October 24, 2018
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Squirrel population boom has Maine animal rescuers working overtime

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Sam Cox, Denyelle Surrell and Candace Wiedemann feed baby squirrels at the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick. With the number of baby squirrels in their care, it's a practically never ending task.

YORK, Maine — In a small room stocked with formula and crates to hold the squirrels, volunteers at the Center for Wildlife feed and care for each squirrel with the compassion of a mother holding her newborn child. Sometimes the squirrel will escape their crate or finagle their way out of the caretaker’s hands, but they are soon to be caught and returned to their correct spot.

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Volunteer Denyelle Surrell feeds a baby squirrel through a syringe fitted with a nipple at the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick.

The squirrel population is booming, and it hasn’t just caused a hazard for drivers. It’s had a profound impact on the Center for Wildlife, according to Executive Director Kristen Lamb.

“It has meant a lot of extra resources,” Lamb said. “We receive no state or federal funding and squirrels nurse every two to three hours when they’re first born.”

The influx in the squirrel population means an increase in the number of squirrels the center must take in and care for. There are currently 50 squirrels in care at the center, which is stressing its resources.

The Center for Wildlife in 2013 treated 132 injured or orphaned squirrels, while this year it is on track to admit more than 400.

“We need more volunteers, feedings go from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” Lamb said. “While the rest of the patients feedings are only 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.”

The increase in population can be attributed to many different factors. “In theory, all wildlife are tied to food availability. There’s been a really great mast year this year so a lot of babies are able to be born,” Lamb said.

Mast is the botanical name for the nuts, seeds, buds or fruits of trees and shrubs eaten by wildlife. The primary food source for squirrels has been abundant this year, and the squirrels are reaping the benefits. While this is a contributing factor, it is not the only factor causing the increase in squirrel population.

“There’s so many variables I can’t say it’s one specific thing causing it,” Lamb said.

The population increase is also a result of two breeding seasons and squirrels easily being able to adapt to habitat disturbances, Lamb said.

Seth Koenig | BDN
Seth Koenig | BDN
Kim Andre checks a baby squirrel for a heartbeat after Adrienne Bowie (left) found it unresponsive in its enclosure at the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick. The animal did not survive.

Historically, squirrels in New England have just one breeding season, but Lamb argues that has not been true as of late. “This is not the case from our observations in the past decade,” Lamb said. “We’ve seen two breeding cycles with two defined breeding seasons.”

An increase in population inevitably means more squirrel roadkill.

It is important for those at the center to treat as many squirrels as they can. “Squirrels are a huge part of our ecosystem,” Lamb said. “They are replanting oak forests, aerating soil, helping grow plants, and we use that.” Squirrels also play a large role in the ecosystem by serving as prey for many birds like eagles and hawks.

Lamb wants people to see squirrels as living beings just like humans, and if someone sees an injured animal in the roadway, she asks that they take action.

“If it’s safe to pull over, use a towel and gloves to get the squirrel off the road at least,” Lamb said. “If they’ve been hit they won’t be as aggressive, and we encourage people to get in touch with their local wildlife center.”

While Lamb encourages assisting any hurt animal in a roadway, she stressed you should not take the animal home and try to nurse it yourself.

“It can be tempting to take care of an injured squirrel, but we’ve seen so many times where someone takes it home and then it gets to us and it’s tame and can’t be released into the wild or it’s sick because it wasn’t cared for properly and passes away,” Lamb said.

If you would like to help, Lamb said you can donate to the Center for Wildlife at thecenterforwildlife.org or by calling (207) 361-1400. There are also volunteer opportunities at the center and Lamb encourages attending education programs for more information.

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