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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Don’t mess with baby animals

That baby rabbit is soooo cute!  Don’t you just want to take it home and feed it with a bottle? That baby bird on the ground—it’s so helpless!  Maybe you should just take it in the house and feed it with an eye dropper.  Or maybe not.

It is illegal for the general public to try to rehabilitate wild animals, and wildlife should never be kept as "pets."  It is a common human desire to want to care for injured or abandoned animals.  However, you can’t be sure the animal is really abandoned or injured.  Here are some things to keep in mind.

What should I do if I find a sick or abandoned mammal?

  • Mammals can be very dangerous. The animal you find may be stressed and in pain. Even young animals will bite if they feel threatened.
  • Infant mammals usually still have their eyes closed and are much smaller than juvenile and adult mammals. If infant animals are disturbed or fall out of their nests they should be placed back into their nests.
  • It is a myth that if the infant is touched and placed back in the nest the parents will not take care of it. Replace nesting material and infants and cover with grass.
  • Juvenile mammals are often found on their own and mistaken for abandoned. In many cases juvenile mammals will explore their surroundings and search for food alone although the parents are usually not far off.
  • A mammal that is getting around fairly well and has its eyes open will most likely be retrieved by the parents within three to four hours.
  • Resist the urge to feed wild animals. Many people believe it is in the mammal’s best interest to have food, but handling the animal stresses it and the wrong kinds of food can cause more problems.

What should I do if I find a bird?

  • Nestlings are birds that have just recently hatched. They tend to have no feathers.
  • If you see where the nestling has fallen from and the nest is not damaged or in any danger, put the bird back in the nest. Leave the nest alone and the parents will most likely come back and take care of the nestling.
  • Fledglings look like they are still babies but have most of their feathers. They are often found hopping around in the grass alone and people mistakenly think they have been abandoned. Most of the time the parents of the fledgling are not far off and are still keeping an eye on the fledgling.
  • Leave the bird alone and make sure your family dog or cat can’t get it. Most likely the parents will come and retrieve the fledging within a couple hours.

Sometimes, however, the nest is out of reach, or it, too, was blown from the tree.  Specialists recommend making a “fake” nest using a plastic container.  Poke small drainage holes in the bottom and put the babies in the tub with leaves and grass.  Then attach the tub to the same tree and in a shady spot where pets can’t get to it.

The parents may feed the animal in the new nest or retrieve the babies if the old nest is intact.

What should I do if I find a nest?

  • If it is in a safe place, leave it alone.
  • It is easy to run into nests while doing house repairs or yard work. The best thing to do is to hold off on cutting the tree or repairing the building. You will only experience a short delay, as birds hatch and leave the nest relatively quickly. If the nest is moved, the young will most likely not survive.

Everyone likes to see babies in the spring but remember to watch from a distance so those babies have a better chance of surviving. You can decrease the chances of young getting abandoned by watching from afar.

Largely adapted with permission of the Audubon Center of the North Woods (

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