When a member of the public arrived at the PAWS Wildlife Center on July 9 with a box containing orphaned squirrels from Seattle, we assumed we were receiving a litter of Eastern Gray, Douglas or Northern Flying Squirrels. Ordinarily, this would be a safe assumption. All three of these species are found in the Greater Seattle Area. But when we opened the box, we found four babies that had no business being on the west side of the Cascade Mountains. They were Red Squirrels, a close cousin of the Douglas Squirrel that is only found in the northeast and southeast areas of the state.
The person who brought the squirrels to paws had found them in the heart of downtown Seattle, floundering on the pavement in a hotel parking lot. Their mother had likely made her nest under the hood of a car, and then the car had driven off with the nest and babies inside. How or why they finally became dislodged in the hotel parking lot is unclear, but there they were, and they needed help. We were able to give them the help they needed.
After seven weeks in our care, the Red Squirrels were ready to be released. On September 1, I drove them over 160 miles to prime Red Squirrel habitat in the Okanogan National Forest outside of Mazama, WA. I documented their transition back to the wild in photographs.
The four young squirrels were a little nervous after their three-and-a-half hour car ride. They huddled together in the back of their release carrier.
When the door was opened, they took turns standing in the doorway sniffing, looking, and listening as they processed their new surroundings.
As is often the case with young animals, they were reluctant to venture far from the carrier at first. This squirrel decided to climb on top for a different view of things.
Likely feeling exposed and vulnerable, the squirrel became nervous on top of the carrier.
After a few seconds, he scrambled down the door and went back inside.
Eventually, one brave youngster noticed the nearby trees. She jumped up on the trunk, paused for a moment, and then began to climb.
As she climbed higher, she began to find interesting moss and lichen on the trunk. She paused to sniff each new thing she encountered.
Encouraged by their sister, the other three squirrels exited the carrier. One of them paused on top of a stump before jumping to a nearby tree and scampering up.
Soon all four squirrels were climbing, running and jumping in the treetops. They stayed close together and chattered constantly to one another.
By the time I left they looked completely at home. Their long, unplanned vacation on the west side of the mountains had finally come to an end.
- Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist