The View from Heifer Hill: Mikie and Julia take to the trees


When I received two young orphaned squirrels, one gray and one red, in late September, I wasn't sure they would mature fast enough to be released to the forest before winter. The gray squirrel had been found in the road next to her dead mother. 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).

The red squirrel, Mikie, was kidnapped by a well-intentioned gentleman who found him while cleaning a birdhouse. Bill and his grandchildren doted on the bitsy 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. I have been rewarded many times over, for his antics have been a source of delight and hilarity.

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

By early November, both had made it clear that they were eager for liberty. I moved my "office" to the woods for a morning shortly after they had been released so I could find out how they were faring.

I found Julia perched on a branch near her new home, a nest box I had put up several years ago. Julia discovered it on her first day of freedom, and promptly began fitting it out with leafy bedding.

As I watched her, she worked her way through the woods in my direction. Coming down a big pine, she paused hanging upside down by her hind toes, stretched out her front paws and yawned. She then reached over to a beech branch, tested it for rigidity, decided it wouldn't hold her, and headed back up the trunk. Now, at the end of December, she has all of the treetop routes of this forest mapped and navigates with more speed and grace than any earth-bound creature.

On that November morning, I found Mikie over at Julia's house. I lay down to watch as he charged to the summit of a tall pine and frisked about in the delicate upper boughs in the manic way of all red squirrels. When he came barreling back down headfirst, he hopped over to me and dove into my coat, issuing the rapid muttering sounds that accompany all of his subsurface explorations. When he found a walnut, he perched on my laptop to eat, and I had to erase the gibberish he typed. Julia is shyer, but she came down and hopped closer. Mikie rushed over to her and they sniffed noses, tumbled in the leaves, and then headed together back up a pine.

Mike and Julia are now full grown and gaining confidence. Mikie has become a little red tempest, taking on all squirrels that encroach upon his territory. He makes an exception for Julia. While she is not allowed to take his food they continue to recognize and greet each other as friends. Anyone who encounters Mikie and Julia together will be surprised and amazed. The reason for their unlikely friendship is my little secret (well, now I guess it is ours).

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


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