Monday, October 25, 2010

A Squirrel Named Scooter

Summer went by so quickly, and kept me so busy. This poor blog has sat here neglected and unloved, so it's time to post a little something.

May marked the appearance of more baby round-tails than I ever expected. Four litters in close proximity to one another. There were two litters of four, and two of nine. A litter of nine is rare, but not uncommon following the heavy rains we had during the winter. More vegetation/food supply results in more babies. Sadly, large litters have much higher mortality rates. The babies are smaller, and it's much harder for mom to keep track of so many little ones scurrying about. One mom, in particular, lost three in the first few days. The first was seen with a broken back, probably attacked a rival adult female guarding her territory (and her own young). The little one crawled into the family burrow and never came back out. A second baby simply disappeared, probably taken by a predator.

A few days later, I saw a third baby with a broken back, but this one was determined to survive. He dragged himself by his two front legs, and struggled to get in and out of his burrow. It was heartbreaking to watch. So, rather than leaving him to die a miserable death, I made the decision to bring him inside. He wasn't likely to survive either way, but I couldn't bear to see him pecked to death by birds, rats, ants . . . all the things that prey on an injured baby rodent.

I named my new friend Scooter, and he stayed with me for two months. At first I fed him formula, then weaned him on a mix of native vegetation and squirrel food sent to me by a friendly rehabber. He loved to snuggle in the fur pelts and torn T-shirts that that I gave him, and play in the dirt "digging box" that I made. He seemed unaware of his disability, climbing and playing like any other squirrel.

Scooter grew to his full adult size before he passed away. One morning he was weak and lethargic, and I knew he was ready to go. He died that night, slipping away peacefully in his sleep, on his fur bed, on my lap. A little piece of my heart went with him that night. Squirrels have a way of wrapping themselves around your heart and never letting go. I'll always treasure the time we had together.

My vet believes that Scooter died from a blood clot, probably caused by his initial injury, that dislodged and went to his lungs. It was inevitable. He didn’t suffer, but I cried for weeks, and cry still, whenever I think of him.

Rest in peace little Scooter. I hope you are running and playing with your two brothers on the other side of the bridge.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Spring has sprung, and the round-tailed ground squirrels have emerged from hibernation, and are preparing for their spring litters. Thanks to a large litter born on my property last year, there is now a good sized population, and it's been quite interesting to watch their antics.

In the first few weeks, the males were aggressively engaged in turf wars, pursuing the females and chasing off their competition. The battle-scarred males (below) have now dispersed, and are seen only on occasion foraging for food. If they come too close to the females, they will be be run off immediately.

For the females, the work has just begun. As far as I can tell, there are four of them who are preparing for young. They are definitely siblings, probably the babies who were born here last year. They are living in a sort of colony, each with her own burrow, but spaced less than ten feet apart from one another. This is a strong indicator that they are related. One has re-excavated the natal burrow from last year (which I had filled in, along with many of the other holes, during the winter). Once the burrows were dug, the nest building began. Leaves and feathers are a favorite item, though they'll drop those items quickly if a nice soft Kleenex is offered to them.

Fast forward two weeks, and the nest building is complete. The little ladies are now quite visibly pregnant, and are spending their days basking, foraging, and waiting for mother nature to call (which by the looks of things, should be any minute now).

The litter size of a round-tailed ground squirrel depends on the amount of winter rainfall and resulting food supply. With this winter being unseasonably wet, I'm expecting to see some large litters. So in a few months, when the little fellas emerge from the dens, there will be . . . a LOT of them. My property will look like Swiss cheese through most of the summer, but no complaints. When I bought this house, the previous owner had removed most of the native vegetation, and there was little wildlife here. Thanks to some conservation efforts, the animals are returning. It's a joy to see nature thriving once again.