Heifer Hill: Mikie and Julia take to the trees


The first morning of November is beautiful and temperate, and I am spending it the way I have spent several recently, marveling at the competencies of wild creatures in their various forms — blue jays, woodpeckers, chipmunks, ravens. I take special interest in two of the newer residents of this forest, for I have spent countless hours helping them reach their species potential.

Julia, a gray squirrel, perches on a branch near her new home, a nest box I put up in the woods several years ago and then forgot about. Julia discovered it on her first day of freedom, and promptly began fitting it out with leafy bedding. This squirrel was found in the road by her dead mother and arrived at Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center a little ball of squirrel misery. She must have been tumbled by a car too, for she had a badly swollen leg, numerous lacerations, and proceeded to have several seizures. To distinguish her from the other squirrels in my care, I called her "seizure squirrel."

When she became bright-eyed and bushy tailed I changed her name to Julia (last name Seizure, I couldn't resist). As I watch her now, she is working her way through the woods in my direction. Coming down a big pine, she pauses, hanging upside down by her hind toes, stretches out her front paws and yawns. She reaches over to a beech branch that almost touches the pine, tests it for rigidity, decides it won't hold her, and heads back up the trunk. Soon she will have all of the treetop routes of this forest mapped and will navigate with more speed and grace than any earth-bound creature.

Mikie was kidnapped from a bird-house by a well-intentioned gentleman. Bill and his grandchildren doted on the bitsy red squirrel for three days, feeding him a few drops of Pedialyte every couple of hours. Pedialyte is a good choice for dehydrated orphaned squirrels, but they need a lot of it, and they need to transition to something with calories and nutrients as soon as possible. When Bill realized Mikie was in decline, he initiated the process that got him to me. I spent three days nursing Mikie through health crises that would have claimed a lesser squirrel, and I have been rewarded many times over, for his antics have been a source of delight and hilarity for the past month.

By the time Mikie was big enough to play with other squirrels, Julia was the only squirrel remaining in custody. She had been on her own for a week, and was eager for companionship, and even more, for a playmate. Though Mikie was a third her size and a different species, the two recognized the opportunity for fun and were soon romping and wrestling.

Now, on this beautiful November morning I find Mikie over at Julia's house. Did they spend the night (Mikie's first night outside) together? I lie down to watch as he charges to the summit of the tall pine and frisks about in the delicate upper boughs in the manic way of all red squirrels. When he comes barreling back down headfirst, he hops over to me and dives into my coat, issuing the rapid muttering sounds that accompany all of his subsurface explorations. When he finds a walnut, he perches on my laptop keyboard to eat, and I have to erase the gibberish he types. Julia is shyer, but she comes down and hops closer. Mikie rushes over to her and they sniff noses, tumble in the leaves, and then head together back up a pine.

Anyone who encounters Mikie and Julia together will be surprised and amazed. The unlikely reason for their friendship is my little secret (well, now I guess it is ours). Since these squirrel species are not social, the need for companionship and play will be abandoned with youth. Still, I expect that these two will continue to recognize and greet each other as friends as long as they share the arboreal realm of these woods.

Patti Smith is a wildlife rehabilitator and a naturalist at the Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center. The View From Heifer Hill, a feature on the nature of our region, appears in this space the first Saturday of each month. Patti welcomes your feedback at patti@beec.org.


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