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Thread: Question about releasing in fall

  1. #1
    vickyjhnsn Guest

    Default Question about releasing in fall

    I have three squirrels now that are 8-9 weeks old. I live in North Carolina. I planned to release them in the spring but they seem like they always want out of their cage and feel bad about keeping them caged up the whole winter. The weather here is warm now and the leaves just barely falling off the trees. According to many sites they are usually ready to be released about 12 weeks. Is that correct? That is only a couple of weeks away. They are weaning themselves off the formula, taking less and less each feeding against my better judgement. They are eating henry's blocks and veggies and i will soon be introducing them to nuts and fruit in a week or so.

    I was reading online you can release them in the fall but need to feed them all winter. Can you experience rehabbers give me some advice and what you all have done in the past. This is the first bunch of squirrels I have rehabbed and many of you know I have posted her many times for advice. I'm so torn on what to do. I have gotten advice here that says to keep them over winter. Several web sites I have been on say to release them but let them feed and nest in release cage. They seem to want out so bad I just feel bad keeping them all winter.

    Right now they are in a large ferret cage. It is not like they are in a small cage with no room to climb. They have their own room so they can be let out to run for an hour or so at a time. I have two more babies that I know have to stay for the winter. Their eyes are just opening now.

    I want to do this right. I just got my rehabbers license here in NC and the rehabbers here are torn on the issue.

    Please help.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    could you build a large outdoor release cage???

    rehabbers here are torn too.... 15 weeks too early? no idea...

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  3. #3
    vickyjhnsn Guest

    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    Yes, I have one planned that I am going to put up. Can you please explain what that means 15 weeks too early? I can keep the for the winter, its just that everytime I walk by the cage, they want out. I feel bad for them.

    If I build a release cage, a big one, how would I go about releasing them? Should I just keep them out in the big cage outside? That would probably be better for them then in the house don't you think? I would feed them all winter but would I let them out and let them come back and forth? Let them nest in the release cage and eat in the nest cage and just leave the door open for them?

    Has anyone ever done this? I would think other animals would get in, like other squirrels. Would it be better to just keep them in the release cage all winter? Don't know what to do and I'd love to hear somebody's experience in this.

    If I do keep them in the winter, could someone please tell me what to expect from them. Like I said, I'm new at this and want to know what I'm doing here.

    Thank you so much.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    Before I say anything, I will make a disclaimer: I am not an expert.

    But what I've learned about Fall babies release:

    Yes, 12 wks is the age when babies are considered ready for release. The age is chosen because in the wild that's the age when babies emerge from the nest and begin to learn how to be on their own.

    A couple of things about differences b/w wild babies and rehabbed babies:
    1. In the wild before 12wks age, babies are raised by their mother squirrel who teaches them squirrelly things
    2. After 12wks of age, even though they emerge out of the nest and begin to explore the outside, they continue to learn a lot of squirrelly things from their mother, how to survive in the wild, how build a nest, how to stand up for yourself, how to stash etc etc etc. Often, while being on their own during the day, they go back to their mother and their "home" nest to sleep.
    Fall babies stay with their mother and siblings in their "home" nest during winter to keep each other warm.

    Rehabbed babies do not have their mother squirrel to learn all important squirrelly things. When released, they are truly on their own, not having their mother to continue teach them important survival tips and tricks.
    When Spring babies are released, they catch up and stash enough food during the summer.
    Fall babies have no time to catch up, so it's much tougher for them.
    One of the rehabbers here (sorry, forgot who) quoted from somewhere that Fall babies have about 80% or so survival rate.
    Another thing - you might not be able to support them with food during winter if they end up getting chased out of your backyard/release site by other wilds.

    Rehab centres and most rehabbers who rehab dozens and hundreds of squirrels obviously cannot physically overwinter Fall babies. So, they had to pick a certain min. age for release.
    One of the important conditions for Fall release - trees should still have green leaves.
    But a lot individuals and those rehabbers who have room prefer to overwinter Fall babies and release in the spring.

    So, you will need to weigh everything and decide.

    If you decide to overwinter - there are differ. ways to do that. as far as i remember, some ppl keep them in outside release cage (e.g., porch, basement, garage etc), others - keep them inside. you can post a question as a separate thread and ppl will share.

