrels hibernate in winter and wouldn’t it be safer for them there right on the porch? Fabulous job on their rehabilitation, they are lucky to have found you both. Laura

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    1. Ha ha ha!! That cage really IS a palace! Squirrels are very active here in the south during the winter. While it might be safer in the cage on the porch, like any wild animal, they grow bored in a limited space and find their way to a more satisfying and adventurous life in the wild. I think they may go back and forth for a while, but eventually we won’t see them. They will find their own territory and friends in the woods.

      Punkin is already venturing out to the trees near the house for the day. This morning we saw her on the edge of the woods, so it won’t be long and she’ll be out there exploring further away. We will have food out for her all winter just in case. Gambini seems content in the cage for now. Occasionally he gets outside, but stays on the porch.

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    1. Oh, thank you!! I love that word “aplomb”! You always make me smile, Mandeep! I wish you a wonderful day in your neck of the woods… if there are woods there!! 😀

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  3. We started out with a large aviary for our little guy, but it was furnished much like yours. I can’t get enough of reading about these squirrels. It makes me smile, of course, but it also makes me realize how much I miss ours, and what an amazing opportunity it was to have him as part of our life.

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    1. I have heard from many folks who have raised squirrels and enjoyed the experience. Gambini and Punkin have provided us with hours of delight. There is nothing better than ending the day watching the antics of these two. 🙂

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  4. It’s amazing to me how you care for these little orphans. There’s so much to consider and assess. I bet the vets love you. And that squirrel habitat FD made is fantastic. You guys are great partners in stewardship.

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    1. Thank you Sandy! I think in part we are able to concentrate on one species at a time – it helps us to really delve into doing our best. I could not help several different species at a time… it is a lot of work – I don’t know how Wildcare handles all the wildlife they do all at once! It is a true delight to raise these little ones and learn about their way of life. They end up teaching us so much! We are fortunate to have this experience!

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      1. And then you’ve got all that experience for next time, or for a similar critter. And you and FD are both so intuitive about what’s going on in the wild or what’s needed. Wildlife Superheroes!

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    1. Oh, thank you so much! Yes, FD is very handy with carpentry. He actually sat down one night, drew out the plans, and made a mental list of materials. The next thing I knew he was in the shop with the saws running and hammer banging! It’s actually built in two separate pieces in case we need two medium cages. He made a cleanout drawer for the bottom. The squirrel houses are a special design too. Since Punkin and Gambini are doing great together he was able to make it one tall structure for more climbing room. They seem very content in this larger space, and it makes for a great way to do a “soft release” where they can come and go as they please.

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    1. Ha ha! Cherity I KNEW you would like this post! You are such an animal lover! Maybe someday a little squirrel will need your help – you’d make a wonderful squirrel mama.

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  5. how brilliant.. you are so tenacious and have done wonderful things for your wild children. i love the squirrel house. Goodness what a lot of work .. You need Boo, he is very good at keeping wee animals clean.. and how exciting to be able to get close enough to a squirrel to get such lovely photos.. I hope we get some squirrels out here one day..morning darling,enjoy your winderness day.. one day i HAVE to come and liie in the leaves with you and have a good listen to your woods.. c

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    1. What a lovely thought, Celi. I would love to flop down in the liriope in the woods, where the deer often bed down, and walk the carpet of leaves on the animal trails with you. Or perhaps FD and I can come to visit you… helping to patch, repair and build for that ever-growing critter farmy you have! FD is a great jack of all trades! I will bring walnut, pecan and oak trees to attract squirrels to your place! I think that is why we have hundreds of them around here – we have lots of nut and acorn trees! I wish you so much happiness on this trip you’re about to embark on! I’m so anxious to hear all about it!! Be happy, dear friend.

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  6. I am deeply in love with this post. I am so in love with it, I am going to reblog it :). What gorgeous little souls both Punkin and Gambini are and how wonderful that they are both doing well. You have caring hands Lori and that is visible from how the squirrels are reacting to you and your care. I LOVE that squirrel house that FD built. He is a master craftsman indeed. This whole post is pure gorgeousness from the content right through to the stunning photo’s that accompany it. Off to share it with my dear constant readers. Have the best day with your little squirrel mates and big hugs to you for your kindness and your care 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Fran. I feel a bit overwhelmed by how much nature and the wee wild ones mean to people. It is indeed a special moment to hold and nurture these trusting babies, to watch them grow and act on instinct. FD and I make a great team at this – it is certainly something I see us continuing. The Universe seems to present us with many wonderful and educational opportunities! 🙂

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  7. Reblogged this on theroadtoserendipity and commented:
    2 reblogs in a week? Yup…this is a most gorgeous post of care and possibilities and Lori’s amazing photo’s capture the essence of these wonderful little baby squirrels. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I have 🙂

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  8. So glad both squirrels are doing well. I was afraid you were going to say that Gambini didn’t make it. Sounds like he may be around for quite awhile. FD did a wonderful job on the squirrel house. Sounds like a wonderful way to do what you call a soft release. Sounds like you may have a permanent squirrel around the place if Gambini doesn’t grow a little faster. 😀

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    1. Ha ha! You spoke my thoughts exactly… Gambini seems content to stay in the cage. I keep hoping Punkin will show him the way around the trees and eventually to the woodlands. Gambini is just a different kind of fella. I guess we wait and see what he decides to do!

