Volunteer season is in full swing at Wildwoods and I have posted anything much about it because life has been so busy. But let me give you a quick summary.
It’s been about a month and until this week it’s been nothing but sick, injured and orphaned squirrel babies. In just a couple weeks we had more squirrels than we had all year last year. It took over 2 hours for just one round of feeding. Since the little babies need to be fed every 2 hours that means when one round was over, you just had to go back to the beginning and start again. Squirrels, squirrels, squirrels. But they are so cute it’s ok.
When they get real hungry they suck on your fingers. When they get tired they fall asleep in your hands or try to curl up under your chin (this is why 8pm feedings are so great; they’re already half asleep so when you “pee” them, they just fall asleep in your hands and let it happen).
One reason it takes so long to feed them is you have to pee them. Many baby animals can’t pee on their own and their moms have to lick the area to stimulate it. At the same time she cleans it up. Gross, I know, but it keeps the nest clean so predators can’t easily find it. So when we get the little ones in we have to simulate this or their little bladders will explode. We have to use a little piece of wet paper towel or q-tip and just flick it up and down until the squirrel does its business. Sometimes this can take several minutes and when you have 40 squirrels and only one or two people, this can take forEVER.
Another reason is that sometimes babies just don’t really know what they’re doing. Or rather they don’t know what WE’RE doing and they sometimes fight the feeding a little. This was the case with one particular nest that was brought to us. They were old enough to know mom’s routine and so they were just waiting for that to happen; they didn’t quite understand that she wasn’t coming back, so it took a long time to convince them to take the formula instead of waiting for mother’s milk.
Yet another reason it can take a long time to feed a squirrel is what is called a feeding trance. This is where the squirrel’s mouth gapes open super wide, then closes again. They do this repeatedly (and it makes them look like goldfish) while stretching their arms out, and their body goes tense; it’s all very alarming, but is, apparently, normal. I didn’t experience this once last year, but this year it seemed every freaking squirrel went into this trance. They don’t really swallow when this happens, or at least to me it didn’t seem like they were, so when they start you have to stop and let them get back to normal. One squirrel in particular would take one sip of formula and then start “goldfishing” (as I like to call it) for a couple minutes. That guy took 10 minutes to feed at least.
But now the squirrels are all old enough; they don’t need to be peed and they rarely “goldfish” anymore. It takes less than an hour to get through them all and some have even been released. Which means there’s more time for other animals!
I was lucky enough to arrive last night just in time for the fawn feeding. We have two at the moment. They were both brought in on Memorial Day; one was found next to it’s mother and sibling who had both died during childbirth. The other had been hit by a car and was found on the side of the road with an enormous bump on her head, and a jaw that is slightly askew. She wasn’t looking so good when she first arrived but is now strong enough to stand on her own.
Yesterday she was the first one we fed. She was able to stand through the peeing (yep, they have to be peed just like the squirrels), but partway through feeding she needed to sit down. That’s when my fun began. She laid down in my lap and I got to hold and comfort her while the other girl fed her. Better than Prozac! The other fawn is much stronger and eats like a champ. She’s not so interested in being cuddled, but she did give us lots of kisses on the nose.
If you come across a fawn sitting alone, unless it is obviously sick or injured, or is sitting next to a dead doe, please do not move it! Mama deer leave their babies for several hours at a time looking for food (she’s gotta stay healthy too, otherwise she can’t provide milk for the babies), but will return if she can. If you are unsure if the fawn is sick, injured, or if the mama is still alive, please call a licensed wildlife rehabber before you do anything else. Wildwoods has put together this handy guide to help you figure out what to do when you find an injured and/or baby animal.
Please note: Posts about my experiences as a wildlife rehabilitation volunteer are not meant to be any sort of replacement for a licensed wildlife rehabber. If you come across an injured, sick or orphaned animal, please call a local wildlife rehabilitator before you move, touch, or try to feed it. So many animals come to us more damaged by well-intentioned people than by the circumstances they were originally found in. If my posts leave you with with a strong desire to experience these things for yourself, find a wildlife rehabilitation organization near you to volunteer with.