by Rebecca Michelin, Director, Schuylkill Center Wildlife Clinic
Animals are often more attuned to the changes in the weather than we are, and they have prepared for the arrival of spring long before we have pulled out the garden tools. In an ideal world, we humans would spend February inspecting our homes and property to make sure they are secure and prevent any wildlife from moving in: filling holes, installing hardware cloth barriers and removing tree limbs that allow easy access to our roofs and eaves. By late March, many mammals have selected den sites and are preparing to give birth, and some squirrels and foxes may already have early litters. If you want to try to prevent wildlife from making their home on your property, it’s not too late to take action! And if you already have an established nest or den, we have some advice on what to do if the nest is disturbed.
A squirrel has made a nest in my roof. How do I make her leave?
We always encourage tolerance of the new family whenever possible. Is it truly necessary for the squirrels to be evicted right now? If you have observed a squirrel coming and going from a potential nest site at this time of year, chances are good she already has babies or is about to very soon. The baby squirrels will be independent and leave the nest by only 12 weeks of age, so the ideal solution would be to wait until the young have grown and left on their own. Never block entrance to a den unless you are 100% percent certain there are no babies inside!
If absolutely unavoidable, the mother squirrel can move her young, but it is an arduous and stressful process. She may have up to six babies (though two to four is more common) and will need to carry them in her mouth, one by one, to the new den site.
Wildlife moms prefer warm, quiet and dark spaces as nest locations, so to encourage her to find a new home we must make her current nest bright and loud. Place a bright lantern and a radio tuned to a talk station near the entrance to the den during the hours the animal is normally active (all day for diurnal species like squirrels, all night for nocturnal animals like skunks) for at least two or three days. After this point, place a piece of paper or other moveable object over the entrance to the den, and monitor for another two days. If the cover remains intact, the squirrel has moved on. Even so, always check for any remaining babies before permanently sealing the access!
Oops! I cut down a tree that had a squirrel nest inside….
This is true for any found nests – in attics or roofs, in trees or in your garage – if a nest has already been disturbed and there are babies inside, you don’t need to rush them to a rehabber right away. If the babies are not injured, we should first attempt to reunite them with their mom. Do not attempt to feed the babies! In addition to feeding being potentially deadly when done incorrectly, if they are hungry, their cries will alert their mother and help her find them.
Reuniting mammal babies: line a cardboard box with a t-shirt or other soft material (avoid terry cloth towels or anything with loose strings) and include a small amount of original nest material if you can. Supply a heat source like a hot water bottle in one half of the box so that the babies can crawl to it to get warm or move away if they need to cool down. Loosely cover the box with a lid or by partially closing the top flaps, and place the box as close to the original nest site as possible, such as at the base of the tree.
The next step is the hardest – be patient! Keep children and pets away from the area and allow the mother plenty of time to return for her babies; remember, she will have to make multiple trips to move them all and may have to go a long way. Wait until about 30 minutes after sunset before checking to see if the mom has returned for her babies. In a great many cases, she will have come back and moved them without you even noticing!
In any reunite situation, it’s always a good idea to check in with a wildlife rehabilitator to make sure that these steps are appropriate for the circumstances, and to make arrangements in case the mom does not return. The hotline for the Schuylkill Center Wildlife Clinic is available to answer your questions 24 hours a day at 215-853-6271.