13-Lined Ground Squirrel Returns Home

The people at the Lake City Ammunition Plant love wildlife so much that they have a feeding station on their property for birds, tree squirrels, ground squirrels and other critters.  

One day in December 2003, a caring employee found a 13-lined ground squirrel very thin, weak, and near dead on the ground. Not knowing what to do, he brought it to Lakeside Nature Center. Since he didn't know if it was a male or female, he called it Rosebud ...  Bud if a boy.  And yes, it was a boy. So Bud it was.

Since 13-lined ground squirrels go into full hibernation, it seemed rather strange for one to be out in the middle of winter. Chipmunks only go into partial hibernation, and come out on warm winter days to restock their dens with more food.   As thin as he was, Bud must have come out to look for food.  Perhaps there was too much competition for food during the fall when he needed to put on the extra weight necessary to survive during hibernation. Or heavy rains in late fall or early winter may have washed away the stash of food that he should have eaten before falling into his deep winter sleep.

Because ground squirrels are my specialty, Bud became my responsibility.   At home, I put him on a heat pad in my ICU ward and began putting weight on his poor emaciated body. He ate like there was no tomorrow.

Once he was stable and had put on enough weight, I moved him to the cool basement in a large aquarium with a PVC pipe for a tunnel, a nest box with toilet paper for bedding, and plenty of wood chips, so he could finish out his winter hibernation.

By spring of 2004, the time had come to start thinking about releasing Bud back into the wild.    I checked him out.  Lo and behold, not only was he alive, but extremely overweight. Then I had a new worry – was he too fat to escape predators?

Because Bud was an adult, he needed to be released back in his own territory. I had given progress reports to the people of Lake City, so they were real glad to get my call about releasing him. They remembered how thin he was when they found him, and were shocked when they shook his nest box and out waddled a very large, fat ground squirrel. Well, Bud knew right where he was, and dove into the first tunnel he saw.  Later that day he was seen at the feeding station. He was easily recognized by his size. There have been numerous Bud sightings at the plant since his release.

The folks at Lake City are planning to put extra food out for the ground squirrels after heavy rains.  I reminded them that any ground squirrels looking for food in the winter are in dire need.

The kind people of Lake City have learned a little more about ground squirrels.  And Bud, I hope you went into this winter's hibernation as fat as you were when we released you.


(Story and photo by Carol DeRuse)