Spring is the season where everything is born anew, the wildflowers are in bloom, insects are buzzing around, and baby animals are born.
It’s also the time of year you are most often to encounter a baby wild animal. How you deal with that encounter can determine the survival of that animal. Many well-meaning people find a baby animal without its mother and take it in assuming it’s an orphan. This is rarely the right thing to do.
It is illegal to take in any wild animal in Ohio, and many of these animals are not orphans to begin with. The best advice when you find baby animals is to leave them alone.
Most wild animals are raised by only one parent who must temporarily leave its offspring to search for food. This does not mean the baby had been abandoned. Wild parents are devoted to the care of their young and rarely abandon them. Often, if the adult animal observes humans nearby, they intentionally stay away to not draw attention to the location of the baby, this is very common with white-tailed deer. Each species is unique, so are some common wildlife encounters and solutions.
Birds: Baby birds often fall from their nests during storms. A baby not fully feathered can be placed back in the original nest, or if the nest is destroyed, a new nest can be constructed with a plastic bowl. Simply punch a few small holes in the bowl for drainage, line it with original nest material, and twist tie it in the tree.
Feathered baby birds that are hopping around on the ground are fledglings. These birds are out of their nest and learning to fly. They are still under the care of their parents and should be left alone. Keep pets and kids away from the babies as they will be able to fly within a few days. Birds cannot smell, so if the baby needs to be placed off the ground in a shrub, it’s not a concern. A final note of baby birds, please consider keeping your cat in the house. Cats are not natural predators and kill millions of fledgling baby birds every year.
Rabbits: Cottontail rabbits nest on the ground and the mother only feeds them at night, so you will never see her. When the young are 3 weeks old, they are on their own. If you find baby rabbits with their eyes open and ears standing up, they are able to take care of themselves and should be placed in a shrubby area away from pets.
Squirrels: Baby squirrels often fall from their nests. Mother squirrels use several nests, and if one is destroyed, will move the babies to another nest. If you find a baby on the ground, place it in an open-top shoe box with an old T-shirt and leave it where you found it. The mother will retrieve the baby. Young squirrels that wander up to people are actually orphans, if a baby squirrel approaches you, it likely needs help.
Raccoons: Mother raccoons are excellent parents, but youngsters often wander from their den. If found, follow the same advice for squirrels and the mother will normally retrieve them at night. Raccoons are nocturnal, so the mother will not retrieve babies during the day. Make sure if you need to handle the baby, to use leather gloves and keep children away. Raccoons carry many diseases people can contract, and children should never be around raccoons of any age.
Deer: Mother deer leave their fawns during most of the day. A fawn found lying by itself is fine and should be left alone. The mother is nearby. Mothers do not stay with their fawns because to do so would alert predators to the fawn’s location. Once fawns are older, they follow their mother around. If you find a fawn leave it alone.
If you do need to rescue an orphan, keep the animal in a warm, dark box away from noise, children and pets. Do not handle the animal, this is very stressful as humans are predators too. Animals can bite or scratch, and the stress of handling can actually kill them. A baby animal sitting quietly in your hand is not happy, it’s too terrified to move.
Once the animal is in a safe place, call our office for assistance 740-454-2027 or the Ohio Division of Wildlife website for the number of a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
Remember, humans are a wild baby’s last chance for survival, their best chance is always with their mother. Think before you act, and you save that animals life.
Nicole Hafer is the education specialist for the Muskingum Soil & Water Conservation District and can be reached at 740-454-2027.
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