Friday, April 24, 2009

An Awful Afternoon

Friday started off like any other squirrel day.  I worked during the day, but I was planning on blogging about Preggers and her family playing in our Oak tree.  She also beat up Norman the Doorman, aka Fatty, despite the injury to her right front paw.

She had come by the porch midweek, and she was particularly calm.  She walked right up to me, took a peanut and, instead of turning her back to me, she planted herself next to me and looked at me while she ate.  Then there was a high pitched scream.  It was the familiar scream of a baby squirrel.  She became tense and started eating at a furious pace.  

I grabbed my camera and waited for her to react.  She eventually calmed down again, but she left after a few more nuts.  I tried to follow her and found her climbing up our Oak tree with a baby squirrel following close behind.

If sexing squirrels is anything like sexing rats and mice, this baby may be a girl.

Eventually, they made their way over to a branch over the driveway and reunited with another baby, while the baby that was following Preggers tried to snaggle leftover food from Preggers' mouth, at least so it seemed to me.

Preggers is sprawled on the branch.

Anyway, I was pretty excited to have seen Preggers and her family cavorting in our tree.  I planned on looking for the family over the next few days, but it was cold and windy.

Friday afternoon, she came by the window begging for peanuts.

She wasn't as calm.  She wouldn't eat in front of me, which isn't that unusual, but it usually means she's agitated.  It was probably due to the bad weather.

I gave her some nuts and grabbed my camera, coat and shoes.  She ate for a while longer, so I settled in and watched a little TV.  All of a sudden, there was a huge "thud, thud, thud" right over my head.  It was so loud I thought my husband had accidentally dropped something heavy out the window.

I looked for Preggers and saw her standing on the fence looking down into the driveway.  When I came out on the porch, I spooked her, so she headed for the fence bordering our neighbor and then crawled down to the driveway.  She stopped in front of our oak tree and just sat there eating the nut she had carried in her mouth.

She jumped onto the trunk, and I thought maybe I'd get in some shots of her on a tree, but then she started to act very bizzarre.  She was very agitated and nervous, jumping back and forth from the tree to the ground and back again.

That's when I saw it.  There was a squirrel lying in the leaves underneath the oak tree.  I tried to get a better look.  It looked like a little baby.  It wasn't it's size, but something about its face, shape and fur made me think it was a baby and thus, Preggers' baby.  

Preggers was going back and forth between jumping on the tree and approaching the baby squirrel.  I realized that I was making Preggers incredibly nervous, so I backed away and watched through a slit between the fence and the house.

Preggers kept sniffing and touching the baby.  I know we shouldn't anthropomorphize animals, but I thought she was trying to comfort and acknowledge the baby while assessing its condition.  She could have just been curious, but that's not what I thought at the time.

I didn't think Preggers was going to be able to take care of this in the nest.  I called my husband and told him that a baby squirrel fell out of the tree and was hurt and not moving.  He rushed down with a towel and we picked up the baby.  When we came around the corner, Preggers took off and the baby started to twitch.  I originally thought that maybe it was a seizure, but I think it was probably reacting instinctively to run.

We brought him inside.  Now that we had the baby, we weren't sure what to do with it.  We wanted Preggers to see that we were taking care of it, so hubby took him by the closed porch window where Preggers had returned.  She looked at it through the window and then grabbed a nut and started eating.  

We debated letting Preggers handle it, but after examining the squirrel, we knew for certain that it would need professional attention.  It was bleeding from the mouth and nose, and its breathing was really slow and getting slower.  There were some dents in the side of its chest, too.

We decided to call an urban wildlife rescue organization instead of a vet.  Yggdrasil Urban Wildlife Rescue & Education Center is about 20 minutes from our home, so we called and Lila was ready to meet with us.

We jumped in the car.  I was holding the baby.  A couple of blocks from our house, it looked like it took a huge yawn, and then it kicked and struggled.  I was really freaked out and had my husband pull over.  It was dead.

