The arrival of spring and summer means the arrival of newborn and just-hatched wildlife. These youngsters soon venture into the world on shaky legs or fragile wings and are discovered by people living and working nearby. Every year, the lives of many young wild creatures are upset by people who mean only to help. These people take baby wildlife from the wild in a mistaken attempt to save them. In fact, these would-be rescuers are harming the young animals' chances of becoming normal adults.
Remember, young wildlife belongs in the wild. If you care, leave them there.
Why It Occurs
The arrival of spring and summer also means the arrival of newborn and just-hatched wildlife. These youngsters soon venture into the world on shaky legs or fragile wings. Most are learning survival from one or both parents. For them, the perils of survival are a natural part of ecology. Some will not survive. However, young wildlife that learn well and are the most fit usually live the longest. Those early unsteady steps and flights are part of normal development, helping young animals learn to take care of themselves. Some develop that ability quickly, almost from birth. Varying hare, for example, are ready to venture into their world within hours. Other animals need more parental care. Cottontail rabbits are born with no fur and eyes closed, unable to leave their nest for several days.
It is at this time that most of the problems arise. Some people assume that young wildlife they have found are abandoned. They believe that the young animals are helpless and need to be saved. In nearly all cases, this is a mistake: the young animals are neither abandoned nor orphaned.
Those well-meant acts of kindness tend to have the opposite result. Instead of being left to learn their place in the world, young wildlife are removed from the wild and denied important natural learning experiences. Worse, most people quickly find that they do not really know how to care for young wildlife, and many of the animals soon die in the hands of these well-meaning people. Of course, this can be prevented if young wildlife are not taken from the wild in the first place.
Young wildlife that survives human care missed the natural experiences that would enable them to fend for themselves. When these animals are released back into the wild they have a reduced ability to survive. It is difficult for them to function, as they should in the natural world. Their ability to find natural foods and cover is impaired, thereby reducing chances of survival. Further, they may be thrust as unwelcome intruders into the home range of another member of their species. Often, the care given to young wildlife unavoidably results in some attachment to humans. Upon release to the wild, those animals generally have little fear of people. Some wildlife species return to places where people live, only to be attacked by domestic animals or hit by cars. Some become nuisances, getting into stored food, trashcans or dwellings. People have also been injured by once-tamed wildlife.
What to Do
All of these problems can be avoided if you follow one simple rule when coming upon young wildlife: LEAVE THEM ALONE! It may be difficult to do, but this is the real act of kindness. Don't be fooled into thinking that your situation is different-in nearly all cases, young wildlife do not need to be assisted. Resist the temptation to help them. In many cases, the adults may be nearby but for protection, visit their young infrequently.Only when young wildlife are found injured or with their dead mother is there reason to do something, and then the state wildlife laws are specific about what may be done legally.
Keep wildlife and pets safe and healthy by keeping your pet indoors or restrained. Many times a family pet will bring home young wildlife that may still be alive and unhurt. Loose pets will hunt songbirds as well as chase after other mammals. Free roaming pets are also at risk from attack by wild animals, other pets or oncoming automobiles. Veterinarians say that restrained pets live longer and healthier lives.
Leave fawns (young deer) where they are found. Fawns are safe when left alone because their camouflaging color help them remain undetected until the parent returns. Unlike deer, newborn moose calves remain in close proximity to their mothers who, in contrast to a white-tailed does, will actively defend calves against danger. An adult cow moose, weighing over 600 pounds will chase, kick and stomp a potential predator, people included. It is illegal to possess most wildlife in Massachusetts.
Nearly all wild birds and mammals are protected under the law. They may not legally be taken from the wild or kept as pets. Never consider wildlife as possible pets; it is both illegal and unwise. They are wild animals that belong in the wild. An injured wild animal may be assisted, but a person must deliver the animal immediately to a licensed rehabilitator. MassWildlife licenses wildlife rehabilitators who are qualified to care for injured or truly orphaned wildlife. In cases where the services of a wildlife rehabilitator are required, names are available through the MassWildlife website or District offices.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: I found an abandoned fawn near the edge of a field on my property. I brought the fawn into my house to save it, but I don't know how to care for it. What should I do?
