May 13 2009

Baby Animals Fine Without Nanny

This baby rabbit is old enough to get along on its own.

This baby rabbit is old enough to get along on its own.

Birds, squirrels, rabbits, and deer all produce young at this time of year. When I was a kid, I used to dream of finding a tiny orphan nestling and nursing it back to life. Then, as the Disney version goes, the animal would be my friend forever, perching on my shoulder or loping along the street, following my bike.

But as an adult, I’ve learned that wild animals are wild for a reason. And their own parents are better equipped to care for them than I ever could.

This spring, you may well run across a rabbit’s nest in the grass, a fallen fledgling, or even a fawn nestled back in the woods. And you feel it: that human instinct to help. But when would help be welcome?

The short answer is, almost never. Mammals like rabbits, squirrels, and deer leave their babies for hours at a time to avoid exposing them to predators, so an undisturbed nest is best left alone. Even young animals found outside the nest are usually all right. Any animal that you have to chase down to “help” is fine on its own.

Foundling birds look helpless too. ┬áBut if the birds are fledglings–mostly feathered–they’re likely testing their wings if you find them under a tree. Leave them be. Parents will continue to watch over and feed them until they get on their way.

When to Help

Look for these signs if you suspect a baby animal needs care:

  • babies are not independent and can’t run or fly off
  • you are sure the parent is dead (not just missing for a few hours)
  • the baby has been injured
  • the baby does not have feathers or fur

If an animal has been injured, don’t try to raise it yourself. Wildlife protection laws state it’s illegal to remove most species from the wild. Keep the animal in a box lined with soft cloth in a quiet, dark area. Don’t try to offer it food or water. Take it to your local vet as soon as possible, or call a wildlife rehabilitator.

If the animal is unharmed but has fallen from its nest, return it to its home if possible. It’s a myth that birds will ignore babies that have been touched; their sense of smell isn’t that good. For more information on how to care for baby animals, visit the Humane Society website or contact one of these regional wildlife specialists:

Diane Johnson, RVT, Operation WildLife, Kansas Eastern Region (KC metro/Lawrence): 785-542-3265

Joyce Rosson, Lakeside Nature Center, Northwest MIssouri Region (Clinton Co.): 816-320-3951

posted by Claire M. Caterer

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