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What Happens When a Tiny Squirrel Gets a Broken Leg?

Wildlife Rehabilitation

Story at-a-glance -

  • Two recent news stories originating from the Washington D.C. area illustrate the wonderful work wildlife rehabilitators do to heal injured animals and return them to the wild.
  • In a case this past April, a baby squirrel dropped out of her nest and fell 75 feet to the pavement below. She was rescued by a concerned citizen and taken to City Wildlife, the only wildlife rehabilitation center in D.C. The tiny squirrel had a bloody nose, a broken tooth, and a broken ankle. Rehab specialists patched her up and put a miniature cast on her broken ankle. Two months later, she was all healed up and City Wildlife released her in a greenspace outside the Capital Beltway.
  • In another case that began in January, a snowy owl was hit by a bus in D.C., and after a slow-speed police chase, was captured and taken first to the National Zoo and then to City Wildlife, where he was treated for a broken toe and damaged beak. Because the owl also had several singed flight feathers, he was transferred in March to The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, where he received a feather transplant that will allow him to hunt and survive in the wild until a whole new set of feathers comes in during his next molt. We’re pleased to report that like the baby squirrel, the young snowy owl was also successfully released back into the wild in Wisconsin in mid-April.

By Dr. Becker

A few months ago, a tiny squirrel was brought into a wildlife rehabilitation center in Washington D.C. after she fell 75 feet from her nest. The poor baby landed on the sidewalk and suffered a bloody nose, a broken tooth, and a broken ankle.

Fortunately, the wonderful folks at City Wildlife, the only wildlife rehab center in the D.C. area, were able to treat the little squirrel by placing a tiny cast on her broken ankle. For an absolutely precious picture of the squirrel and her little red cast, check out City Wildlife's Facebook page.

The rehab specialists who treated her expected the squirrel's ankle to heal very quickly because she's so young. So hopefully by the time you read this, the little girl squirrel is all healed up and nesting comfortably (and carefully!) in a tree somewhere.


The little squirrel with the broken ankle and three other juvenile squirrels were released back into greenspace outside the Capital Beltway a month ago! You can read about the release and watch a video of it here.

D.C.'s City Wildlife Also Took in a Snowy Owl Hit by a Bus

In January, City Wildlife also took charge of a snowy owl that was reportedly hit by a D.C. bus. As luck would have it, two police officers on patrol actually saw the poor owl being hit, first by a Metro bus, and again by an SUV.

According to the Washington Post, "For the next two hours, the officers trailed the bird as it took to the air and darted around the downtown area. As they kept their eyes on it, they tried to summon medical treatment."

The owl eventually came to rest in a spot that was accessible to the two officers. A third officer joined them, and armed with a flashlight, blanket and cardboard box, they were able to capture and confine the injured bird.

The first stop was the National Zoo, where the owl was examined and treated. Then he was taken to City Wildlife for rehabilitation. According to the rehab center, the owl had a broken toe on his left foot, beak damage, and possible internal and head injuries. Blood tests showed he was also anemic. You can see a picture of the owl here.

D.C.'s Snowy Owl Gets a Feather Transplant at The Raptor Center

The plan was for the bird to remain at City Wildlife until he was well enough to be released back into the wild. But unfortunately, the owl also had a number of flight feathers that appeared to have been singed by some sort of heat source.

So sometime in March, the poor, grounded owl was transferred to The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, where he underwent a feather transplant procedure called "imping," which involves gluing in temporary feathers. He received 9 (out of 12) temporary tail feathers and half on each wing.

According to the Raptor Center, the imping procedure will allow him to fly well enough to hunt and survive in the wild while he waits for a whole new set of feathers to come in during his next normal molt.

The owl was taken out for a test flight in early April, and I'm delighted to report that on April 19, he was released back into the wild near Superior, Wisconsin:

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