Meeting Baby in the Park

Baby Raccoon. Photo by Heather Kelly.

This little cutie was the joyful and worrisome adventure of the morning.

Baby raccoon was asleep in the middle of a busy path, in the middle of a busy park. Claire, a woman on her morning run, found baby and moved her to a safer spot on a side path in the shade. That’s where I came across them.

I met Claire and this sweet baby for the first time at that moment. We discovered that Claire and I are both rabies vaccinated, and comfortable though cautious with the young raccoon. Claire is a veterinarian with more than a decade of experience mostly with cats and dogs, and I have experience caring for baby raccoons once they are accepted into a rehab/rescue facility. But neither of us felt sure about the best thing for baby, here in the park.

Claire had called 311. I called the Toronto Wildlife Centre. I knew that the TWC is currently full – over capacity with so many baby raccoons – and not accepting more. But I called to get advice about the best thing to do for baby.

Baby Raccoon. Photo by Heather Kelly.
Baby Raccoon. Photo by Heather Kelly.

Baby was way too fearless around people. Possibly habituated to people, possibly a starving orphan looking for someone to feed her. She would waddle right up to anyone. Sniff their shoes. Keep looking.

As we waited, we watched over baby to keep her safe from dogs and cyclists. We were joined by a friendly cyclist and his curious dog (ironically), who was enthralled with baby and wanted to help. We were also watched and commented to by many, many other people in the park.

Claire and I talked (physically distanced) about what would be the best thing to do for baby – take her with us or put her somewhere in the park further away from people?

Watch and listen with audio on! Baby Raccoon. Video by Heather Kelly.

Here is what Toronto Wildlife Centre advises if you ever find a baby raccoon all alone:

“Sometimes baby raccoons can fall out of a nest or get separated from their mother. If the baby isn’t injured, getting it back to its mom is the best possible option. Raccoons are excellent mothers and will come back for their babies if given a chance! Raccoon moms will also take much better care of their babies than any human possibly could.”

“Place the box with the raccoon (and a heat source) as close as possible to where the raccoon was found. If there is a tree nearby, put it at the base of the tree. Raccoons don’t always nest in trees, so next to a house or building will work too.”

“MYTH! If you touch a baby raccoon, its mother will NOT abandon it. Raccoons are excellent moms. All they want is their baby back.”

“In very busy areas, it may make more sense to bring the baby inside and keep it somewhere dark and quiet for the day. As soon as the sun starts to set and traffic dies down, get it outside right away. No matter what, make sure to leave baby raccoons out for their mother for at least one whole overnight period.”

TWC even has a great sign that people can print and place with the baby in the box, available online.

In high traffic areas, you can put a sign on the box to let other people know that the raccoon is waiting for its mother. Here’s one you can print off:

If you are someone (like me) who might think for a moment about taking a baby raccoon home and caring for it until it can fend for itself and be released, here is good info from the TWC:

“Baby raccoons need specialized formula, species-specific housing, and medical treatment that you cannot provide at home. They also have to be raised with other baby raccoons to learn the social behaviours they need to survive in the wild.  It is illegal to keep any wild animal at home without a permit for longer than 48 hours. Please contact a wildlife rehabilitator right away for help with the baby raccoon you have found.”

Ultimately Claire and I took baby back to near where she was found, and placed her in a spot deep in the bushes, away from the busiest paths – where hopefully her mama will find her.

On top of it all, it turns out that today is Claire’s birthday. What a birthday adventure!

How to be Focused and Industrious

This little chipmunk barely noticed as I walked strangely close to it – we were on each other’s path. He/she was there first, deeply focused on the task at hand. I have no idea what that task was, but the relentless industriousness was inspiring. I’d love to be that deeply into my work first thing each morning.

Can you spot him/her here?

Meet Greysie. Master of Cuteness.

photos of Greysie by Heather Kelly

This beauty is little Greysie May. She is a frequent visitor to my back yard. Greysie is a little more timid in her leaps and scampers than the other squirrels. I suspect because she is smaller. And she’s not always the most on the ball, really. But she is a fantastic model, as you can see.

I can tell Greysie May apart from the other grey squirrels thanks to the adorable white stripes of fur behind her ears. What looks like little white tufts are actually small stripes. And she is more white-grey than Baby Grey (her sibling) or Gradie, my other grey squirrel neighbour, who both have more auburn colouring in his fur.

Little Graysie is one of Mimi’s babies.

I first discovered that her sibling, Baby Grey, was one of Mimi’s babies because Mimi would allow Baby Grey to climb on and around her. Then I saw that Baby Brin was one of Mimi’s as well. And finally, the last to come to my home – and the last I realized was one of the family – is this beautiful little Greysie.

Greysie May at my back door. Photo by Heather Kelly.
Baby Brin, one of Mimi’s babies, and a sibling of Greysie May and Baby Grey.
Photo by Heather Kelly.
Baby Grey, one of Mimi’s babies, and a sibling of Greysie May and Baby Brin.
Photo by Heather Kelly.