  5. #5
    vickyjhnsn Guest

    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    First, thank you so much for taking the time to help me. Yes, I don't mind keeping them in a release cage over the winter outside but I don't have a garage or carport or anything like that. I don't feel comfortable about letting them out of the cage for the very reason you explained to me. I would worry too much about them not being able to find their way back, getting bullied by the other squirrels, and other animals out there.

    This is what I was thinking and I'd love it if someone would tell me what they think. When I build the release cage, I would put a roof on it to protect from rain and snow, etc. I would put the release cage in the woods in back of my house, probably 75 feet away from our house. It will be big enough for me to walk into with the smaller release cage and the nest box inside that smaller release cage. As soon as they are completely off the formula and eating complete solid foods, I would bring the out to the release cage. This way it would still be warm enough to give them time to adapt to the weather gradually. We are still getting 70 - 80 degree weather and by then it varies but it is still warm out. I would spend a great amount of time back there with them so they know I'm still there the first month and after that go every day for short visits a few times a day to check on them, clean up for them, and feed them. There are three of them so they have each other to keep each other warm and I can provide plenty of blankets for them daily.

    I also plan on going in the cage and showing them how to bury their nuts, although I think that is instinct because they do that in their cage. I would also provide materials for them to build their own nests and would research what they use and make sure they have it readily available in the release cage. The when spring gets here, going outside will not be a shock to them and they will be itching to get out by then pretty bad.

    To me, them being wild animals, I would imagine this is a better solution then keeping them in the house in a room by themselves all winter long with me visiting them to take care of them. They seem to be resentful that they are being caged. That might be my imagination but that is the way it looks to me. They are fine when I let them run the room but the second I put them back in the cage, they get vicious running to my hand to bite me. They just seem pissed off at me.

    For those of you who have kept some over the winter in the house, does that work out well for anyone? It just seems like the faster I get them in the "wild" even though its controlled a bit, the better.

    Thanks in advance for anything you can share. I really don't know what I would do without this board.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    hi Vicky,

    Your plan sounds very good, but again, I am not an expert and do not know all the things and details about outdoor overwintering. I remember someone doing something along those lines, but again - do not remember details.

    It might be a good idea to post your question in Non-Life Threatening as a separate thread - more ppl will respond faster.
    (i do not think you need to show them how to bury nuts - this knowledge must be inborn in their squirrelly blood )

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    I have sort of the same problem--only my six are sweethearts in or out of the cage. I'm building a release cage beside the shed. It will have a roof with overhang and before winter gets going hard I hope to have a portal to a cage area inside the shed that's much warmer than out--chickens have heat lamps. They'll have hanging cubes that are insulated and I'm putting hooks along the perimeter for tarps for bad wind and rain. I can also put a heat lamp in a corner for them to bask under if needed. My guys should have been out a couple of weeks ago. Just have to get the cage finished up. They get to run amok inside every day but it's not enough--and they need more room. The doors will be big enough I can sit inside with em. They still demand their Fox Valley every day. They're in two pretty big cages. They pick which one they want to spend the night in. Sometimes it's four in one and two in the other--or how ever they want to split up. Good luck. I grew up in NC so it's near and dear.

  8. #8
    vickyjhnsn Guest

    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    Wow chickenlegs you gave me a great idea. I do have a shed. I could do the same thing and if its really cold, run a little heater for them. Boy my husband is going to love that. I can put the release cage right behind the shed which is the woods as well. Cut a hole in the shed and have a little walkway for them to go through into the shed and have a little cage in their they can keep warm. This way they can go inside if they get scared too.

    Thank you so much I'm going to discuss this with my husband. He already thinks I'm crazy so I've got nothing to loose.

    So you have decided to keep them all winter in the release cage then? Thanks again for such a great idea.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    One thing you will want to do is add double door entries on both the cage and in front of the shed door, so that there will be no accidental excapes. Sounds like a good plan. I winter over, have a 10 foot cage my hubby built in the basement, with lights on a timer to follow the daylight pattern of outside. Also have a release cage outside they go into in the spring.
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  10. #10
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    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    I envy you all who have large inside cages to overwinter them, and the materials to build nice outdoor pre release enclosures. Also envy those of you who have mild winter weather!! I think your plan sounds awesome .

