Recently I released three young squirrels into my natural backyard. What goes on around me I can not control. And as our habitat continues to disappear, I vowed back in the ’90s to do something about it. I went through Canadian Wildlife Federation and did their Backyard Habitat Program. Providing, natural food, water and shelter for my wildlife friends. We have lived here 30 years and since the get-go, our dogs in the early morning hours and early evening hours, when our woodsy creatures venture out, have always gone out on leash supervised. To protect them, and whatever else could be out there. During the day they were a bell. Everything knows they are out there and I know where they are. Our 2 ponds are fenced in within our fenced yard so it is a safe haven. Every time I plant I provide more native berries. And more native flowers for birds, bees, and butterflies. This has been very successful.

Robins, cedar waxwings, gray catbirds, cardinals, orioles, hummingbirds, all woodpeckers, and if we have to take a tree we leave 15 ft up. They feed from it, play on it and nest in it. My backyard is a magical place and everything is welcomed. Fox, skunks, raccoons, mink, opossums and even a porcupine have passed through or around our yard or home. We even had a bull moose and a black bear. Coyotes, wild turkeys, bald eagles, red tail hawks, coopers, northern shrikes, screech owls, snowies and barred and screech owls, all in our backyard or nearby at one time or another during the years. Recently a Tom turkey roosted in a tall tree out back in our yard and serenaded us til dark. Gobble gobble gobble was all we heard until the lights went out and the night skies were upon us. Giving us quite the chuckle. Oh my gosh, we are truly blessed here. And that’s what keeps us here as the area drastically changes around us. More high powered boats and people who have no respect for the peace and quiet. For Mother Earth and the lives she holds. So three more beautiful souls are no big deal to us. We have a huge maple tree out front we call our squirrel condo tree. It’s massive. A tree we will protect forever. And more outback.

December 28th. Three little beauties came home with me and my husband from jProcyon to go free for the first time in their young lives. 1 gray and 2 black. Ollie and the Tornadoes are what they were called. Complete with their own special nest box. My husband attached them to a tree facing away from the prevailing winds here. It was about 2:30 or so in the afternoon. A mild day. And they had quite the welcoming committee. Chickadees, blue jays, downy and hairy and lastly my pair of Pileated woodpeckers. Oh a big box, what’s this I’m sure they thought. All we saw that day was the 3 little heads peeking in and out. Sometimes 2 at a time. Like hey, I want to see to, hey, I want to see. Oh my gosh, I’m going to enjoy the newcomers. I can already tell I’m going to be entertained. I set my trail camera out nearby as well. And I can see them from my windows, my computer is in one window. I don’t think I’m going to get much work done with these 3. I’m going to be too busy watching them, chuckling at their antics and taking photos. The night closed in quickly it seemed and I knew they were all snug inside with everything they needed to keep warm. Some food was put in there to. They had worked hard to build this nest so it was home to them. But they were not used to popping their heads out into a great big open world with so many trees and so much other wildlife activity. They are free. Their new wildlife now begins.

I have rescued many little lives here but returning them to the wild is the most cherished moment anyone in rehabilitation can have, after all their hard work, many hours, and many heartaches, it’s finally the best moments in your life to set them free. To give them their wildness back. No animal born into the wild should ever be kept as a pet, they are wild. And as they grow that wild comes out.

December 29th. Ollie and the Tornadoes finally came out. Peeping heads in and out, bickering about who goes first into these strange surroundings. First, a black very cautiously snuck out, didn’t go far but discovered the trees. They had trees and stumps and lots of good wild stuff in their enclosure. But they were enclosed. Now they are wide open, free. Trees everywhere. Ponds and there will be a big beautiful jungle out their come spring. One with much to explore and do. One I hope they hang around to enjoy, they may very well move on. But I’m sure they will visit. Then the black discovered the trees, up and down all around, from one to the next, on the ground jumping through the leaves.

Then Ollie came out. Oh, he had a really big first adventure. I laughed and chuckled watching him. He ran up and down, did circles, grabbed out for branches, stretched yawned, down to the ground. Over to the next tree same thing, over and over, checked out a food cache other squirrels had built, pulled in more branches and nibbled on them, shook his beautiful bushy gray tail for all it was worth and then Ollie came down and went on an adventure. I was a little worried but he is free now and will find his way. The last black came out a little more cautious. It all took about 30 to 40 min. And it was so beautiful to see them go free. But the blacks did not go far from their safe place, their nest box. When released their nest box stays with them. That’s all they know now, everything else is brand new. The first day came to an end. One black was enjoying itself so much it just kept playing in the trees by its nest box. Not venturing too far but jumping through the top branches and running up and down. It was a sight to see for sure. Then finally I could hardly see it anymore for darkness, it went in. They are truly enjoying their freedom. Other black had already gone to bed, after all, it was a very stressful couple of days.

I checked my trail camera the next day. Ollie never returned. I was concerned but somehow I knew he was okay. He was out being wild and free. That first night the two in the box kept sticking their little heads in and out of the box. Maybe they were nervous, or maybe they were like, come on sunshine, we want to get out and play again. They finally settled. Coming out next morning, day 3, big stretches and adventures begin all over again. I’m putting food out until they learn to forage. I do give all my lot a bit in the morning and afternoon anyways. Ollie never showed up again. I went for my walk with my dog and I saw Ollie! Next street over rooting around, checking everything out. He was fine. Adventurous little Ollie. Next day, there was Ollie. He came home for breakfast.

They have been here for over a week now, all three are here and all three are using the nest box. Ollie is the adventurous one. He gets up eats and on his way. Then he comes back to get his dinner and off to bed. The other two are going a little further but not out of sight of their safe place yet. Ollie has made some friends in a back tree in neighbour’s backyard, he is having the time of his life, he is the boss, he definitely has attitude and he talks a lot. My regulars have taught them how to be wild, to run to safety if they think danger is near, they know the danger call, they know to run to safety if they are unsure or scared. They have lots of friends both furred and feathered. And I’m watching over them all cause that’s what I do. I love it and have been doing it for 30 years here. Procyon volunteers did a great job of raising these little orphans. But as all things must go. These three little ones are free and are wild now. Just the way it’s supposed to be. Maybe I’ll get to see their little ones come spring. And they too will be welcomed here. As all living things are.

Please remember, wild animals are just that, wild. Never keep them, always get them to a rehabilitation centre asap. Do not try to care for them yourselves. They all have special needs depending on the species and they all need to go back to the wild.

They are most definitely not pets. Babies grow up. They become wild. Keep them wild. Set them free.

Life is good.

Jennifer Howard
Procyon Volunteer & Wildlife Photographer

To see the complete album of Ollie and the Tornadoes in their new home click here.

Be Wild Be Free!
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