RALEIGH, NC — With spring in full swing, wildlife officials are urging residents to resist the urge to adopt, move, or even feed baby animals they may encounter in the wild.
When people venture out into nature or even their own vegetable garden, some may come across young bunnies, fawns, or fledglings that are wrongly believed to have been abandoned. While instinct may tell you to help, in most cases officials say one or both parents are likely to be a short distance away, looking for food and not returning until you leave the area.
“Wild parents can’t hire a sitter, so most young animals spend a lot of time alone before they can fend for themselves,” said Falyn Owens, an extension biologist with the Wildlife Commission. “When the mother returns, sometimes many hours later, she expects to find her young where she left them.”
Owens says the best thing to do in most cases is to leave the animal alone, put it back or call a wildlife rehabilitator for advise.
The following information from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission can help you assess the situation and determine the best course of action.
Newborn rabbits (kits) spend their first weeks in plain sight, in shallow holes tucked among clumps of thick grass, under bushes or in the middle of open lawns. Rabbit nests can be difficult to spot and often resemble a small patch of dead grass. Female rabbits actively avoid their nests, visiting them only once or twice a day for a few minutes to avoid attracting the attention of hungry predators.
“Every spring we hear of concerned people saying they’ve found an abandoned nest of rabbits, when in fact the kittens are fine and are quietly waiting for the doe to return,” Owens said. “If they appear healthy and unharmed, it’s best to cover the nest and walk away. The mother won’t come back until you leave the area.”
Newborn deer also spend most of their time hiding for the first few weeks of their lives. After suckling, the doe gives a signal and instinctively her fawns split up to find a quiet place to lie down and stay put. They usually stay curled up for several hours while the doe ventures out to eat. Roe deer depend on a spotted coat and no scent, making it difficult for predators to find them.
If you find a fawn that is calm and looks unharmed, leave it alone and check it the next day. If it is still there and barks loudly, appears thin, is injured, or has visible diarrhea, contact a Certified Deer Rehabilitator for advise.
“If a fawn has already moved from where it was found, but only a short time has passed, bring it back immediately,” Owens said. “A doe will usually try to find her missing fawn for about 48 hours before giving up. After 48 hours have passed, or the fawn has been given each food, contact a rehabilitator as soon as possible.”
Knowing the difference between a nestling and a fledgling will help you make the right decision when you see a fledgling on the ground. Nestlings do not yet have their feathers and cannot survive outside their nest for long. Young birds have their feathers and can walk, jump or fly short distances; they may seem helpless but have already left the nest and are being cared for by the parents – usually from a distance.
“If you find a nestling on the ground, return it to the nest as soon as you can, if you can find it,” Owens said. “When the whole nest has fallen, you can put it back in the tree, or even a makeshift nest†
However, novices should be left alone in most cases. They are engaged in the important tasks of learning to fly and survive on their own. If a youth is not clearly injured or in immediate danger, leave him to his own devices. Like human toddlers, young birds need a lot of exercise to gain the muscles and coordination to become graceful adults. Keeping cats indoors and dogs on a lead is the best way to ensure these young birds get through this vulnerable stage of learning.
obey the law
Leaving young wildlife alone is not only part of being a responsible steward of nature, but it is the law.
“It’s illegal to take most wild animals from the wild and get them into your possession,” Owens said. “The chances of a young wild animal surviving in human care are slim at best. Even those who live long enough to be released have not developed the skills to survive on their own.”
Owens also stresses the importance of never feeding young animals in the wild, which can lead to irreversible damage and often be fatal to the animal.
“When in doubt, consult a professional before doing this something‘ she advises. “Every spring, wildlife rehabilitators take in many young that are malnourished, sick or injured from well-meaning people trying to provide care.”
And one last piece of advice: it’s best to leave the animal where you found it, even if someone picked it up or touched it. Wild parents almost never abandon their young, even if they detect a human scent.