Patient of the Week: Orphaned Douglas Squirrel Siblings Found Just in the Nick of Time

By Ashley Lema, Wildlife Rehabilitator

On August 29, we received three orphaned baby Douglas Squirrels that were found on a nearby trail. When the good Samaritans discovered them, they were on the ground amongst some brush, shaking and squeaking. They looked sick, and were obviously too young to be on their own just yet, so they brought them straight to our Wildlife Care Center.

One of the Douglas Squirrel babies being fed specialized squirrel formula with a syringe.
One of the Douglas Squirrel babies being fed specialized squirrel formula with a syringe.

We examined each baby and found that they were all severely malnourished and dehydrated, as well as covered in fleas and other parasites–all sure signs they’d been orphaned, and had been without their mother for some time. Sadly, within the first 24 hours of them being in care, the smallest and weakest baby passed away. They had gone through too much at such a young age, and sadly weren’t able to recover. If the good Samaritans hadn’t brought them to us right away, the whole litter may have not survived. Luckily we still had two babies who were slowly but surely getting better.

Initially, they were so young that we were feeding them a specialized formula to mimic squirrel milk every few hours. Young squirrels can’t keep themselves warm enough or defecate without their mothers, so we provided heat and helped them go to the bathroom as well. As they grew older, we began introducing solid foods, like pine cones from our sanctuary, and natural branches with lichen and moss to simulate their native environment. Once they didn’t require formula feedings, we moved them to a large outdoor enclosure, where they could really learn how to be squirrels. With climbable walls, tree branches and logs to jump, hide, and run on, and nest boxes to replicate tree hollows. 

We would often find nests they would create from moss, lichen, pieces of shredded bark, twigs and leaves during our daily cleaning of the cage, which was great to find. It meant they were exhibiting natural behaviors necessary for survival in the wild!

The first week of November, we released our last babies of the 2021 season! Full grown, feisty, and ever so handsome. McKenzie and I had a lot of fun trying to catch them for release, they outran us well, climbing as high as possible, jumping, running, and even hiding behind greenery; showing us they knew exactly how to evade predators. We feel confident they are prepared for this next season of their lives. And with them gone, we now begin preparation for the next baby season. 2022!

One of the Douglas Squirrels emerging from the release container, checking out their new home.

Douglas Squirrels can be found from Southwest British Columbia to Northern California, primarily west of the Cascades. They are very vocal, small tree squirrels, only about 10-14 inches in length (tail included). And although their fur can vary by region and time of year, their main look is a dark brownish gray coat, with a striking rusty color on their underside. During the warmer months, a black line runs down either side of the squirrel’s torso, and more predominantly in winter, they have small black ear tufts that I find really adorable. They also sport a white eye ring, and as all rodent’s do–have ever-growing incisor teeth that require constant gnawing to keep them sharp. 

The back half of squirrels is even more intriguing than their cute little faces. They have big, bushy tails that have a wide array of uses, such as balance when climbing, cushion when falling, umbrella and blankets when cold or wet, and for communicating with other animals. This plus their powerful claws, strong little bodies, and hyper-flexible “reversible” hind legs allow them to jump and climb up, down, sideways, all the ways(!) on tree trunks with ease. 

Douglas Squirrels are very active during the day and spend most of their time foraging for food, on the forest floor and up in trees. They are most at risk when on the ground though, so they always keep an eye and ear out for predators. When startled they will make an alarm call and quickly climb up the nearest tree to avoid danger. In the fall, they busily prepare for the coming winter, stockpiling food in various areas, so they can continue munching through the cold months. These squirrels, inadvertently, play an important role in forest regeneration and health by forgetting about their hoards of seeds, and spreading fungal spores through their scat. Douglas Squirrels diet is largely made up of pine seeds, which they nimbly remove from the cones of conifer trees. They also eat twigs and leaves, sap, fungi, buds, nuts, and fruit depending on the season. Douglas Squirrels are also opportunistic, and will dine on bird eggs, nestlings, and insects!

Douglas Squirrel, photo by Jacob McGinnis

How to Help

Douglas Squirrels have been declining over the past decades, under pressure from invasive squirrels, habitat fragmentation and loss of preferred mature mixed-conifer forests.

You can help these amazing animals by keeping habitat natural and healthy, planting natives that provide a variety of foods at different times of the year, and preserving large trees and dead/dying trees (snags) to provide more nest and food storage sites.


What to Do If You Find an Injured, Ill, or Orphaned Animal

The best thing you can do is contain the animal in a securely closed (but ventilated) box and keep the animal quiet and undisturbed until you can transport it to your closest wildlife rehabilitation facility. Do not offer food or water.

One of the Douglas Squirrels sitting on a tree branch post release.
One of the Douglas Squirrels sitting on a tree branch post release.

Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Wildlife Care Center accepts new patients from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day. You can also leave a message on our Wildlife Hotline at (503) 292-0304 or email and one of our wildlife solutions counselors will get back to you and provide advice for your specific situation.


We’re building a new Wildlife Care Center and need your help! If you would like to help injured and orphaned wildlife, please consider joining our crowdfunding campaign and making a gift to make this new facility a reality. We’re doubling the square footage, adding a surgical suite, and making many more important changes to provide the best care for our patients. Learn more at ForPortlandBird Alliance of

If you’d like to contribute to the Wildlife Care Center, please consider making a donation here. Your support helps us save lives.