Give the mother squirrel time to find her baby
It is very important to give mother squirrels every opportunity to find and continue to care for their baby. If the squirrel seems healthy it should be left out for at least one full day, during daylight hours, for the mother to claim. It is possible that she is still around but has become temporarily separated from her baby. IMPORTANT: Do not leave baby squirrels outside overnight—the mother will not be out looking for her baby after dark, and the baby will be vulnerable to predators.
Steps to reuniting a baby squirrel with its mother
Step 1: Contain the baby in a box with a clean towel on the bottom
The box should be just deep enough that the baby cannot crawl out (here are some tips on how to contain the baby). You could also place a laundry basket upside-down over the baby with a rock on top of the basket to keep the baby from leaving the area. Make sure the rock isn’t too heavy for the mother squirrel to push aside to retrieve her baby!
Step 2: Give the baby a heat source
Even on warm days, babies can quickly become hypothermic. Babies can die from hypothermia, but also mother squirrels typically will not retrieve cold babies. The best thing to use is a heating pad set on LOW under half of the box, because it provides a nice consistent source of heat. If you don’t have a heating pad, you can use chemical hand warmers (commercially called “Hot Paws” or similar) or microwaveable heat bags instead. Tuck these under the towel in the box with the squirrel. As a last resort you can fill a plastic bottle with hot tap water and place it in the box. The hot water will need to be replaced frequently as it cools.
Step 3: Leave the container in the area where the baby was found
If you have seen the mother, place the box along the route where you think she would encounter it. Otherwise put the box as close as possible to where the baby was found, as the mother will be most likely to look for it nearby. If there is no shade over the box, place a flat piece of cardboard over half of the box to give the baby shelter. This technique can also be used if it is raining lightly.
What to do if it’s raining
In heavier rain try placing a plastic bin on its side, and tucking the box inside for shelter. In the case of stormy weather, keep the baby in the box and bring it inside until the weather clears—mom won’t be looking for it in the middle of a downpour. As soon as the weather clears, put the baby back out where it was found.
What to do if the baby squirrel is in a busy area
If the baby was found in a high-traffic area, put a sign on the box letting people know that the baby is being left out for its mother and requesting that it be left alone. Indicate when you will be returning to collect the baby if it is not found by its mother. Click here for a ready-made sign that you can print out!
What to do if it’s late in the day
If the baby was found late in the day, leave it out for the rest of the day and then move it inside overnight in the container with the heat source. Put it out again the following morning to give the mother a full day to return for her baby.
Step 4: Check to see if the mother has retrieved the baby
Stay far away from the box so that you do not to scare the mother. Either monitor from a distance or return to check the box periodically. Hopefully the mother squirrel will return and take her baby back to the nest. If the baby has been out for a full day and the mother has not retrieved it, contact a wildlife rehabiltator. Keep the baby in a securely closed container with airholes and continue to offer a heat source, but no food or water.
Why you shouldn’t feed an orphaned baby wild animal
While waiting to speak to a rehabilitator, keep the baby warm but do not give it anything to eat or drink. People often think that feeding an orphaned baby will make it feel better, but doing so can actually endanger its life.
What can go wrong if you feed a baby wild animal
- If the baby is dehydrated, emaciated, or suffering from trauma, it won’t be physically able to digest food. If it tries to do so, it could bloat or go into shock.
- Baby animals can easily inhale food or liquid into their lungs by accident, a situation that can quickly lead to pneumonia and possible death. This is particularly common with baby birds (you should never drop liquid in a gaping baby bird’s mouth), and baby mammals who are at a suckling stage. Even a small amount of liquid in the lungs can lead to infection.
- Foods that are not a normal part of the animal’s diet (like bread or cow’s milk) can cause serious digestive problems.
Speak to an expert before offering any food or water
Many wildlife rehabilitators are too busy to answer their phones directly, but they respond to messages in priority sequence. If you leave a message, most rehabilitators will call you back within a few hours (or by the next morning if you call in the evening). At that time they can help you assess whether the baby is in need of food or water and instruct you on next steps.