  11. #11
    lilidukes Guest

    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    Last winter I had my 4'x8'x6' foot cage in my bedroom with 4 kids then come early spring I moved and they went to the garage in the same cage. I had to use heaters for the few really cold night we still had. I also had 2 in another large cage but had to let these two out for more exercise room. The big cage was enough room for the big 4 to run jump and play all winter without any problem.

    Winter kids just need a lot of different things to occupy them. I covered the bottom of the cage with 6 inches of aspen shavings so there wasn't any bad odors and I would sneak in in the middle of the night to clean when needed. All sorts of goodies were buried in the shavings.

    If you build your large cages in pieces and use metal brackets to connect it together it only takes a drill and about 15 minutes to assemble and disassemble. Also easy transport.

    It is easy to spot my winter kids after release cause they are the big fat squirrels in the trees.

  12. #12
    mpetys Guest

    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    Quote Originally Posted by vickyjhnsn
    First, thank you so much for taking the time to help me. Yes, I don't mind keeping them in a release cage over the winter outside but I don't have a garage or carport or anything like that. I don't feel comfortable about letting them out of the cage for the very reason you explained to me. I would worry too much about them not being able to find their way back, getting bullied by the other squirrels, and other animals out there.

    This is what I was thinking and I'd love it if someone would tell me what they think. When I build the release cage, I would put a roof on it to protect from rain and snow, etc. I would put the release cage in the woods in back of my house, probably 75 feet away from our house. It will be big enough for me to walk into with the smaller release cage and the nest box inside that smaller release cage. As soon as they are completely off the formula and eating complete solid foods, I would bring the out to the release cage. This way it would still be warm enough to give them time to adapt to the weather gradually. We are still getting 70 - 80 degree weather and by then it varies but it is still warm out. I would spend a great amount of time back there with them so they know I'm still there the first month and after that go every day for short visits a few times a day to check on them, clean up for them, and feed them. There are three of them so they have each other to keep each other warm and I can provide plenty of blankets for them daily.

    I also plan on going in the cage and showing them how to bury their nuts, although I think that is instinct because they do that in their cage. I would also provide materials for them to build their own nests and would research what they use and make sure they have it readily available in the release cage. The when spring gets here, going outside will not be a shock to them and they will be itching to get out by then pretty bad.

    To me, them being wild animals, I would imagine this is a better solution then keeping them in the house in a room by themselves all winter long with me visiting them to take care of them. They seem to be resentful that they are being caged. That might be my imagination but that is the way it looks to me. They are fine when I let them run the room but the second I put them back in the cage, they get vicious running to my hand to bite me. They just seem pissed off at me.

    For those of you who have kept some over the winter in the house, does that work out well for anyone? It just seems like the faster I get them in the "wild" even though its controlled a bit, the better.

    Thanks in advance for anything you can share. I really don't know what I would do without this board.
    Last year I overwintered in my house and on my enclosed front porch. This year, I will have much, much more than I did last year and cannot fathom keeping them in the house all winter. It is not that I don't want them here but I just can't see keeping them in my house cages when I have 5' x 7' x 7' release cages outdoors. Here is a link to the thread on the release cage we built: http://thesquirrelboard.com/forums/s...790#post693790

    I think my squirrels will be much happier with all that space, fresh air, seeing outdoor activity etc. In case of cold weather, we can put tarps or plywood on the sides to break any cold wind. One of the other reasons for keeping them outside is that it sure is easier to keep their living space clean when they are in the release cage. And even now, I have a hard time opening a door on their indoor cages without one or two pushing their way out. Yes, for me, outdoor seems to be the perfect answer for my guys.

  13. #13
    vickyjhnsn Guest

    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    Thanks Michele I feel better about keeping them outside from you sharing your experiences. I decided not to do the cage next to the shed because it is so far away from the house. Instead I found a smaller cage and a really large cage on Craigslist. The smaller cage is about 3 feet tall, 4 feet wide and 4 feet deep. It came with a nest box and all the fixings. The larger cage is 9 feet tall and 3 feet deep and 4 feet wide.

