Last year in October, I did a release of Fox squirrels for Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation after they had been rehabilitated. These squirrels couldn’t go back exactly where they came from because the owner of the property wasn’t available to give permission, which is required by Colorado Parks and Wildlife regulations. A wonderful lady that was on the release candidate list offered to take them so I drove them to their new home. Since it was an October release and winter was close, each of the two batches got their own nest box to start out. Before I put them up, I noticed that there were a lot of other nest boxes already up. Come to find out she had been offering to take squirrels for many years.
I warned her about the danger of overcrowding, when the squirrel density is too high it can cause serious issues and lead to death for some squirrels. As they compete for food sources and are forced to spread out, they can move to yards or areas that are not as suitable for them. Forcing a squirrel out of their home has a high probability of leading them to their death, as they find themselves in a new area without food, shelter, or knowing escape routes. I ended up putting the boxes up because that late in the season we had no other viable release sites. Since she was supplementing their food with sunflower seeds, bird seed, and corn, it was a lot better option than anything else.
Jump to today when I get a call from her asking if I could help. Apparently one of her old nest boxes, that she thinks may be 20 years old, fell out of the tree this morning. She said no one from Greenwood or anywhere else she called could come help her put the box up. So I found myself driving out to Arvada to see if I could get it done quickly before hauling ass down south for an early afternoon appointment. I spent an hour, most of it trying to figure out a way to get it back up in the tree and stable. This was tricky because the support board for the nest box had rotted out, leading to it falling, and it wasn’t usable. I had to run to the local hardware store for a hammer and some eye hooks but ultimately it just wasn’t happening.
I left but told her to call me later that afternoon while I tried to think of a solution. Shortly after I left, I got a call from her saying that Greenwood could spare one of the big nest boxes, identical to the one that fell. She left immediately to get it which meant over an hour on the road. I had planned on returning tomorrow to work on it but the idea of squirrels not having their nest overnight didn’t sit well with me. Unprotected and sleeping in a tree is very risky; predators and even the wind are threats. After my appointment down south I drove back to Arvada with my own ladder and drill which I knew would be needed for the new box.
I don’t know much about relocating squirrels from one nest to another. Since they enjoyed a protective nest box, I wasn’t sure if that factored in if it was being replaced by a similar one. They obviously look different and no doubt smell different to the squirrels as well. So I removed some of the bedding from the old nest box and put it in the new.
My hope was that the bedding being moved over would help the squirrels understand this was the new home. The next challenge came in the form of where to put the box. Whoever had put the old one up had a much taller ladder than hers or mine, so there was no way to get it back up that high. The angle of the tree made it so most of the trunk space was not suitable due to it being uneven, the box being angled, or branches.
Ultimately, we ended up removing an old bird house that had never been used since installation and putting the new box in its place. It wasn’t quite as high as I would have liked, but higher than some other nest boxes that have been put up. One side offered easy access to the box off the tree trunk but the other might not have been perfect, but a squirrel could definitely go from trunk to that entrance too. I left her place at 7pm with a strong hope that the squirrels who watched us do all that understood what had happened. She told me she’d watch tonight to try to see if any went in and would watch in the morning like she always did to see if squirrels emerged. I left a huge handful of sunflower seeds on top of the box and even more below at the foot of the trunk to help them while they adjust.
Today was the first day in my new career as Squirrel Tech Support apparently.
[Update: This morning she texted to let me know that squirrels were eating the seeds and one went into the new nest box. She says “Looking good for them!!!”]