There are babes in the woods.

They also may be in the trees, around your yard and in most any Island habitat. Baby squirrels have arrived.

Wild Care, a wildlife rehabilitation center on Cape Cod, reports that they have already received their first baby squirrels of the season. The babies were brought in on Feb. 28. This is earlier than usual, though not the earliest ever. The record for squirrel baby arrival was Feb. 10.

The stork, however, didn’t bring these babies, though if they did those birds would be very busy with rodent deliveries. Squirrels breed two times per year.

Now is the first round of reproduction for squirrels. The first mating season occurs in late-January/early-February and a second one comes in May and June. With a 44-day gestation, tiny, hairless squirrel babies have begun to be born and found by well-meaning humans.

Squirrels nest or den in many places — the crotches of trees, in cavities, under shrubs and even in human-made environments. Downed trees and limbs can hold squirrel nests, called dreys. Beneath solar panels is also a warm and inviting nesting area for a momma squirrel, as is an unused grill, under the hood of a rarely driven car or beneath the roof of a shed or outbuilding.

After mating activities, the male squirrel takes no part in the rearing and raising of his offspring.

The resultant babies, called kittens, are born blind (eyes closed), deaf and naked (no fur). They are pink and very small — just over an inch — and weigh about an ounce. For comparison, one slice of bread weighs the same as a newborn squirrel. As altricial animals, these babes rely completely on a parent – in their case, mother – for survival. No wonder we think they need help if we find them; single parenthood is hard.

The baby squirrels can be aged by looking for certain traits. The helpless newborn will grow into a very able (and bird seed stealing) adult.  After the first week, the kitten’s pink skin darkens. By the third week, the young are almost four inches long and are getting their front teeth, though their eyes are not yet open. At four weeks their eyes open, and at six weeks kittens can sit up on their own and hold food in their paws. At eight weeks old, the kitten is abundantly furred and has a full tail. At this point, it will become a very active juvenile and just about independent. Juveniles do not need help. Nor, as with our species, do they want it.

Kittens less than eight weeks old can be helped to reunite with their mothers. Though they seem alone, mom might be close by or she could be moving them one by one to another nest. She might be out gathering food.

This time of year, Felix Neck gets calls about abandoned or orphaned kittens. If there is a clear injury (blood, cuts, etc.), a licensed wildlife rehabilitator is needed. For squirrels with no injuries the best place to be is with their mother.

Never give the kittens food or water, as they need milk, best supplied by mom. If found, return to owner by either putting the kittens back in their nest or in a basket with a little heat (rice in a sock heated in a microwave) and expect mom’s return.

Squirrel survival is never assured, even under ideal conditions. In the wild, only a quarter of those who make it through the first year survive, and half again make it to two years. With such a short and perilous life, it is no wonder that squirrels seem to live life so boisterously — running, playing, chasing each other, dodging cars and pets, storing acorns, and generally living life to its fullest, every moment of the day. 

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.