Gray squirrels nest twice a year, in late winter and summer. They commonly have litters of three or four pups. Babies' eyes open at four weeks of age and the young are often starting to explore outside the nest at six weeks of age. They are typically weaned and ready to be on their own at 10 weeks of age.
A baby squirrel has the best chance of survival when it is cared for by its mother. Sometimes healthy young squirrels are found on the ground by themselves are not orphans -- they simply need help reuniting with their mothers. Often, mother squirrels will "rescue" their fallen or displaced healthy babies by carrying them by the scruff back to the nest.
If you find a baby squirrel:
Do any of the following apply to the squirrel?
- It is bleeding, has an open wound, or has a broken bone.
- It's been in a cat's or dog's mouth.
- It's covered in fly eggs [these look like small grains of rice].
- It's cold, wet, or crying nonstop.
- If YES, the squirrel is likely injured or orphaned. Take it to the nearest wildlife veterinarian or rehabilitator.
- If NO, the next step is to identify its age to determine if intervention is needed.
Does the squirrel ...
- Have a fluffed-out tail [like a bottle brush]?
- Have a body longer than 6" [not including the tail]?
- Approach humans or pets?
- If YES, this is likely a juvenile squirrel. You do not need to intervene. Even at the young age of 10 to 12 weeks, the squirrel is independent. If the squirrel is approaching humans or pets, try to scare it by making loud noises when it comes near.
- If NO, this is an infant squirrel. You will need to guide the healthy baby back to its mother:
- Place uncooked rice or bird seed in a sock and warm in the microwave for 20-30 seconds. Wrap the sock in a soft towel and place it with the baby in an open container [e.g., a box]. Remember, do not give the baby food or water!
- Return the squirrel to its nesting tree -- this should be a tree in the immediate area where the squirrel was found. If you don't know which tree the squirrel's nest is in, or if the nest was destroyed, then choose a tree closest to where the squirrel was found. Squirrel nests can either be in tree cavities, or in "dreys" -- the big balls of dried leaves at the tops of trees.
- If the baby's eyes are open, place the baby on the tree trunk to encourage it to climb. If it does not climb, place the squirrel in the container and attach the open container to the tree. If the baby's eyes are closed, attach the open container to the tree. Keep children, dogs, and cats out of the area. Click here for more ideas on re-nesting containers.
Observe the baby squirrel for the next six to eight hours of daylight. Reheat the rice/birdseed bag every two hours. Has the mother returned to retrieve her baby?
- If YES ... congratulations! You helped reunite a baby with its mother. This is best for the squirrel!
- If NO, take the squirrel to the nearest permitted small mammal rehabilitator.
NOTE: Each animal's nutritional, housing, and handling requirements are very specific and must be met if the animal has any chance of survival. Cow's milk and human milk replacers will make wild animals sick. Raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal in Virginia unless you have a state permit. For information on how you can become a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, contact the Wildlife Center of Virginia, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, or your state's wildlife agency.
Check out this video version of our guide to re-nesting baby gray squirrels: