Releasing a squirrel into the wild can be a tricky process. If done incorrectly, the squirrel could end up back in your yard or, worse – injured or dead. These tips will ensure you release it the right way and ensure your chances that it won’t find it’s way back to your home.
Tips for Releasing Squirrels Back Into The Wild
- Don’t Release Them In The Winter
- Keep The Squirrels Outside In A Release Cage At Four Months Old
- Leave Them In The Cage For 30 Days Before Releasing Into The Wild
- Choose The Right Environment
- Feed and Leave Without Human Interaction
- Add Wild Plants To Their Regular Food
- After 30 Days, Open The Door And Let Them Leave
- Leave A Small Opening For Them to Come Back In
- Open The Door In The Morning
- Leave Food And Water Until They Adjust to The Wild
- Don’t Rush The Process
How to Release A Squirrel Back Into The Wild
According to the Humane Society, 97% of grey squirrels relocated from suburban areas to extensive forests either died or disappeared from their release area. Likewise, flying squirrels, red squirrels, fox squirrels, and all other types of squirrels have a low survival rate when released into the wild.
These tips will ensure you’re doing everything possible to increase the animals’ chance of survival.
Watch this video that discusses a soft release of an injured or orphaned squirrel. Then, keep reading as we break down the process step by step.
#1 Don’t Release Them In The Winter
Whether you’ve trapped a squirrel or rescued them, avoiding releasing them into the wild during the winter is essential. Squirrels rely on dens in trees, fat reserves, and food caches to survive the long cold winter.
Since they don’t have these things, squirrels released in the winter have a lower chance of survival. So if you must release them, make sure it’s in late fall so they have time to prepare for winter.
Releasing a squirrel during the spring or summer is ideal since they can easily find food and build their nests. Squirrels are diurnal animals; like humans, they are active during the daytime.
So, they’ll have a better chance of survival when released at dawn or early morning.
#2 Keep The Squirrels Outside In A Release Cage At Four Months Old
At four months old, a squirrel is big enough to survive in the wild on its own. However, if you have an infant squirrel, it’s best to feed them and care for them until they’re old enough to survive on their own.
You can find more information on how to care for a baby squirrel here.
Once they’re ready, buy or build a release cage. This is a cage that’s big enough for the animal to move around in and get acclimated to the wild. Keeping it in the cage helps them acclimate to the outside temperature, sounds, and smells.
They’ll be able to climb, jump, and play without the risk of escape.
You can find release cages online or build one yourself. This video gives some good instructions on how to do that.
Place the release cage outside, so the squirrels get used to being in nature again.
Place the cage in an area with other trees and wildlife. This will help them feel more comfortable and less alone when you release them.
If you have more than one squirrel, you can place both of them in the release cage to release them simultaneously. Releasing two squirrels at the same time may increase their survival rate, as they’ll have to rely on each other once they’re back in the wild.
#3 Leave Them In The Cage For 30 Days Before Releasing Into The Wild
Understand that it can take 30-60 days for a squirrel to feel comfortable and safe in its release cage. This is why it’s essential to leave them in the cage for at least a month, if not longer.
How long it takes for a squirrel to get acclimated to the wild depends on how long they are in captivity. For example, a squirrel that was held in captivity since a baby may take longer to get used to the wild than one held captive for a few weeks.
Some squirrels cannot be released back into the wild because they’ve been in captivity for too long and have serious injuries or deformities.
These squirrels are referred to as non-releasable (NR).
In these cases, the best option is to find a local rehabber licensed by the state to care for these animals.
#4 Choose The Right Environment
A squirrel’s chance of survival increases if released in an area with plenty of deciduous woodland and food sources. Many people place the release cage under a tree, giving the animal a sense of security.
It also produces food such as; acorns, nuts, and seeds that the squirrels can eat. This will help the squirrel become adjusted to the wild before being released.
If you live in an area with few trees, then it’s best to contact a squirrel refuge or wildlife rehabilitator to help you find the best place to release the squirrel.
Some places to avoid releasing squirrels are; near roads, parking lots, or busy areas with a lot of foot traffic. These areas are dangerous for the animal and increase their chance of being hit by a car or getting attacked by predators.
#5 Feed and Leave Without Human Interaction
As soon as you put the squirrel in the release cage to get ready to release it back into the wild, it’s essential to avoid any human interaction. You want the squirrel to get used to being without humans, so they’re less likely to come back and try to find you once released.
This means no petting, talking, or feeding them by hand. You can still place food in the cage for them to eat, but make sure that’s all your doing. Interacting with them will only make it harder for them to release.
#6 Add Wild Plants To Their Regular Food
While the squirrels are in the release cage, continue feeding them three meals daily. Their diet should consist of the regular foods they’ve been eating. The only difference is you’ll add foods they’ll eat in the wild.
Add extra wild plants and foods to their diet. These foods include dandelions, plants, oak branches, leaves, acorns, and regular vegetables and fruits.
Doing this will help them get used to the different tastes and smells of the wild. It’ll also help their digestive system adjust to the new diet and give them the nutrients they need to survive in the wild.
Adding extra food to their diet will also help fatten them up, as they’ll need the extra energy to survive.
#7 After 30 Days, Open The Door And Let Them Leave
After 30 days, it’s time to open the door to see if the squirrel feels comfortable leaving. If the squirrel is ready to venture into the wild, it will leave the cage on its own. Don’t force it to leave. Instead, leave the door open and check back later.
It’s possible that the squirrel just needs some time to adjust and feel safe before venturing out.
#8 Leave A Small Opening For Them to Come Back In
When the squirrel leaves during the day, close the big opening and leave a small door open for them to get back into the cage. Some squirrels will return to the nest box during the night.
If this happens, lock the small door to keep the squirrel safe from predators.
If the squirrel doesn’t return, that’s okay! This just means they’re ready to live in the wild independently. Instead of being sad, be happy that you’ve done your job of getting it healthy so it can survive in the wild.
#9 Open The Door In The Morning
In The morning, unlock the door and leave it open. This allows the squirrel to come and go as it pleases. As mentioned above, it can take 30-60 days for a squirrel to adjust to the wild, so leaving the door open helps her stay safe and have a place to eat and sleep.
Eventually, the squirrel will venture out into the wild on her own when she feels ready.
#10 Leave Food And Water Until They Adjust to The Wild
For the first 30 days during the release process, it’s important to keep an eye on the cage. If the squirrel keeps returning, ensure you’re leaving food and water. If the squirrel keeps returning, it’s because they haven’t learned how to find food and water in the wild.
The goal is for the squirrel to slowly adjust to the wild and eventually start relying on natural food sources.
#11 Don’t Rush The Process
Releasing a squirrel slowly increases its chance of survival. If you just let the squirrel out in a forest or park to fend for itself, the chance of survival is slim.
So it’s important to give the squirrel the time it needs to acclimate to its new environment. Never release a squirrel that is not 100% healthy and can’t survive in the wild.
Rushing the process can be detrimental to the squirrel and its chances of survival, so be patient!
Releasing a squirrel into the wild is a step-by-step process that requires patience and time. However, by following these tips, you can increase the chances of survival for the animal.
The soft release process keeps them in a cage for 30 days to help them adjust to the wild. After releasing them, monitor the cage for 30 days, and if they return, provide food and water until they adjust to the wild.
If you’re unsure of how to return the squirrel to the wild, you can contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center for help.
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