The doís and doníts of baby wildlife
Spring is here, which means baby season for our local wildlife. As wildlife rehabilitators prepare for their busiest time of the year, here are some do’s and don’ts for helping baby wildlife.
DO: Allow wildlife to grow up in their natural environment
Baby animals are vulnerable, but resilient. Predators and other threats are a natural part of their environment. While it can be tempting to take and care for babies to try to protect them from danger, they cannot learn necessary survival skills in captivity. The only way to prepare baby animals for life in the wild is to let them grow up there.
DON’T: Assume baby wildlife is abandoned
Baby wildlife is rarely abandoned. Several species leave their young unattended for hours. For example, it is perfectly normal to see a fawn lying quietly by itself. The mother will come back at dusk and dawn to care for it. Likewise, Eastern cottontail rabbits do not stay with their nests, and only return twice a day to feed their babies. They do this to avoid attracting predators with their presence.
However, certain baby animals should not be left alone. Ducklings, goslings, gull chicks and opossum babies should never be on their own. If you find one, contact a rehabilitator as soon as possible. In the interim, place the baby in a box with air holes and keep it in a warm, dark, quiet place. Do not give it food or water.
DO: Monitor your yard for nests
Check your yard before cutting the grass, as Eastern cottontails often build their nests in the middle of lawns. If you find a nest, do not move the baby bunnies – even if the nest seems to be in a bad location – or their mother will be unable to find them.
You should also check for bird nests before trimming branches and other landscaping. If you find a baby bird that has visible skin out of the nest, place it back in its nest or in an artificial nest. If the bird is fully feathered but unable to fly, leave the bird alone. These birds are in the fledgling stage, where baby birds leave the nest to learn critical survival behaviors.
DON’T: Feed or provide care for baby wildlife
Baby wildlife cannot receive the same level of care from humans as they would from their parents. If you find a baby, do not give it food or water. Each species requires a specialized diet, and feeding an animal the wrong food can be harmful to its health, particularly if it is already injured or distressed. Instead, contact a wildlife rehabilitator for assistance and advice on appropriate steps to take.
DO: Call a wildlife rehabilitator if you find an injured animal
If you find an injured animal or are unsure if a baby requires assistance, call the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center at 440-871-2900 before intervening. The Center provides free wildlife rehabilitation services between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. seven days a week.
Laura Dorr is on staff at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center.