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: https://www.torontowildlifecentre.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/I-Am-Waiting-for-My-Mother-Sign.pdf

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.

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.

Babies!

Orphaned babies are now coming in to care at the wildlife centre. Although I am concerned about there being enough staff and volunteers to care for and feed them as often as is needed, and worried about the ones turned away due to the reduced staff capacity, I am also excited.

This is the first springtime that I am fully rabies vaccinated, which means that I can care for so many more of the wild babies who come in as patients and orphans.  

This week I bottle-fed tiny baby raccoons for the first time in my life – twice! Like all of the babies, they need multiple feedings per day. I was fortunate to be able to do their mid-day feeding and their early evening bottle.

They are so small – maybe the size of a really robust kitten or a small squirrel – they can sit in one hand. They are alert, curious, and want to climb on you (and everything else). You have to scruff them quite hard (harder than I am comfortable with) to hold them.  It’s tricky – they feel like they will slip out of your hand.

Like baby bunnies and squirrels, they need to be stimulated like their mum would, to pee and/or poo before feeding. Their formulas is warmed in baby jars, and then when in the nippled syringe (squirrels) or the small bottle (raccoons), you test it on your arm to ensure it’s not too hot or too cold. Raccoon babies prefer their formula much warmer than squirrel babies.

These raccoon babies are so vocal! Very communicative, with a range of happy, scared, curious, and even a purring sound.

A nice bum scratch makes them purr and it stimulates the suckling response. The little one I was feeding did eat better with a bum rub and warmer formula. They like to have something to hang on to, so holding on to my hand or fingers worked well as he guzzled his formula.  

I was also able to syringe feed another baby squirrel. The tiny babies from last week have been moved to the centre’s other location, and the current group and much more like juveniles than tiny babies.

These baby squirrels are bitey and they have razor-sharp claws. I got a quiet timid scared black-furred one who just wanted to curl up inside the pillowcase I was holding it in. But still, the skin on my right hand is all sliced up (just the top layer of skin, nothing serious).  He ate really well, it just took a while because I was using a small 1cc syringe and it would have been better to use a 3cc syringe.

This time last year the nursery was already full. Now there are two orphan baby raccoons, and five baby squirrels (additional squirrel babies, like the tiny one I fed last week and the group he was part of, are being cared for at the Rouge Park location).

There are also baby cottontail bunnies in care again now – about 6 of them so far. I checked on them late in the day during PM checks, but have not cared for them yet.

Another special treat of the afternoon was meeting the tiniest cutest little baby skunk!! The size of my fist – a little roly-poly beautiful black and white cutie. Staff member L described him as a little apple, he’s so fat – his mama has been taking good care of him. The centre didn’t keep him in care – he was returned to where he was found, so hopefully his mama can find him and keep caring for him. I’ve been told that it is about a month before we’d expect to see baby skunks coming in for care, so that little furball was extra special.

What joy. What a heart-filling awesome day.

Side note: N also told me that little Leontes ate on his own for the first time this past week! Yeah, Leontes!! Way to go, little guy!! She commented that the bats will come back in to care eventually, so I hope I get to see him again one day.

Bringing Milksnake Her Easter Dinner

At the end of the day, I discovered that the gorgeous milk snake had shed!

I was able to remove the shed skin in one perfect piece, head to tail. And place it gently in-tact in a large Ziploc bag that I labelled with her patient number and the date on it.

Everyone has been waiting for her to shed. Which is not surprising as her wounds heal. She is the only snake who has not been placed in foster care while staffing is reduced due to Covid19, because she has been healing from some significant wounds on her belly. I noticed about 3 weeks ago that her eyes were starting to get cloudy – a sign of preparing to shed. 

The beautiful snake was hiding under the large rock in her enclosure as I removed the shed skin. I let staff member J know, and since snakes don’t eat much before shedding, I was asked to bring her a little feast of a variety of small foods. Well no problem – except for the earthworms from outside.

I grabbed a fork from the kitchen and first went out the back door and into the ditch area to look for worms. I promptly stepped deeply into muck, covering my right shoe and pant hem. Ugh. No worms.

Then I went over the road to the farther ditch to dig and look under garbage in the wet ditch. No worms.

I have no idea where to find worms. On my way back into the centre, taking a route back that appeared drier, I slipped into the deep muck. Covered my left shoe. Ugh.

Ok, so wiped my feet as well as I could on the grass, then on the door mat, I went inside and went to the room where the dirty kennel cabs and waterfowl mats are hosed down. I hosed down my shoes and pants. Soaking wet shoes and socks now. Still no worms. I know nothing about wild worms.

So I went out the front door, to the park-like area in front of the building. Dug my fork into the grass. No worms. Dug into the slope of the planted area, covered in leaves. No worms.  But there was a nice surprise: as I was returning to the TWC I noticed a groundhog looking at me!

A groundhog has made a home in the planted mound, in the park-like space in front of the Centre. What a treat to see her looking at me looking at her looking at me. Then back in to the Centre. I asked A if she knew where to find worms. Nope. I asked T. Good thing I asked T! She told me where to look. It was outside of course but could not be any closer or easier. I found two small wild earthworms. Thank goodness!

The milksnake’s post-shed Easter Sunday feast was complete and placed in a tiny dish in front of her, for her to enjoy.