That night, I had nightmares about the squirrel's last moments.  It kept replaying over and over again in my head, and I couldn't sleep thinking about how much pain and horror it must have felt.  I thought that maybe if we had done a, b and c differently, it would have survived.

After having the baby's death replayed in my memory, I think it suffocated to death.  I suspect that it was on a branch above the house.  A strong gust of wind blew it off the branch and the wind threw it across the roof, hitting the roof at least 2 times before hitting the ground.  It may have also hit its head on the gutters on the way down.

Its lungs were filling with blood until they were full.  What I thought was a yawn was its attempt to get a last breath of air.  It kicked in its struggle to breathe before it died.

The towel was so soaked in blood that it had to be thrown away.  We left the baby out there to let Preggers get a look at it before we disposed of it.  We couldn't bring ourselves to throw it in the trash.  We wouldn't throw a dog in the trash if it died, so we buried the squirrel underneath the oak tree.

Squirrels mark good and bad tree limbs with different scents to denote danger.  I was worried that Preggers would think that we put the baby back outside after it had expired as a warning and never come back.  Sort of like the squirrel version of putting heads on pikes at London Bridge.

After a morning of fretting, she came by late Saturday, and she seemed normal.  Her right front paw is healing, too.  She has started to put weight on it again.

Since our squirrels aren't marked or tagged, I'm hoping that maybe we were wrong and it wasn't one of Preggers' babies.  It's more logical that it is one of hers, but we're still looking for visual confirmation that she only has one hanger-on.

I'll keep you posted.


Anonymous said...

That's so sad. Poor baby.

Anonymous said...

Oh Rene. I'm so impressed by the photos you were able to capture-- you got such clear images of the squirrels' faces and almost their expressions. I'm sorry about the baby squirrel. Seems like there wasn't much else you could do but comfort it in its last moments.

Kallen305 said...

I am so sorry to read about the poor baby. What an interesting post. I have never seen that kind of interaction amongst squirrels before. It was a real priveledge to witness it through your story and camera. I wish it had a happier ending though. :o(. You did a GOOD Thing trying to take care of it. The squirrels are lucky to have found you.

Ratty said...

A very sad story. I've done so many fictional comedy stories about squirrels that they have become special to me. This is heartbreaking, but you've told it well.

Ginnymo said...

Omg!! You have the best blog!! Even though it is sad that the squirrel died. This is so awesome. All your photos and the way you tell the story. All your posts are great!! I am so glad you added me as a follower or I never would have seen this. Thanks so much. I love squirrels and have seen a lot come and go over the past 12 years that I've lived here. I have squirrel stories too. Some happy. Some sad. But I can only blog so much..Ha! I'll be back!!!

Anonymous said...

A very sad ordeal but you did absolutely the best for Preggers and her baby. I'm so sorry. Wonderful pictures. Thanks for sharing with us even though it was heartbreaking.

Kelly said...

...oh sad. I"m sure the baby felt your love at some point along the way and was comforted. My son has a cartoon strip about a squirrel, and we too have come to love squirrels in a special way.

Shellmo said...

I am so sad about that squirrel baby! Like you, I have a couple squirrels that come to my window and I give them a peanut and a few will run up to my feet to greet me. Lovely series of photos even though I was wiping the tears away.

Rene said...

Thanks all for the kind words.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear it, but life in the animal kingdom is tough. Your photos are super, as always.

Ingrid said...

This is such a moving account of this moment in your life and hers. Thank you for posting this thoughtful tribute to a squirrel and her young -- and for the efforts you made to save the baby. I work with wild animals and always like to say that it's not anthropomorphism to acknowledge an animal's inherent qualities. We share common characteristics as human and non-human animals. And to divine certain qualities in a squirrel that might be similar to our own is just rightfully respecting our simultaneous similarity and diversity. Well, to me anyway.