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  9. Wonderful and charming post. Your photos are fabulous and so too is your sense of humor. This is just the sweetest thing since……all your deer posts. But these two may be cuter. Nah. Great stuff Lori and what a friend of the universe you are.
    An Italian Squirrel!

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    1. Hi Mike! Yes, I was thinking one of those European newsboy caps would be perfect on Gambini! Gosh, I love these two kids. So different and both hilarious. Following Daisy deer and her herd around is still my favorite thing to do though. It’s just hard to beat walking with the deer in the woodlands.

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  10. Oh what a wonderful post!!
    The photos are incredible (especially the one of Gambini peeking out from under the blanket), and you are amazing!

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    1. Thank you Sue. These two are special… came along when I needed to get rooted with nature a little more intensely! It’s always a treat to hold these little critters in your hands and observe their way of life.

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  11. What a lovely, interesting and entertaining read! I grew up with squirrels in Texas and remember befriending several in our backyard, one in particular we named Jumper. A nice memory. 🙂 I don’t think there are any squirrels here in Hawaii. Mahalo, and keep up the good work. That squirrel cage is magnificent!

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    1. Thanks Christi! I did not realize there are many parts of the world that do not have squirrels. They’re such a delight to watch. Yes, Punkin and Gambini have quite the palace… but still the call of the woodlands will draw them out to the next big adventure!

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  12. I love these pictures and your squirrel home is amazing! I raised orphaned baby squirrels and turned our back screened in porch into a home for them until they became accustomed to living and nesting outdoors. It’s always so bittersweet when they leave because they’re such cute little creatures. I don’t know if you’ve ever run across this, but I found the other male squirrels out in the wild would be so harsh and violent with the males I would turn loose. I guess just trying to protect their territory. It just always broke my heart to see them with their battle scars because I felt like their mother! I’ve also noticed the males seem to hang around a lot longer than the females. Your squirrels are adorable. They look so happy!

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    1. Hi Susanna! I agree that in the world of animals, the males endure the harshest conditions, fighting over territories and females. And we too have a larger male population than female. I read that squirrels are lucky to live one year in the wild. Like rabbits, they are at the bottom of the food chain. Yet, their populations are great – they are a prolific species! I try not to worry about them when they venture out, though as the mother of an orphan it is hard not to worry. I know instinct guides them… and I tell myself, that even if they only live an hour or a day from the time they ventured out on their own, they managed to live a longer and better life than what faced them had we not taken them in. Bravo to you for taking on this experience! Isn’t it grand to be a squirrel mom? We ROCK! 🙂

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  13. I absolutely LOVE more and more how you embrace life and have such a huge love and generous heart for nature’s creatures Lori. You are a fabulous storyteller, excellent photographer and a person who’s posts constantly warm my heart. Thanks for starting off my day “the farm girl way!) { } ~ Rick

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    1. Thank you so much Rick! I know you are very busy right now – I appreciate that you have taken time to read and comment here. Can you believe Punkin took off for the woods all day yesterday, came home briefly to eat a couple of pecans and some avocado, and then ventured back out just before dark? I guess she found a tree to camp out in. I haven’t slept much tonight. The worries of a wildlife mother 😦 Poor Gambini looked a little lost without his sister!

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  14. This is a very amusing post, Lori, especially where you describe Punkin’s feeding time. I enjoyed learning about the different characters of the two squirrels. Gambini has a charmed life being able to overcome his more difficult start with the right care. Although I have never been a wild life carer, I am well aware wild creatures die despite the best of care. Congratulations on getting the squirrels to this stage in their lives.

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    1. That is an important notation, Margaret. The last time I had two female squirrels they did not make it. Sometimes it is hard to say why they do not survive but I believe much of the time no matter what we do, a lot of it is the desire of the animal to live. Gambini is one of the most resilient orphans we’ve taken in.

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  15. I almost missed out on The Tail of Punkin & Gambini! I was deleting some older emails and there it was. So glad I found it. I consumed every detail and fell in love with both critters. I had a neighbor once who was so afraid of squirrels; I always thought they were playful and cute. I feel like I “know” 2 Wildlife Super Heroes!!!!

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    1. Thank you Lioness! It has been educational raising these two together. Their personalities are so different, and life is quite different for male and female. They are venturing out to the trees and down into the canyon now. However, they still come home for food!!

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