    For now, I am going to keep them in the smaller cage. I'm getting it ready now and should have them out next week. I plan on using a tarp for the roof but this is a temporary cage until the big one is ready.. I have to build support for the big one because it had to be torn down to move. I have to put steaks up and more wood support so that will take a couple of weeks and I want to make it really nice. I also want a shingled roof for it. This is what they will spend the entire winter in.

    The smaller one is really big too and good for a first stage cage for outside and they can use that while I'm getting the bigger one ready. I have it near the side of my house in the back and for cold nights I can use a heating pad under the nest box that they cannot get to. I can post pictures when its done to help anybody needing ideas for their own. I have it right under my bedroom window so if anything bothers them at night I can hear them. I just cleaned it really good and I"m bringing the nest box in tomorrow after it is completely dry so they can get used to it. Right now they have run of their room and I opened the window for them and secured branches in front of the wire fence/netting I used to block the screen on the window. they sit by the window all day looking out. I know they want out. I'm so glad we do have mild winters because I think they would be happier out there.

    I still have my younger two that will most likely have to stay inside the whole winter. They are only six weeks now and don't think they will have the coat to go out by the time they are ready. On nice warm days I can put them in the smaller cage near the house for the daytime hours though. This way they can have their outside time.

    Thanks for all your hints and sharing your stories. I will post pictures when I get the smaller cage done this week and then when the big one is up in about a month. Boy, what we do for these little guys!!

  14. #14
    mpetys Guest

    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    Quote Originally Posted by vickyjhnsn
    Thanks Michele I feel better about keeping them outside from you sharing your experiences. I decided not to do the cage next to the shed because it is so far away from the house. Instead I found a smaller cage and a really large cage on Craigslist. The smaller cage is about 3 feet tall, 4 feet wide and 4 feet deep. It came with a nest box and all the fixings. The larger cage is 9 feet tall and 3 feet deep and 4 feet wide.

    For now, I am going to keep them in the smaller cage. I'm getting it ready now and should have them out next week. I plan on using a tarp for the roof but this is a temporary cage until the big one is ready.. I have to build support for the big one because it had to be torn down to move. I have to put steaks up and more wood support so that will take a couple of weeks and I want to make it really nice. I also want a shingled roof for it. This is what they will spend the entire winter in.

    The smaller one is really big too and good for a first stage cage for outside and they can use that while I'm getting the bigger one ready. I have it near the side of my house in the back and for cold nights I can use a heating pad under the nest box that they cannot get to. I can post pictures when its done to help anybody needing ideas for their own. I have it right under my bedroom window so if anything bothers them at night I can hear them. I just cleaned it really good and I"m bringing the nest box in tomorrow after it is completely dry so they can get used to it. Right now they have run of their room and I opened the window for them and secured branches in front of the wire fence/netting I used to block the screen on the window. they sit by the window all day looking out. I know they want out. I'm so glad we do have mild winters because I think they would be happier out there.

    I still have my younger two that will most likely have to stay inside the whole winter. They are only six weeks now and don't think they will have the coat to go out by the time they are ready. On nice warm days I can put them in the smaller cage near the house for the daytime hours though. This way they can have their outside time.

    Thanks for all your hints and sharing your stories. I will post pictures when I get the smaller cage done this week and then when the big one is up in about a month. Boy, what we do for these little guys!!

    If you want, why don't you post as much info / pics of what you have and what you plan on doing to get them ready. Someone might see something you are missing or a way to do it better or safer. I have learned so much from building our release setup. One thing I wish I hadn't done was put nest boxes in the two trees right next to the release cage. It makes it hard for the new releases because right off the bat, there are older, established squirrels who claim all that area as theirs. We want to move their nest boxes but it is hard to since they have made themselves at home.

    Good luck, look forward to seeing your pictures and yes, you are right, these little guys have us all wrapped around their little fingers!

