At best, squirrels are shifty characters. They lie with impunity and cheat at cards. When things don’t exactly go their way, they are prone to fits of uncontrollable swearing of a level I have yet to achieve on my best day. Mostly, I try to compromise with the ones I raise and release in the back yard. I will continue to feed them outrageously expensive “Fruit and Nut Mix” and they won’t steal my car of smoke weed behind the porch.
When baby squirrels come in, they usually aren’t fully furred. It can be a bit tricky telling grays from blacks or fox squirrels. These are good size squirrels and you treat them all pretty much the same. Red squirrels are usually easy to identify because they are smaller and the first fur they grow is a little brown stripe down the center of their nose.
It’s important to know who you are dealing with as early as possible. Reds have different dietary requirements from the others. Your average black or gray does well on kitten or puppy milk with a little cream tossed in for fat. Their first foods after their eyes open are “Teddy Grahams”, bananas, apples. and shelled nuts. They are pretty happy with whatever is tossed their way (especially the “Teddy Grahams” Even after release, I can usually coheres them into submission by holding the “Teddy Grahams” hostage.
Red squirrels however, need extra protein . Noooo, they can’t be happy with bugs and grubs like flying squirrels. They want MEAT! If a red squirrel can’t get to Kentucky Fried, he’s gonna go KILL something. Usually, that means hatchling birds, or if no one has made an appearance yet, they will eat the eggs. I once made the mistake of putting a baby red squirrel in the basket with a newly hatched blue bird and when I went to feed them 20 minutes later…the bird was gone. Num. Num.
While your average black or gray squirrel is generally a pretty laid back though seedy character, a red squirrel is Napoleon on acid. Other squirrels build their nests outside. They like hollow trees, maybe an occasional abandoned shed wall. Not red squirrels.
That noise in the attic? That’s a red squirrel chewing your insulation and electrical wires to make his bed. Bar-b-q grill smoking like crazy when you light it up? That’s just 10 pounds of leaves, half a garden hose and that cashmere sock you though you lost. If your car won’t start, check the air filter. It may just be stuffed with acorns and sunflower seeds. Oh, and that funny smell in your $89,000 motor home? That’s the red squirrel who made his home in the ceiling and died of old age….last winter.
Red squirrels are the bad boys of the bushy tailed set. When you see a black or gray squirrel being chased across the yard by a screaming streak of red fur, they aren’t playing. That little terror wants to CASTRATE that poor sucker and he is running for all he’s worth. (No, I don’t know what the red does with the testicles. I don’t even want to know.)
So you can understand why I want to know what I am dealing with here. I like to keep them separate, mostly so the males stay intact and I can release the red squirrel far, far away from my attic. Like I said. It’s usually pretty easy.
Until this week.
A woman called and said she had a baby squirrel that her dog brought in. It seemed fine so she wondered if I would take it.
“What color is it?” I asked.
“Gray. Really pretty gray.”
“Ok, bring it out”
She arrived, box in hand (every animal comes to me with a box and a towel. Do you know how may odd towels I have?) I dug through the towels to find a tiny little squirrel with its eyes still fused shut. It was indeed, a lovely shade of silver gray with a white tummy and a tail that promises to be absolutely luxurious. I breathed a sigh of relief and opened the cage to tuck her in with the other babies.
That’s when I noticed the nose. There was a dark brown stripe right down the center. Hmmm. She was a bit small for a gray, but the color was all wrong for a red. I just kind of shrugged and added her to the pile. I have encountered genetic dwarf animals before, so who knows?
She has been doing well. Her white tummy has grown round and fat and she eats well. I did notice that she has unusually long fingers for a gray. A gray squirrel uses its paws to hold nuts and adorably wash its face. A red squirrel on the other hand, uses those long fingers to pick locks ad flip you off when you run out of the really good sunflower seeds. Hmmmmm….
It was all going well. Or so I thought.
I take the squirrels upstairs with me at night, so they are closer for their night feedings. After the last feeding before bed, I put them in a smaller, more portable cage to carry them up. The black squirrels finished their milk and immediately on a “milk drunk”, snuggled under the blankets (actually a washrag) in the bottom of the portable cage. Then I went to feed the tiny one. She wasn’t happy with just one dropper of milk and as I was filling it for the second round, I noticed that her eyes were trying to open.
Halfway through the second dropper of milk, her right eye popped open. Normally it would be hazy blue and unable to focus for the first few days. I actually love it when the babies can finally focus and look at me with astonishment that I am NOT a mother squirrel. Not this chick. She narrowed that one eye and gave me the once over. It was like she was estimating my weight, speed and strength. Then it happened.
I swear to God. It glowed red. A chill ran down my spine and crept back up my neck. She winked at me. No kidding. She freeking winked at me! Then the red left that beady little eye and I tucked her back into bed with the others. They’re females. They should be safe…unless she is hungry.
This is scary people. My world and sense of peace with it is on a precipice. If I can’t tell a red squirrel from a gray or black, what sense could there be in the universe? I could be creating monsters here. They could be evolving and disguising themselves in a plot to take over the world. I mean really, if Trump was elected president of the United States, well then, just ANYTHING is possible.
I hope you all sleep well tonight. I know I won’t. I have to get up at four to feed that little devil in a fur suit. Wish me luck.