Over the weekend we spotted a baby squirrel perched alone amidst a construction area near our house. Three hours later it was in a pet carrier in our bathroom while we scoured the internet for information to help the poor guy (or gal). Spring sees an influx of infant and juvenile urban wildlife, and it's helpful to have a few basic guidelines handy if you happen to find a young animal alone or in distress.
• Determine if a baby animal is truly abandoned. While birds may reject a chick that has fallen from the nest, squirrels will wait until the coast is clear and reclaim their young, even if the infant has been touched by a human. If it seems like it's in danger out in the open, you can put the baby in a cardboard box and set it at the base of a nearby tree, and wait for the mother to come for it.
• Always use gardening or thick rubber gloves before handling wildlife. Squirrels bite and may carry pests and disease that you don't want to catch or share with your pets.
• Contact your local wildlife rescue agency. In almost every state in the United States, it is illegal to keep wildlife in your home for any reason other than to transport it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Try this site for a national directory of rehabilitators and agencies.
• Don't feed it. We read this only after our juvenile squirrel had downed a handful of peanuts, two cherry tomatoes and a slice of apple. Our particular squirrel looked none the worse for wear, possibly because it seemed to be a bit older, but improper feeding can really tear up the gut of a nursing wild animal.
• Avoid leaving a baby squirrel outside overnight. Baby squirrels in a nest with their mother are kept very warm, but an abandoned baby squirrel will not be able to make or find a warm enough nest with hospitable companions with whom to share body heat. Our local wildlife rescue agency wasn't open, so we bundled the squirrel into a pet carrier with an old t-shirt and nearby pine needles, and locked it away in our bathroom for the night. A warm, dark and quiet place is best.
Near Seattle we have a great wildlife organization, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). While we felt completely confident leaving the baby squirrel there the next day, it was a bit of a heartbreak to say goodbye to our little guest.