A: Immediately take the fawn back to the spot where you found it, and leave it there. The mother will come back again looking for the fawn. Fawns have been successfully reunited with their mothers by returning them to the place where they were found even one or two days after removal from the wild. When you picked up the fawn, the mother was probably feeding not far away. Young fawns are usually quite safe when left alone because their color pattern and lack of scent help them to remain undetected until their mothers return. This is true for many other species of wildlife.
Q: A baby bird has fallen out of its nest in a tree in my backyard. I am afraid something might happen to it if I leave it there on the ground. Should I bring it into the house and feed it until it is able to fly?
A: No. The best thing to do is put the bird carefully back into the nest. Don't worry about getting your scent on the bird; it will not affect the mother's care. Even if you find that the nest has blown out of the tree, put it back in the tree securely along with the nestling.
Q: I was walking through the woods behind our house and saw several baby raccoons on the ground near a large hole way up in the tree. Should I bring them home and care for them?
A: No. Most likely the young raccoons are merely exploring, and their mother is nearby. They are probably old enough to be fully capable of climbing back up the tree to their den when they are ready to return. If they were too young to climb, the mother would carry them back. It should also be noted that raccoons frequently carry highly contagious roundworm parasites, and in any case, with the current outbreak of rabies in Massachusetts, it is wise to avoid any contact with raccoons and other wild mammals.
Q: There is a young blue jay in my backyard and it seems to have difficulty flying. I am afraid that either my dog or cat will get it. Should I bring it inside and feed it until it is able to fly?
A: No. As a fledgling, it has enough feathers to leave the nest. This means it is old enough to learn to fly, which it will rapidly begin to do. Leave the bird alone, but keep your dog and cat in the house for a few days so that they will not disturb the bird.
Q: I accidentally kicked open a nest of baby rabbits while walking in the thick grass at the far corner of my backyard. They seem so helpless. How can I rescue them?
A: They do not need to be rescued. The mother will not return as long as you remain at the nest. Just replace the top of the nest that you uncovered and leave. The mother will return and care for the young. Cottontail rabbits leave their young for several hours while eating, but they do return to nurse the young. As with other young wildlife, it is best to LEAVE THEM ALONE!
Q: My cat keeps bringing birds to the house. He often doesn't hurt them and I put them in the thick shrubs near my house. Is there anything else I can do? Should I feed them?
A: Cats are predators and even when well fed, they will continue to hunt small mammals and songbirds if left to roam outdoors. It's hard for owners of outdoor cats to keep cats indoors, but indoors or a long leash are really the only ways to prevent a cat from hunting wildlife. Placing the birds in the thick brush is the right thing to do, giving them the best chance of survival. Please don't feed the birds!
From late May through June, white-tailed deer are giving birth to tens of thousands of fawns across the state and Massachusetts' small, but growing, moose population is calving as well. The public is reminded to leave deer fawns alone as the animal's instinctive behavior in its first weeks of life is to remain motionless and let danger pass. The fawn may appear helpless, but it is behaving normally in response to a perceived threat. Don't assume that a fawn seen in the same place for several days means it is abandoned. Mothers visit their fawns to nurse infrequently, an adaptation that further helps fawns avoid detection by predators. It is not uncommon for fawns to be left alone for 6-8 hours at a time.
When a person encounters a fawn, the mother is probably feeding or bedded nearby. Also, a sibling (twin fawn) may be hiding nearby. Young fawns are usually quite safe when left alone because their color pattern and lack of scent help them to remain undetected. Once fawns reach about 8-weeks old and are able to outrun predators, they no longer have to rely on hiding and can spend all of their time with their mother.
If you have found a fawn and mistakenly taken it under your care, immediately take the fawn back to the spot where you found it, or to safer nearby cover (within about 200 yards), and leave it there. Leave the area quickly to prevent attempts by the fawn to follow you. The doe will come back again looking for the fawn when it is time to nurse, but will not return if she does not feel safe (e.g., if people are too close, be sure you are more than 200 yards away).
Fawns have been successfully reunited with their mothers by returning them to the vicinity where they were found even two to five days after removal from the wild. Human scent does not appear to impact the reintroduction of a fawn with its mother. They have a special bond that forms during the first day of the fawn's life that allows the mother to recognize her fawn, and the doe will not be deterred if the fawn has been handled by humans.
Never try to feed a fawn. Their stomachs are very sensitive and you can actually do more damage than good. Although the fawn appears calm and still when held, it is acting on instinct, and is actually under a lot of stress.
Young wildlife belongs in the wild. So if you truly care, please leave them there.