Mimi’s Mama Vest

When I first met Mimi a few months ago (in my back yard), it was clear that she was a nursing mama. Her teets were obvious when she sat on her hind legs, bare of fur, and her body was larger than most of my other squirrel neighbours.

At first when I noticed her fur markings I wondered if she might have mange or a condition of some sort. But as I got to know her, and see her almost every day, it was clear she was healthy and mange free. She has a mama vest!

Mama squirrels pull out their own fur to line their nest. The fur ensures that their babies stay warm and dry on cold spring and autumn nights.

Think about that for a sec. Can you imagine pulling out your own body hair to line your baby’s crib?!?? Not just grooming ones self and saving what gets brushed out, but actually pulling out your own healthy fur. Wow.

So, of course, I looked into it. Do other animals do that, too? Sure, you might think of birds nests having feathers in it, but I would not have imagined that the birds pluck their own bodies to prep their nests. And what about other furry mammals, like raccoons, bears, coyotes, foxes, and skunks – do they pull out their own fur, too?

There appears to be a lot of info about pregnant bunnies pulling out their fur. Mostly from worried pet owners looking for advice. And there is info about the common mental health condition called trichotillomania, where humans and other animals pull out their own hair or fur due to stress and anxiety.

But there seems to be very little to no publicly available research about the phenomenon of pulling out ones own fur lovingly, instinctually, to prep to care for babies.

Apparently some birds will use brushed out dog or cat hair to line their nests, and some people put their pet hair brushings outside for the birds to use. (I never would have thought of that.)

If I come across more insight about it, I’ll share the info with you.

It was many weeks before I met Mimi’s babies, and then realized who is hers. The only way I can tell is that they romp around together and with her. All of the other squirrels are wary of each other and can be aggressive toward each other.

But Mimi and her babies – Baby Grey, Baby Brin, and the most recent one who I discovered is a sibling, Greysie – will tumble around with each other affectionately and playfully.

Bunnies in the Morning

This morning I got up super early (6am was crazy early for me until a few weeks ago) and decided on the spur of the moment to go to Tommy Thompson Park for my long morning walk. I’m so glad I did!

In addition to an amazing air show and the symphony of birds — including incredible trumpeter swans flying, swooping, calling to each other and tending to babies — and a quick glimpse I got of a beaver, today it was a joy to encounter two eastern cottontail bunnies.

The first cottontail met me on a wide open path, watched me for a minute or two, then hopped into the brush. It was a large calm alert adult.

I met it again on another nearby path, where it sat and looked at me for what seemed like a very long time. In fact, it was probably only 2 or 3 full minutes. Then it seemed to be showing me the way – leading me down the path for a while. Until it lept to the right, off the path into a small meadow-like strip of land.

Then on my return, on a different trail on the other side of the park, I saw a young cottontail just of the path.

Amazing how well it was camouflaged in the leaves and against a tree.

Although the two I saw today were quiet, still, and lopped a little further way from me to keep a distance within their comfort zone, eastern cottontails are actually superfast – like 40km per hour fast! Though they are usually end up running slower because they run in a zig-zag pattern. And they can leap 15 feet in one jump, if they want to. (Which, you’d imagine they need to be able to do, to outrun predators like coyotes, foxes, hawks, and others.)  

I was also surprised to learn that cottontail rabbits are crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk) and nocturnal (active mainly at night).

In some Indigenous cultures, Nanabush (or Nanabozho), the trickster, teacher, and co-creator of the world, is a raven, a coyote – and a rabbit.

Here are a few fun facts, from Wild City by Doug Bennett and Tim Tyner:

  • Only about 20% survive to adulthood. The average lifespan is 15 months, though they can live up to 5 years in the wild and up to 9 years in captivity.
  • “Scats: Size of plump smarties”
  • “Number of hare or rabbit taste buds: 17,000. Number of human taste buds: 9,000.”
  • “Number of Ontario rabbit or hare species: 4”
  • “Famous bunnies: Bugs Bunny, PEter Cottontail, Thumper, Roger Rabbit, Harvey, Flopsy and Mopsy, Fiver, Bigwig, Brer Rabbit, The White Rabbit, Fletcher Rabbit, Raggylug, Blackberry”

Baby Skunkaroos

Ok, there are few things as adorable and funny as baby skunks.

They practice being scary: tails straight up, aiming their tiny pink bum, and stomping.

Stomping is a defense behaviour where skunks slap their two front paws down to scare away anything that seems threatening. The furball babies do it with a little jump! Adorable and hilarious! Could be in a Disney movie.

The trick to handling a skunk is to tuck its tail under their body so he/she can’t spray.

Of course, the trick to that is getting close enough to the skunk (without getting sprayed) to tuck the tail, ha! With the babies it is not difficult, but I would not recommend trying with an adult. Especially not an adult protecting her babies.

