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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
© 2014 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…