Unbeknownst to city dwellers, it happens all the time: Squirrels, those seemingly infallible high-wire walkers, fall out of trees.
Thanks to one particularly adorable baby squirrel that took a nasty tumble last week, the fate of the falling squirrels has garnered some social media attention.
City Wildlife, a rehabilitation center for animals in the District, took in a young squirrel with a broken ankle, and posted a picture on Facebook of the tiny creature, its eyes massive in its small head and its slim leg encased in a long, red cast.
All of a sudden, the female squirrel’s photograph was being shared online, well over 1,000 times. It made the local news. And Alicia Demay, the director of the rehabilitation center, was explaining that the plight of the scurrying youngster that takes a splat is actually quite common.
“It’s had a life of its own,” Demay said about the photograph.
The young rodent mini-celebrity was found and reported to City Wildlife by a citizen who saw it fall from a tree about 75-feet high, alongside its brother. Both squirrels are about seven weeks old, Demay said — just the age at which squirrel moms start urging their babies to climb out of the nest, and squirrel babies start falling.
City Wildlife currently houses 21 recovering squirrels, Demay said, and while a few have been hit by cars, most have been injured after falling from trees.
“We get a lot of squirrels with bloody noses, which is a good indication that it has fallen,” Demay said. “They start playing outside the nest at that point. The mom starts showing them what they can eat. Sometimes they might slip.”
The brother was suffering from one of those bloody noses. Demay said it is recovering well and will be released with its sister when they are both healthy enough to return to the wild together, in eight to 12 weeks. Two or three other squirrels will come with them; City Wildlife tries to release the animals in groups so that they have communities right from the get-go when they return to nature.
The staff at City Wildlife do not give the animals names, and they do not speak around them so that the animals don’t learn to associate human voices with food.
In four weeks, the squirrel’s cast will come off. It will move from the small enclosure where it is on “cage rest,” as Demay puts it, to a larger cage with trees and shrubs. The veterinarians at City Wildlife will observe it as it grasps the trees to make sure it is ready to evade predators.
“Their instincts are extremely strong,” Demay said. “They’re wild animals.” That means the squirrel has created a nest for itself in its cage, and it tends to hide its food. It also means that it growls sometimes when Demay tries to move her. “That’s exactly what we want her to do. We don’t want her to like us in any way.”
Demay described the squirrel as “kind of young and dumb” — and certainly unaware of its own slight stardom. In the photograph, the cast made of gauze and veterinarian’s tape seems huge for the tiny rodent, but Demay said that it is only the length of the squirrel’s leg. Squirrels’ back legs are almost always bent at the knee, so they ordinarily seem much shorter.
Despite the encumbrance, it is crawling around. “It’s amazing how well they can get around with the bandage,” Demay said. And in its cage, the young squirrel is safe to explore.