You see a baby animal alone. What do you do? In most cases, the answer is “nothing”. Babies of most species are left alone while the mother is looking for food…often for several hours. Although your first impulse may be to rescue the seemingly helpless creature, this often does more harm than good. Before intervening, be sure that the animal is truly in need of human assistance.
So when should you intervene?
- Dog or cat has brought animal to you
- Obvious broken wing or limb or other injury
- Dead parent found
Springtime is the time of year you are most likely to find a baby animal. The following are some of the most common species humans may encounter, and tips on what to do. Remember, if you find an injured wild animal, you should always call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately. (call us at 772-468-6616)
The first thing to do is to figure out if it's a nestling or a fledgling. Nestlings are sparsely feathered and unable to hop, walk or grip tightly to your finger. The nest is sure to be close by (probably well hidden), and you should try to put the bird back as quickly as possible. It’s untrue that a mother bird will not care for a baby that’s been touched by a human.
Fortunately, the vast majority of "abandoned" baby birds are perfectly healthy fledglings. Fledglings are feathered, with a tiny stub of a tail. They can hop and tightly grip your finger or a twig. It's easy to jump to the conclusion that the bird has been abandoned and needs you, but its parents are normally nearby. They may be attending to four or five young scattered in different directions, but they will most likely return to care for the one you have found shortly after you leave.
Once fledglings leave the nest, they rarely return. Even if you return the bird to its nest, it will probably hop right back out. There is usually no reason to intervene at all, other than to put the bird on a nearby perch out of harm's way. Fledglings produce sounds that their parents recognize, and one of them will return and care for it after you leave. If you have found both parents dead, or are otherwise absolutely certain that the bird was orphaned, your best course of action is to bring it to a wildlife rehabilitator. Fledglings need a special diet, and they need to learn about behavior and vocalizations that humans can't provide. Next to its own parents, an experienced wildlife rehabilitator will be the best qualified to help this bird.
Many wildlife parents leave their young alone for long periods of time during the day while they are searching for food. They will often be watching their young from a distance so as not to draw attention to them. The young need to remain hidden, or at least quiet, to survive. If a baby has wandered out to an exposed area, and there is a threat from predators, you should place the animal back into a hidden, bushy or covered area near their den or nest. Observe from a distance to see if the parents return. Parents will not reject their baby just because it was handled by humans. If the baby is still alone after 4-6 hours, call a wildlife rehabilitator for further instruction. If you must take the baby out of the wild, keep it warm by placing it in a small box lined with fleece until you can get it to the rehabilitator.
The best thing to do if you find a baby on the ground is to return it to the nest. If you can reach the nest, put the baby back in it. If not, and there is no immediate threat from dogs, cats or exposure, leave the baby where it is and watch for the parents to return from a distance. If they haven’t come back after 1·4 hours, call a wildlife rehabilitator.
The mother opossum carries its young in her pouch until they are old enough to ride on her back. If you find a baby that’s less than 9 inches long from its nose to base of its tail without its mother, chances are it has been orphaned. Orphaned opossums require specialized care, so you should contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately.
Rabbits nest in shallow depressions in the ground, and not all babies will be left in the same spot, so it’s not uncommon to find what seem to be orphaned babies. If you find a nest, leave it alone. The mother will leave the babies alone from dawn to dusk, and she will not return if humans are nearby. Rabbits are very delicate animals, and require the skill of an experienced wildlife rehabilitator if injured or truly orphaned.
Mother deer only visit and feed their babies a few times a day. If you find a fawn that is curled up and quiet, you should not approach or handle it. The mother is probably close by and watching. Only if there are signs of injury, or if the mother has been found dead, should you consider taking action. You should contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for advice. Do NOT try to restrain or transport the fawn yourself.
Raccoons, Foxes, Skunks and Bats
These are the most common wildlife to carry rabies. You should never try to capture, handle or transport one of these species yourself. Always contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or local animal control officer if you find one of these animals in need of assistance.
For wildlife emergencies, call us at 772-468-6616.