Today I got to help fireman Ralph Longo release two squirrels he rescued from a fire as babies into his new backyard. The brother and sister, Alvin and Grover, are sassy teenagers now and were suitably impressed with their new oak tree and home.
Since they still had their eyes closed when Ralph pulled them (along with their sweet sister, Benji, who didn’t survive) from a car where their mother built a nest, they’d never really seen a big tree. Or bushes. Or open sky. For weeks they’ve been living in a house that I modify so its porch, on a hinge, can close up the house for transport to a tree. Then, when they get to their new home, they feel right at home. In the ideal world, they’d be in a release cage for a while, but the ones I’ve released this way have done well.
Alvin was the first out. He climbed up the enormous oak tree, then moved on to some cedars in a neighbor’s yard. He seemed so excited at his new-found agility, he kept climbing up and down by the trunk, using the branches like they were rungs on a ladder. He fell once, but just got right back up. Grover was next out. She hung out in a nearby bush for about an hour, carefully testing whether branches would hold her. Then she joined her brother hopping around the cedars and even started climbing a huge black walnut tree. They love both acorns and black walnuts (which my niece Caiti brought them from Ohio), so I couldn’t ask for a better spot for them. Well, except for that red-tailed hawk I saw, but every location has some danger.
The most reluctant squirrel was Baby Ruth. She’s not one of the original siblings, but Ralph inherited her when I took her. She was found out of her nest too young on a Stuyvesant Town sidewalk. Since she’d already seen the world, Baby Ruth was aware that I wasn’t her mother and didn’t trust me. She’s a vocal girl and will growl and complain if her siblings try to take her food. After about an hour, she stuck her head, then front half out. An hour later she finally emerged.
And then, they were all out. If they’re like other squirrels I’ve released, they’ll stick around their house for months, maybe years. Ralph and his family will give them food and water for a while, till they seem not to need it. Ralph says the squirrels don’t seem to like him, but they do light up for his girlfriend Nicole, who took care of them a while.
Alvin and Grover both were having a blast, but would still watch me. I think they’re wary I wanted to catch them again.
Physically the hardest part of the operation was getting them into the house. I pulled out a vacuum cleaner–scary noise!–but not for Grover. She kept me chasing her around the cage for 15 minutes, long enough to get a ticket for double-parking.
But the real hardest part is just walking away, wondering if they’ll figure it all out.
Where to Go to See Interesting Squirrels