The Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern grays are ubiquitous in Minnesota. They are everywhere and are one of the few species that thrive in the midst of urban sprawl. For some people squirrels are seen as pests, running around inside the walls of their house and stealing bird seed out of feeders. For others they are seen as cute, bouncy, fun-to-watch critters. To those of us at Wildwoods they are valuable members of our ecosystem and one of the most common critters admitted as orphans (and one of the most fun to care for).

Reproduction happens twice a year for squirrels, with babies appearing around May and August. This year, however, things seem to be happening a little sooner and we just admitted our first “round 2” orphaned Eastern Gray Squirrels.

These three "pinky" gray squirrels were recently admitted to Wildwoods as orphans
These three “pinky” gray squirrels were recently admitted to Wildwoods as orphans

Technically they are called neonates, but for short we call them “pinkies,” which are newborns that don’t really have much (or any) fur and their eyes are still closed. These guys are 1-2 weeks old and will need vigilant care for the next few weeks.

How do baby squirrels become orphaned?

This can happen for a variety of reasons, but quite commonly it is because people are unaware of a squirrel nest in a tree they are cutting down. Squirrel nests can be hard to spot since they are made of leaves and twigs. We always recommend waiting to trim or cut down trees until late fall when the nests are no longer active.

What do baby squirrels eat?

In the wild they nurse from their mother until they are about 10 weeks old, but weaning begins at 7 weeks. When Eastern Gray Squirrels are mature they eat acorns, hazlenuts, a variety of tree seeds, fungi, berries and fruit.

In our care baby squirrels are fed a specialized formula that mimics their mothers’ milk. Because their nutritional needs differ when they get older, we use a different formula for squirrels who are older than four weeks. At seven weeks, just as in the wild, we begin to wean them and get them used to eating things a mature Eastern Gray Squirrel would eat in the wild, so when we release them at 12 weeks old they know what to look for.

*Never feed a baby squirrel, or any other wild animal, anything. Sources you find on the internet are unreliable and cannot account for each animal’s specific situation.

Fun Facts about Eastern Gray Squirrels

Squirrels have been known to dig several holes to store the nuts they gather for later use. They can typically find about 80% of these caches and the remaining tree nuts and seeds often sprout and grow, helping to regenerate forests.

Sources

“Gray Squirrel.” ESF Newcomb Campus. Adirondack Ecological Center. http://www.esf.edu/aec/adks/mammals/gray_squirrel.htm.

“Gray Squirrel.” Minnesota DNR. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/graysquirrel.html.