What’s normal for baby squirrels?

Baby squirrels normally remain safely tucked away in their nests—above the ground in trees or buildings—until they can climb well enough to explore further. When they are fully furred and more mobile, they begin to explore outside the nest during the day and return to the nest at night. Their mother should be close by during these early expeditions.

As young squirrels reach independence, they venture further from the nest on their own. If the baby can run and climb trees on its own, it is old enough to be out of the nest at least for short periods. Younger babies that are not this mobile should be in their nest at all times.

What to do if the baby squirrel can run and climb

To find out if the baby needs help, answer the following questions:

  • Is it able to run quickly, climb well, and escape capture?
  • Has the baby been seen only during the day?
  • Is it avoiding people? Does it try to get away when people approach it?
  • Does it seem active and healthy?

If you answered YES to all of these questions, the squirrel is likely independent and does not need help.

If the answer to any of the above questions is NO, the baby should not be out on its own. If there are no obvious signs of injury or illness you should try to reunite it with its mother.

What to do if the baby squirrel can’t run or climb

If the baby isn’t mobile enough to run and climb, it is too young to be out of the nest. The baby might be orphaned, but squirrels are excellent mothers—it’s important to be certain a baby is orphaned before taking it from its mother’s care. For example, in this situation it is also possible that the mother has temporarily dropped her baby on the ground while carrying it to a new nest, or the baby may have fallen from the nest and its mother has not yet found and retrieved it.

How to tell if a baby squirrel is orphaned

Signs that a baby squirrel is an orphan:

  • The baby been there for an entire day or more
  • The baby is showing signs of illness or injury
  • There are fleas, bugs or fly larvae (these look like little white grains of rice) on the baby
  • The baby is dehydrated. You can check this by doing the simple test described below.

Testing a baby squirrel for dehydration

Testing a baby squirrel for dehydration

Illustration credit: Jeni Luther

Using your thumb and index finger, gently but firmly pinch some skin on the squirrel’s back. Gently twist the skin into an “S” shape by turning the pinched area slightly, and then let the skin go.

As soon as you let go, count how many full seconds it takes for the baby’s skin to return to its normal position. If it takes more than one second, the baby is dehydrated.

If the answer to any of the above questions is YES, the baby squirrel is likely orphaned and needs help. Learn how to contain an orphaned baby squirrel.

If the answer to all of the above questions is NO, there is a good chance the baby is healthy and not orphaned. You should try to reunite the baby with its mother.