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By Jen Mannas, Naturalist

It’s baby squirrel season again at the Wildlife Center, and as things are winding down in the baby bird nursery they're picking up in the small mammal nursery.

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The center is packed full of baby Eastern Gray Squirrels, a few Douglas Squirrels, and the staff and volunteers who have become their surrogate parents.

This is the second round of baby squirrels this year; the first round was back in April. This is because Gray Squirrels breed twice a year if food availability is high.

Squirrels eat mushrooms, flowers, plant shoots and even caterpillars but their preferred food source is mast. Mast is nuts from forest trees such as oaks, beeches and hickories, that are high in fat calories. This is what you typically see a squirrel busily burying in the ground.

The reason squirrels bury their food is because they do not hibernate like other mammals. Instead, they leave food caches around that they will visit again during the winter months.

Now, you may be wondering, “How in the world do squirrels remember where they hide their food?”. Well, squirrels have a very accurate spatial memory and they use land markers and scent to help them find their buried caches. This also helps with seed dispersal and germination, since the caches the squirrels do not eat will start to grow into trees.

Squirrels try to be very secretive when burying their caches so other animals won’t dig them up. If a squirrel feels like it is being watched it will pretend to bury its food. The squirrel will go through the motions of digging a hole, placing the object, and burying it but instead it will actually hide the food in its mouth to save and bury somewhere else.

Squirrel nests are usually made of leaves and are high up in the trees. When baby squirrels are born their eyes are closed and they are hairless. They typically stay in the nest for six weeks but sometimes they fall or are pushed out; that is the main reason they're brought to us here at PAWS Wildlife Center.

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The squirrels we currently have are at different stages of development and require food at different increments of time throughout the day. Our staff and volunteers work diligently to help these babies grow into healthy adults so they can be released and become functioning members of their population once again.

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