Wildlife rehabilitator gives baby squirrels a chance to ‘fulfill their destiny’
FLAT ROCK, NC — More than 25 years ago, it was love at first squirrel for Jennifer Burgin.
The licensed wildlife rehabilitator has a special place in her heart for fuzzy rodents, and lately she’s had her hands full.
“They’ve gotta be fed every few hours,” she explained. “If you want any sleep at all.”
This time of year, Burgin’s got a lot of mouths to feed.
The critters she feeds are almost unrecognizable when she gets them.
“It’s just getting a little fur on its nose,” said last month, feeding two babies, including a gray squirrel and a white one.
“People think well it’s a rat with a bushy tail. Well, they are rodents,” she conceded.
The white squirrel was less than a week old when she began caring for it.
“She’s just learning to latch onto that nipple,” she said, feeding them formula with a syringe.
It was found at outside St. Phillips Church in Brevard, home of the white squirrel.
“In a big storm half of a nest came down, mother included, and somebody just happened to be walking by at that moment and heard them crash,” she said. “She’s got a fair bit of brusing on her legs from the fall.”
Wildlife rehabbers like Burgin are bombarded with calls this time of year.
“That was on Tuesday. That night I got a call from Etowah that found a squirrel in their driveway that had fallen. You can see that’s a gray,” she said. “He’s got a little bit more fur on his nose and a stronger suck.”
She started out years ago working with birds. Then she began squirreling away time strictly for squirrels.
“And that was it! Absolutely stole my heart,” she recalled. “It reminded me of all the critters I had as a child, and I said, “‘That’s what I want.'”
When we returned several days ago, both babies had quadrupled in weight.
The white squirrel was 22 grams weeks earlier and had grown to 91, finally growing that trademark white coat.
“It’s amazing how fast they develop,” she marveled.
“And that tail goes round and round like a motorboat,” she says of the gray squirrel, who’s also growing fast. “This boy hasn’t missed too many meals.”
She plans to release them into the wild this fall, depending on the weather. Since we began charting her progress, Burgin got has two more to feed.
“Last night, this one came in! These people found it crawling in their backyard,” she said.
Jennifer says the constant care is worth it.
“Squirrels are responsible for planting much of our forests,” she said. “You’re doing this so they can fulfill their destiny, so they can go out and do what they were meant to do.”