  15. #15
    lilidukes Guest

    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    Quote Originally Posted by mpetys
    Last year I overwintered in my house and on my enclosed front porch. This year, I will have much, much more than I did last year and cannot fathom keeping them in the house all winter. It is not that I don't want them here but I just can't see keeping them in my house cages when I have 5' x 7' x 7' release cages outdoors. Here is a link to the thread on the release cage we built: http://thesquirrelboard.com/forums/s...790#post693790

    I think my squirrels will be much happier with all that space, fresh air, seeing outdoor activity etc. In case of cold weather, we can put tarps or plywood on the sides to break any cold wind. One of the other reasons for keeping them outside is that it sure is easier to keep their living space clean when they are in the release cage. And even now, I have a hard time opening a door on their indoor cages without one or two pushing their way out. Yes, for me, outdoor seems to be the perfect answer for my guys.

    Don't forget winters in Tampa, Fl are nothing like winters in NC! Kinda hard to make a comparison. Michele your worst cold days are their warm ones.

  16. #16
    mpetys Guest

    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    Quote Originally Posted by lilidukes
    Don't forget winters in Tampa, Fl are nothing like winters in NC! Kinda hard to make a comparison. Michele your worst cold days are their warm ones.
    Thanks for pointing this out lilidukes! vickyjhnsn posted in her first post, "I want to do this right. I just got my rehabbers license here in NC and the rehabbers here are torn on the issue."

    I assumed that meant they were torn over "overwintering outdoors" in NC. I did not address that issue but instead was trying to address the issue of whether it is okay to even consider overwintering outdoors as opposed to keeping them indoors all winter. For me, it was an issue of, "am I a bad rehabber who is taking the easy way out" if I overwinter outdoors. When I first considered this idea, I felt guilty, and wanted to make sure that I was doing it for the right reason. That I would consider overwintering outside because it was the right thing for my squirrels overall and not because it was easier for me by having them out of the house.

    Perhaps since you are closer to her location you can offer advice on the issue of whether she should even be considering overwintering outdoors or not.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    Folks I know several rehabbers here in NY -- WAY colder than NC or Virginia -- who overwinter outdoors. The kids do fine; they are fat and fluffy and on really nasty days they just sleep in. For my part, I have released as late as Nov 18 here because the maple trees still had green/yellow leaves for making nests and I planned to visit the release site daily until I was sure everyone was okay.
    My personal feeling is to follow nature as closely as possible. RESIST imposing the values/feelings we have for our domesticated pets ("OMG!! It's 40 degrees out there, how can Fifi possibly go for a walk?") upon wild creatures like squirrels. Nature prepares them for the weather in every cell of their bodies. They are created to be OUTSIDE. Go with it.
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  18. #18
    mpetys Guest

    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    Quote Originally Posted by island rehabber
    Folks I know several rehabbers here in NY -- WAY colder than NC or Virginia -- who overwinter outdoors. The kids do fine; they are fat and fluffy and on really nasty days they just sleep in. For my part, I have released as late as Nov 18 here because the maple trees still had green/yellow leaves for making nests and I planned to visit the release site daily until I was sure everyone was okay.
    My personal feeling is to follow nature as closely as possible. RESIST imposing the values/feelings we have for our domesticated pets ("OMG!! It's 40 degrees out there, how can Fifi possibly go for a walk?") upon wild creatures like squirrels. Nature prepares them for the weather in every cell of their bodies. They are created to be OUTSIDE. Go with it.
    I guess another thing that played in my decision is that while most rehabbers I know here in Florida, release the squirrels at 5 months old, I know that others, here in Florida and in much colder areas, release at 12 -16 weeks old. Plus I think of Kelly Brady's little Paquita whose mother kicked her out of the nest at 12 weeks old to make room for her new batch of babies. She is making her way just fine.

