If you find a baby squirrel …

A baby squirrel has the best chance of survival when it is cared for by its mother.

A young gray squirrel is perched on a branch in a wire enclosure at the Center. The squirrel is fully furred but too young to be on its own

Gray squirrels are found throughout Virginia and are active year-round. They nest in tree cavities or constructed “dreys”, which are loosely woven nests of twigs, leaves, and dried grass typically found in forks of trees. Gray squirrels nest twice a year, in late winter and summer. They commonly have litters of three or four pups. Babies' eyes open at four weeks of age and the young are often starting to explore outside the nest at six weeks of age. They are typically weaned and ready to be on their own at 10 weeks of age.

Healthy young squirrels found on the ground by themselves may not be true orphans — they simply need help reuniting with their mothers. Mother squirrels often rescue their fallen or displaced healthy babies by carrying them by the scruff back to the nest.

For more information on navigating squirrel conflicts, please visit our Squirrels as Neighbors page.

If you find a squirrel, do any of the following apply?

  • It is bleeding, has an open wound, or has a broken bone.
  • It’s been in a cat’s or dog’s mouth.
  • It’s covered in fly eggs (these look like small grains of rice).
  • It’s cold, wet, or crying nonstop.

If YES, the squirrel is likely injured or orphaned. Take it to the nearest wildlife veterinarian or rehabilitator.

If NO, the next step is to identify its age to determine if intervention is needed.

Does the squirrel …

  • Have a fluffed-out tail (like a bottle brush)?
  • Have a body longer than 6” (not including the tail)?
  • Approach humans or pets?

If YES, this is likely a juvenile squirrel. You do not need to intervene. Even at the young age of 10 to 12 weeks, the squirrel is independent. If the squirrel is approaching humans or pets, try to scare it by making loud noises when it comes near.

Nestling Squirrel

A tiny, hairless, pink baby squirrel lays on a blanket.

Four-week-old Squirrels

Three young squirrels bundled in a blanket. They each have colored paint on their heads for identification. Their tails are furred but thin and their eyes are closed but just starting to open.

Eight-week-old Squirrels

Two squirrels perch on a log in an aquarium in the Center's ICU. One squirrel is eating a piece of food. They are fully furred, but their tails are not as long or furred as an adult's.

If NO, this is an infant squirrel. You will need to guide the healthy baby back to its mother.

  1. Provide a supplemental heat source and place it with the baby in an open container (e.g., a box or basket). Do not give the baby food or water!
  2. Return the squirrel to its nesting tree—this should be a tree in the immediate area where the squirrel was found. If you don't know which tree the squirrel's nest is in, or if the nest was destroyed, then choose a tree closest to where the squirrel was found.
  3. If the baby's eyes are open, place the baby on the tree trunk to encourage it to climb. If it does not climb, place the squirrel in the container (ideas below) and attach the open container to the tree. If the baby's eyes are closed, attach the open container to the tree. Keep children, dogs, and cats out of the area.
  4. Observe the baby squirrel for the next six to eight hours of daylight; amend the supplemental heat source as needed. Keep children and pets away from the area to allow the mother to retrieve her young. Has the mother returned to retrieve her baby?

If YES, congratulations! You helped reunite a baby with its mother. This is best for the squirrel!

If NO, take the squirrel to the nearest permitted small mammal rehabilitator.

Container Ideas for Re-nesting Baby Squirrels

These ideas should help you if you are attempting to reunite a baby squirrel with its mother. Older, eyes-opened squirrels can often be encouraged to climb a tree trunk, but eyes-closed baby squirrels will need to be placed in an open container, preferably attached to a tree so that the mother squirrel can retrieve her young. Here are a few options for providing a safe place for baby squirrels to wait for their mothers:

Box

Any type of small box can be used as a temporary nest for a baby squirrel or a litter of baby squirrels. Simply place the supplemental heat source, soft blankets, and squirrel in the open-top box and attach it securely to the tree trunk with rope or a bungee cord. The box does not need to be high off of the ground – this box will not serve as a permanent home for the squirrel; it just provides a safe place off of the ground until the mother squirrel can relocate her young.

A squirrel puppet peeks out of a tissue box that is bungee corded to a tree. The Center is in the background.

Basket

If the weather is rainy, a basket may be a more suitable temporary container for the young squirrel, since it won’t soak up water as a box would. Rope or bungee cords can be used to secure the basket; ensure that the attachment can sustain the weight of the mother squirrel when she comes to retrieve her young.

A squirrel puppet sits in an open basket that is bungee corded to a tree.

Plastic Jug

Another container option is a plastic jug with an opening cut into the side. The opening should be large enough for the mother squirrel to enter to retrieve her young. We recommend cutting the opening several inches from the bottom of the container to ensure that the baby squirrel(s) will not roll or crawl out of the opening. Place duct tape over the sharp edges of the container to prevent any squirrels from injuring themselves.

A squirrel puppet rests on a towel that is in a plastic jug attached to a tree. The jug has the side cut out to easily access the squirrel.

Squirrel Box

A squirrel box can offer a more permanent solution to re-nesting young squirrels and is recommended in cases where entire nests or nesting trees are destroyed. Squirrel boxes that are intended to be permanent fixtures should be hung on trees with trunks that are 10 or more inches in diameter, 20-30 feet off of the ground. Fill the box half full with dry leaves or straw before placing the baby squirrel(s) in the nest box.

If the mother squirrel finds the squirrel box to her liking, she might stay and finish raising her young there. Alternatively, the mother squirrel may have a more preferred back-up nest, and may move her young one at a time to her new home. Observe the situation for the day, and allow the mother squirrel enough time to move her whole family.

A wooden squirrel box is attached to a tree with a bungee cord. A small squirrel puppet peeks out of the hole on the side of the box.

Each animal's nutritional, housing, and handling requirements are very specific and must be met if they have any chance of survival. Inappropriate food or feeding techniques can lead to sickness or death. Raising a wild mammal in captivity is illegal unless you have a state permit. For information on how you can become a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, visit our Wildlife Care Academy and contact the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources or your state's wildlife agency.