I feel that this is a very IMPORTANT post to write, because I am seeing more and more people posting on social media regarding their wildlife encounters. This is more than likely beating a dead horse for most people, however I feel the need to write about it anyway.
Let me begin by saying that there is a HUGE difference between a puppy, kitten, or chicken and a wild rabbit, deer, or bird. They key term here being “wild.” These wild animals have evolved over hundreds of thousands and even millions of years to survive on their own. Potentially one of the largest evolutionary challenges they face is interference by humans. From habitat degradation and loss to pollution and climate change, they’ve got enough of a struggle as it is. Please, do not enhance their struggles because you see an “abandoned” young animal.
Most mothers will hide or leave their young for multiple reasons: to forage for food, to draw away predators, and in general, to keep them safe and out of harm’s way. If you find a young animal that you believe to be abandoned, there’s about a 95% chance that it’s not. Leave it be. Do not try and help, because in reality you are doing anything but helping.
But, what if my dog disturbs a bunny nest?
If your dog or cat disturbs a rabbit nest, or brings a bunny home, put it back. Leave the baby bunnies alone if you can help it, or if you can’t, move them out of danger (ie. Move them as close as possible to the nest while also in a safe location – out of your yard, under a bush, etc.). Mom will come back. If the kit appears injured, take it to a wildlife rehabilitator. Do NOT attempt to raise a wild rabbit on your own, it will almost certainly die. You are doing it no favors by bringing it inside and coddling it. It can be difficult to allow nature to take its course, but ultimately it is what’s best. Use these tips for any terrestrial young animals.
What if I find a baby bird that’s fallen out of the nest?
If the chick is still (mostly) naked or has eyes closed, put it back and leave it alone. If you can’t reach the nest, place the baby bird into a Tupperware with some sort of bedding (paper towel, some grass, etc.) and place it securely in the tree, as close to the nest as possible. If the chick is fully feathered, don’t touch it, mom will keep watch over it while it’s learning to fly and maneuver itself around. Again, if it is clearly injured, call a wildlife rehabilitator, do not try to raise it in your house. Replace any fallen, unbroken eggs into the nest. This advice also works for squirrels and any arboreal animals.
I’ve found a baby deer in the field I am mowing, what do I do?
Leave it alone! Mom will return and move it. Mow around it (widely) OR, even better, mow another day. The fawn is not abandoned, it is doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing.
There’s a baby bear (or two, or three) but I don’t see mom…
…back away slowly. Mom is most certainly nearby, and the trouble you’ll find if she sees you anywhere near her cubs is not worth basking in their adorableness. Seriously, never get between a sow bear and her cubs. Terrible idea. Get in your car and leave. This applies to all predators, especially bears.
I’ve found an obviously injured young wild animal, what now?
Call the game commission and/or your nearest wildlife rehab center. Avoid handling more than necessary. Some rehabs will come and pick up the animal from you, others require you to bring the animal to them. If they’re coming to you, don’t touch the animal, leave it where it until the rehabilitator arrives. If you’re taking the animal to them, place them in a box or kennel covered with a towel to help them remain calm and less stressed. Do not play loud music and avoid loud noises if possible. Do not attempt to feed them, if they appear heat stressed (panting/sweating, dizzy/disoriented, visibly distressed), you can attempt to offer fresh water, but do not be surprised if they do not drink. In most states, it is illegal to bring wildlife into your own home without a rehab license, do what’s best for them and get them to a center, but only if it’s absolutely necessary.