It's baby-making season.
That means that North Texas wildlife rescue and rehabilitation outfits are fielding one of two yearly spikes in calls from people who have found tiny critters.
One such call came last week from the home of Keller firefighter Nicholas Purser. He scooped up a baby squirrel that had managed to get inside the fire station, after firefighters arrived back from a call on Feb. 9.
His wife Shaina called a contact of hers at the DFW Wildlife Coalition hotline.
They reached Prudence Koeninger, one of the many volunteers who keep an eye out for DFW's littlest of furry little ones. Koeninger and other hotline call-takers walk people through whether circumstances call for rescue or not, and what to do next.
If rescue is the recommended course of action, they match the caller with a local "rehabber," who will see the bird, squirrel, rabbit, opossum or other furry friend through the coming months.
In the Pursers' case, Koeninger contacted the former president of one of those rescue and rehabilitation outfits, Arlington resident Belen Nobert. Nobert got the fuzzy little guy that Keller Fire and Rescue named Missile to a colleague, Alice Jolley, who has been rehabbing wild animals for almost three years.
"He's growing like a little weed," Jolley said in a telephone interview. "You start them on partial formula in a 1 cc syringe, and they think that little nipple is their mama. They'll grab onto your finger and cuddle it. They're just so cute."
Shaina Purser has been going to Jolley's house in Fort Worth to help feed and care for their new friend.
When Jolley took Missile in over the weekend, he weighed about 60 grams. He's up to 79 grams now, and once he gets to the 300-380 gram range, Jolley will turn him loose on her daughter's land in Bowie. Jolley usually has a squirrel in her care for three to four months at a time, and will take in about 10 squirrels per "baby season."
Missile still fits in the palm of Jolley's hand, but he needs to be able to crack a pecan open before he's ready to be released back into the trees. Once he reaches about 250 grams, he goes from being an inside squirrel, to a cage outside, where Jolley will wean him off the formula and get him onto nuts, and such.
Baby squirrels tend to fall out of trees in greater numbers starting in late January and going through March, Nobert said. Then comes opossum and cottontail rabbit season.
But squirrels, opossums and rabbits only make up about 30 percent of Texas Metro's call volume. They get a lot of calls about fallen or hurt birds, and a few concerning raccoons, coyotes, armadillos, snakes, skunks and turtles.
Texas Metro Wildlife Rehabilitators shared a photo on the agency's Facebook page Thursday morning of another orphaned squirrel, whose mother "made the ultimate sacrifice to save her baby" and was eaten by a hawk.
"The circle of life is so savage," said one commenter in response to the photo.
The second "baby season" for squirrels usually starts in August.
Jolley, Nobert and Koeninger all said that well-meaning members of the public with a soft spot for furry little critters need to call the wildlife hotline before deciding to rescue a wild animal.
"Not all babies need to be rescued," Koeninger said. "In a lot of cases, like with birds and bunnies, just because you don't see the mamma doesn't mean they're not somewhere around. And don't ever feed them. Call the hotline and let someone trained to do that sort of thing, do that sort of thing."
But, why take in a squirrel, anyway, ask enemies of the rodents, whose gutters and bird-feeders routinely fall victim to their squirrelly suburban menace.
For rescuer advocates, it's obvious.
"You see a little orphan, and your heartstrings are pulled," Koeninger said. "You're desperate to find someone who can help you. That's why we're here."
"It's rewarding to help these little ones grow up — to give them a chance to grow up," Jolley said. "I mean, he just lost his mom."
But for Nicholas Purser, who found Missile on the ground at the Keller fire station, it was just about doing the right thing.
"I didn't think about 'oh, it's just a squirrel,'" Purser said. "It was in need. So it became about finding the right people who know what to do with those little guys."
Nobert estimated that Texas Metro volunteers may take in roughly 400 squirrels in any given year. Count Missile among the ranks of critters that are thankful that their volunteers are out there.
If you find a wild animal that has possibly been orphaned, call the DFW Wildlife Coalition hotline at 972-234-WILD (9453) before picking it up or trying to touch it.