A skunk can spray its musk more than 10 feet with extreme accuracy. But it would rather not, since it takes skunks weeks to replenish that last-resort defense mechanism. Ideally what they perceive as a threat is scared off by the stomping and growling that babies practice.

Most skunk litters are around 5-7 kits in May, so the babies we are seeing now are approximately 2-4 weeks old.

How Hot is it Today?

Photo of Gradie squirrel by Heather Kelly

It’s somewhere around 30 degrees in Toronto this afternoon. My little friend Gradie is lying spread-eagle in the shade of a chair on my porch beside me as I work inside.

Yesterday he lay on his stomach in the shade on the driveway, all four legs straight out in each direction. And earlier today I saw another of my squirrel neighbours, Mimi, in the same position in my back yard.

Apparently, this is called “planking” or “heat dumping,” and, as you’d guess, it helps them cool down. The idea is to get as much of the surface of their tiny body against a cool surface, and this dissipates body heat.

DYK squirrels sweat through their feet?? I sure didn’t. They also pant like dogs and other animals. And they sometimes lick their fur so they can get a little cooler when it evaporates.

Squirrels can get heat stroke, like people, and it seems to happen primarily when the don’t have access to water. I have a small water dish out for my furry little neighbours.

Reunited with Leontes

A silver-haired bat like Leontes. Photo by Toronto Wildlife Centre staff.

I almost cried! At the wildlife centre, as usual the last thing I did in the day was feed, weigh and clean the bats. I love caring for the little cuties and have come to know each one and their own personality and sweet quirks.

I look forward to seeing them each week. I pick up each enclosure from its place on the shelf in the humidity tent (big brown bats, who are very little – their name is misleading – are housed in the humidity tent) or from the table top (silver haired bats), and move it to my workspace on a counter top in the Songbird Room.

I have a variety of worms, large tweezers, my protective gloves, calcium water, bat vitamins, and clean fresh tea towels, a sensitive weigh scale set up there, and a garbage can nearby.

Once I’ve moved the enclosure to my workspace, I check the chart to see who it is, and what they need today in terms of food, cleaning, weighing, and any special care. Like, for a while, we were putting emu oil on Ursula’s swollen and sore wrists, which helped a lot.  

So, starting logically, from left to right, I did the first silver haired bat on the table. It was Ursula, who didn’t need much more than a spot cleaning and replenishing her food and water.

The next bat enclosure I moved to my workspace. Looked at the chart to see who it is and what they need today. And what a surprise!

IT WAS LEONTES!!! Little love! I was just about in tears. I am just about in tears again now, while typing this. It was such a surprise and so wonderful to see him again!

He looks good – his tiny body is about the length of my thumb, and his silvery coat is beautiful. He learned to eat on his own while he was in foster care (I mentioned this in a previous post), so I only needed to do a spot cleaning and replenish his food, but oh my goodness I was so happy to see him and do that!

Leontes came into care at the wildlife centre on November 4, 2019. I have been taking care of him every week since November 17, which was a month or so after I was properly and thoroughly rabies vaccinated and had provided the staff with my titer (proof for the files).

I was very worried about him in January when he started to not eat or groom well. Around that time, I learned a special way of feeding him that worked well – Leontes laying on his piece of bark, and a tea towel over him like a little mini cave. I could then give him water from a tiny syringe and then he would eat.

I also learned to feed him a special bat food from a syringe. It is a mixture of mealworms, oils, and vitamins blended into a smoothie or baby food consistency. He ate that really well. Seemed to like it. Not like Phoenix worms! He is very clear that he does NOT like phoenix worms! Mealworms he loves. Waxworms he will tolerate, especially with some help to hold it up for him. But not Phoenix worms – you can almost her him say “yuck!” He also needed patience, as he often would eat then need a bit of a rest before being ready to be fed the rest of his food.

We were all cheering him on in February when he was recovering and was back to having a huge appetite. He had lost some of the fur from his chest and was showing a little pinkish skin. I looked forward to seeing him, and helping with his recovery, every week.

Then in March when Covid 19 changed everything, he and many of the other bats went in to foster care. I was hoping to be able to foster him, other bats, and other animals at my home, but I hear that he was being fostered by one of the staff people. I missed him but was happy to know he would be getting great care.

That said, I was afraid I’d never see him again. Knowing that bats should be released in summertime, I thought that if he stays in foster care, and Covid 19 forces isolation, distancing, and reduced staffing at the Wildlife Centre for long, there’s a chance he would be released before I ever saw him again.

But he’s back! And he’s doing well! He is eating on his own and being exercised regularly to get his flying muscles back into shape for him to be released.

I will start helping to fly the bats for exercise in the next week or two. In the meantime, I am happy to be able to feed and clean Leontes and see him hanging on his tea towel or hiding and resting in his fave spot underneath a piece of bark, each week.

Until he is in shape and ready to go back into the wild world.