New Yorkers: Do you want to take in baby squirrels and birds?

About 70 New Yorkers turned out last night to check out whether they really might want to take in orphaned baby squirrels or injured pigeons. If only 10 got their licenses at the test next month, it could potentially double the number of people New Yorkers can call when they find an injured animal.

Like most cities, New York animals rely on an ad hoc network of licensed an informal wildlife rehabilitators that nurse local mammals and birds until they are ready to be released to the wild. Unlike most big cities, New York doesn’t have a real wildlife care center–somewhere citizens can bring the wandering baby squirrels, bedraggled blue jays or other wildlife they find in need of help.

Mickey Messy with peanutbutter

I’ve been taking in baby squirrels for years, but I was pleasantly shocked by the number of people who showed up. I only know of about a dozen wildlife rehabbers in the city–not nearly enough. “31 signed up to help with orphaned or adult squirrels. A few offered transport and release spaces. Plus some people have emailed the Yahoo group asking for more workshops because they couldn’t make it,” one organizer said.

So, the Wild Bird Fund, a non-profit, and a private vet, the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine, serves as the city’s de facto wildlife center. The same people run them and helped organize Tuesday’s seminar held at the ASPCA’s offices. The hope was to recruit more volunteer rehabbers by showing them that it really isn’t that hard to save a bird or squirrel’s life, even in a tiny New York apartment.

Tuesday’s talk was on squirrels; in two weeks there’ll be one on birds. Barbara Bellens-Picon, who runs the Squirrel Sanctuary, on Long Island, gave the bulk of the talk, giving helpful hints on when to rescue a baby squirrel. A baby squirrel that tries to climb on you is in distress, she says, but a squirrel that can’t be caught probably doesn’t need to be.

Maura Manrano, who runs The Squirrel Board–a forum for squirrel lovers–showed the prospective rehabbers what few supplies they would need. The basics for babies are a cat carrier, heating pad, cage, formula (puppy milk will do), and syringe with a nipple tip. An online Connecticut store, Chris’s Squirrels and More, carries even more supplies.

Each state has its own requirements to get a wildlife rehabilitation license. New Yorkers have to fill out an online license application (due by April 1 this year), get a couple recommendations, pass the annual test (which is pretty easy and this year will be held in Queens on April 22) and pass an interview. The gist of the interview is just to be sure you’re not off the wall and don’t secretly want to keep squirrels or starlings as pets. Even though there isn’t a mentoring requirement, it’s much easier if you have somebody to show you what to do and calm you down.

The next talk is Tuesday, March 15, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the ASPCA‘s midtown office (seventh floor, 520 Eighth Ave. between 36th and 37th). RSVP to or just sign up for the Bird Rehabber Seminar on MeetUp

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