When to Help Baby Animals and When You Should Leave Them Alone
It’s that time of year again: the birds are singing, the bulbs are blooming, and there are baby animals everywhere. Which is exciting news, but what do you do when you find a bird, fawn, or other animal who appears to have been abandoned? Your first instinct might be to help, but you could actually do more harm than good!
Here’s a quick guide on what to do when you encounter a baby animal who seems to be without adult supervision.
Start by taking a close look at the situation. Are you meeting this infant courtesy of a pet cat or dog? Is it bleeding, breathing heavily, or visibly distressed (crying, shivering, or moving in a way that suggests a broken bone)? Is there a dead adult animal nearby? If any of the above are true, the animal might need help, in which case you should call a regional wildlife rescue for information on what to do.
You can locate a rescue center through the phone book, or by contacting a local veterinarian or animal shelter. While they won’t handle wildlife in most cases, they typically maintain directories of groups that do and can connect you with the right people.
Deers and Foxes
If it’s a deer or a fox, you should know that it’s common for adults to leave their children alone for part of the day, and the baby may be perfectly safe and waiting for mom to return. If you handle a fawn or kit fox, take a towel, rub it in the grass and use it to wipe down the animal to get your smell off. If you’re concerned, keep an eye on it; if it’s staggering around, crying, or clearly isn’t being attended by its mother, it may need help.
If it’s a baby bird, forget about the myth that birds won’t take back their young if they’ve been handled. If you see a very young bird on the ground in distress, try to return it to its nest. If you can’t find the nest or it’s been destroyed, substitute with a woven basket where the nest used to be, and plan on discreetly hanging out for a while (not too close! you might scare adult birds away) to keep an eye out for the parents. If they don’t return in an hour, the baby bird might need help from a wildlife rehabilitator.
On the other hand, if that bird has well-developed feathers and appears to be hopping around with bright, alert eyes, it’s probably a fledgling. They might be ungainly and not fully developed, but they’re getting ready to leave the nest, and their parents are watching out for them. You can leave fledglings alone unless they’re in an unsafe spot.
Fuzzy Backyard Animals
Baby rabbits and squirrels get independent at a young age, so while they might look small, they could be okay. Look for signs of distress or obvious lack of development before you panic, and wait to see if their parents return. If you don’t see any indicator that their parents are coming back, call a wildlife rescue center to see if someone can come collect them.
Possums, raccoons, and skunks tend to watch out for their young, and if you spot very young animals out and about, there might be something wrong. Try confining them in an oversized laundry basket while you watch to see if their parents return. If they haven’t come back in several hours, call a rescue center. Be aware that mothers are easily agitated and upset, so if they do return, take your time gently lifting up the basket and make sure not to startle them. This is particularly important with momma skunks, who can give you quite a blast by way of thanks for your concern.
Find a marine mammal like a seal? Often, pups are just hanging out on shore and they’re perfectly fine. Parents may leave them alone for up to two days while they travel to feed and perform other activities. If a pup has signs of injuries or is clearly abandoned, call a local marine mammal rescue center to report it, and they’ll send out an investigator. Whale calves and dolphins should be reported immediately if they’re beached or appear to be distressed in shallow water.
Often, wildlife that appears orphaned is doing okay, and is actually just setting out in the world. While it’s great to be concerned and to look out for the welfare of young animals, think before you act to make sure they really need your help. And if you want to really help out, consider volunteering with or donating to a local wildlife rescue group so you can participate in local operations to help orphaned wildlife.
Photo credit: Andrea Westmoreland