    And IR is right, we do tend to impose the values/feelings we have for our domesticated pets but we also tend to impose human values on them as well. They are wild animals and I am learning that more each day. They don't have to love me or remember me or come back and visit me. If they do, it is a bonus. My main goal is to raise healthy squirrels and put them on a path to eventual freedom. For me and my squirrels, that path includes a more natural overwintering outdoors.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    I too am in a similar situation with 2 little boys that came to me around Labor Day. They were approx 6-8 weeks old at that time, so now they are approx 12-14 weeks old. They have never been "friendly" and they have always HATED me...chattering, swatting, tail flicking, etc. and even a few good hard bites to my hands.
    I am in an area that gets much more of "winter" than NC or VA and maybe slightly less than NY. It does go into the 20's for a high during the day, so it's COLD and we have been known to gets LOTS of snow. From everything I have been reading related to the type of winter we are supposed to have...it will be slow arriving, but after it gets here it will be a "bad" one.
    These 2 are currently in the release cage (2 nights and 3 days so far). We still have lots of leaves on the trees but they are starting to fall quicker and quicker.
    The things I have been wondering...
    • Do they already have their winter coats? (in comparison to the wilds, their coats look thin to me)
    • Their tails look much thinner than the rest of the wilds, will they be able to stay warm enough?
    • Would they have a better chance of "making it" if I over winter them IN the release cage?
    • Since they are so young and males, I would fully expect them to be chased off so my efforts of feeding all winter (if they are released) would not guarantee that they would get any, right?
    • The nest box in the release cage has been filled with Polyfill and some fleece and they have many branches with leaves (maple, oak & pine) in the release cage (RC)...if over wintered in the RC will I need to provide an additional heat source for them?
    • The RC was built for "summer" use so there are no solid sides or top (all hardware cloth), if they would stay in the RC for the winter I would make some modifications to the RC (add a sloped solid roof and at least 2 partially solid sides) so they would have at least some protection from the frigid howling winds we get...would this be enough?

    I am really torn with these two. Since they have been in the release cage, this morning is the FIRST time I have actually seen them out of the nest box and they appeared to be very scared, but I was delivering avocado, HHB's & nuts in their breakfast, so they could not resist.

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  20. #20
    mpetys Guest

    Default Re: Question about releasing in fall

    Quote Originally Posted by Milo's Mom
    I too am in a similar situation with 2 little boys that came to me around Labor Day. They were approx 6-8 weeks old at that time, so now they are approx 12-14 weeks old. They have never been "friendly" and they have always HATED me...chattering, swatting, tail flicking, etc. and even a few good hard bites to my hands.
    I am in an area that gets much more of "winter" than NC or VA and maybe slightly less than NY. It does go into the 20's for a high during the day, so it's COLD and we have been known to gets LOTS of snow. From everything I have been reading related to the type of winter we are supposed to have...it will be slow arriving, but after it gets here it will be a "bad" one.
    These 2 are currently in the release cage (2 nights and 3 days so far). We still have lots of leaves on the trees but they are starting to fall quicker and quicker.
    The things I have been wondering...
    • Do they already have their winter coats? (in comparison to the wilds, their coats look thin to me)
    • Their tails look much thinner than the rest of the wilds, will they be able to stay warm enough?
    • Would they have a better chance of "making it" if I over winter them IN the release cage?
    • Since they are so young and males, I would fully expect them to be chased off so my efforts of feeding all winter (if they are released) would not guarantee that they would get any, right?
    • The nest box in the release cage has been filled with Polyfill and some fleece and they have many branches with leaves (maple, oak & pine) in the release cage (RC)...if over wintered in the RC will I need to provide an additional heat source for them?
    • The RC was built for "summer" use so there are no solid sides or top (all hardware cloth), if they would stay in the RC for the winter I would make some modifications to the RC (add a sloped solid roof and at least 2 partially solid sides) so they would have at least some protection from the frigid howling winds we get...would this be enough?

    I am really torn with these two. Since they have been in the release cage, this morning is the FIRST time I have actually seen them out of the nest box and they appeared to be very scared, but I was delivering avocado, HHB's & nuts in their breakfast, so they could not resist.
    All good questions MM. Hopefully we'll get some rehabbers with experience with your kind of winters to chime in.

    When I have one or two that are not friendly, teeth chattering ect., I can't help but think that being in a smaller cage indoors has got to be stressful; especially as I am entering that cage to feed and clean. I have found that when in the larger outdoor release cage, these types tend to stay in their nest boxes when I open the door to put food in or toss nuts.

    We have a tin roof on our release cage, mounted at a pitch so rain falls off. I guess that would be good for snow as well!

    Again, hopefully others with experience will pitch in their opinions. Good luck with yours!

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