How I Helped With A Squirrel Release

 I have participated in the Virginia Beach SPCA wildlife program for several years as a Wildlife Transporter.  But this past year I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to expand my involvement by helping out one of the shelter’s wildlife rehabilitators with what’s called a “soft release” for several of the orphaned squirrels that she had rehabiltated. 
Once the squirrels are old enough to go out into the wide world on their own, they are moved  into a secure area in the habitat they will eventually be released to.  This allows them to get used to the enviroment and perfect skills such as jumping from branch to branch while not having to worry about things like predators.
Living on a very large wooded lot with tons of great squirrel habitat easily allowed me to meet the first criteria necessary to help with the soft releases.  Next, I had to construct an enclosure appropriate for the squirrels.  My father and handiman extraordinaire helped build a nice, sturdy enclosure complete with a shingled roof, nest boxes, and lots of climbing branches.  The day before the squirrels were set to move in, I spent some time foraging about my property and stockpiling acorns, green pinecones,and  small twigs with bark to help them transition to native foods from their diet of squirrel food.As soon as the squirrels arrived they began to busily settle themselves in – the first objective seemed to be lining the nesting boxes with enough leaves to make nice, comfy resting places.  From there, my job simply involved ensuring there was enough food and water in the morning and evening. 
After a couple weeks in the enclosure the squirrels were ready for their first venture outside, so one morning I left the door open for them.  I watched through binoculars from an upstairs balcony as one by one they tentatively stepped outside to explore.   They quickly found the nesting boxes I had placed around the property.  For the next week or so, I shut them in again in the evening until one day, as the rehabilitator had said would happen, I went to close them in and everyone had permanently moved out.
Whether you help by getting an orphaned or injured animal to an appropriate rehabilitator, actually rehabbing wildlife, or providing a venue for soft release, having a hand in these animals’ successful release is a truly rewarding experience.  If you haven’t already, check out the volunteer opportunities currently available with the VBSPCA and see how you can get involved.