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Tag Archive | "Bill Caldwell"

Bill and Gator’s squirrels


RBy Ranger Steve Mueller


Bill Caldwell received three young flying squirrels from a logger that cut a tree. The mother was killed when the tree fell. Bill was able to secure a permit from the MI-DNR to keep and raise the squirrels in his high school classroom. It is illegal to rescue “orphaned” wildlife. A primary reason is because keeping them alive frequently fails. If successful, the wildlife has not learned essentials for living on their own and death likely results when released. When a person desires to keep the animal, it often becomes a problem in a variety of ways.

When the young animal’s eyes have not opened, success for rearing the “rescued” wildlife is particularly difficult. Licensed rehabilitators have learned the most effective skills for success but still many animals do not survive. Rehabilitators will not accept some species. It is illegal for them to accept some or they might not be able to care for the quantity people find and “rescue.” In most cases the “orphaned” wildlife are not orphaned. Animals like rabbits and deer are left for hours with the adults infrequently returning to nurse them. 

Ray Gates, best known as “Gator,” teaches biology at Cornerstone University. The first time I met Gator, I was leading my college class on a field trip at the Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC). That was before I made the career change from college instructor to become director at HCNC. My class encountered his college class from Cornerstone that was exploring the exciting wild natural world with Gator. 

He reached into his shirt pocket and displayed a bugged-eye Southern Flying Squirrel with soft fur and skin that stretched from front legs to hind legs that allows it to parachute through the air. Though the squirrels are called “flying” it is better to describe them as gliders. They are capable of directing their travel by how they manipulate skin flaps. An adult flying squirrel is smaller than a chipmunk and is perhaps one of the most truly nocturnal mammals. Gator provided an excellent impromptu lesson on the flying squirrel’s nature niche.

It is a rare opportunity to see one in the wild even though they are common provided adequate nesting cavities are available. I had not seen one at Ody Brook until one night my daughter Jenny Jo and I were leaving the house after dark. She asked, “What is making that sound?” I did not know. We listened and determined the sound was coming from inside one of bird feeders. I lifted the cover and four flying squirrels leaped from the feeder and glided to a nearby sugar maple tree.

One time at HCNC, I was inspecting bluebird houses. One was becoming surrounded by shrubs at the edge of the field. Natural plant succession was changing the habitat making it unsuitable for bluebirds. When I peered inside, I discovered the nest box was being used to rear a litter of flying squirrels. I departed with joy that the nest box was remaining valuable for wildlife. 

Many of us have squirrel stories to share. I could continue with stories about Gray, Fox, and Kaibab squirrels and other squirrel species. This week I received a call regarding young squirrels “rescued” from a tree that was cut down. The logger felt badly and wanted to help them. I was called. My best advice was to return the three squirrels to the location so the mother could rescue them and take them to a new cavity. That might seem like a long shot but the chances for their survival are better there than trying to care for them. 

Once I asked the custodian at HCNC to replace a bluebird nest box that was in poor condition. He placed the old one in the garage. The next morning, I heard noise from the box in the garage. Inside were young bluebirds. I immediately returned the box to the post and the parent returned to successfully fledge the birds. Perhaps the mother squirrel will return to carry the blind, naked, baby squirrels to a new nest cavity. We can be hopeful. 

Wildlife biologists with MI-DNR annually instruct people that want to help wildlife to leave them where they are found. They remind us it is illegal to rescue them and chances for successful rearing and release are poor. To offer the greatest help one should harvest live trees and leave dead hollow ones in the forest for wildlife. Harvesting live trees thins the forest and allows neighboring trees to grow faster with more vigor.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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