Wild “Orphans” To Rescue or Not? DEEP Recommends - If You Care, Leave It There
What should you do if you come across a young bird or mammal that appears to be orphaned or injured? In many cases, despite the best of intentions, human intervention can cause more harm than good. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is advising the public that it is normal for many animals to leave their young alone for long periods of time, so your help may not be needed. In all likelihood, the adult is nearby watching and waiting to return. If you encounter an animal in distress, it is best to contact DEEP or a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator (see contact information below).
White-tailed Deer: The only time a female (doe) will be found with a fawn is during feeding times. Fawns are fed three to four times a day, each feeding lasting about 15 minutes. During the long periods left alone, newborn fawns instinctively freeze and will lay motionless when approached.
“If you come across a fawn, it is best to leave it alone for at least 48 hours to determine whether the adult is returning for feedings,” said Howard Kilpatrick, a Supervising Wildlife Biologist for the DEEP Wildlife Division. “While waiting for the doe to return, it is important that both people and dogs stay away from the fawn. A truly orphaned fawn may show signs of distress by walking around aimlessly and calling out for several hours.”
Fox Kits: People are often surprised to discover a fox den near their property, but this is no cause for alarm. In spring and summer, it is normal to see fox kits romping around in the yard, playing like puppies. Foxes only use the den for a short period of time, and it is perfectly natural behavior for a fox to be outside during the day. As cute as fox kits are, it is critical to not feed them or initiate contact so they do not lose their fear of humans. Instead, they should be left alone. Because both parents rear their young (with occasional help from related adults), it is fairly uncommon for both parents to have died, leaving the kits as orphans. Sick or injured foxes should be reported to the local Animal Control Officer, local police department, or DEEP Environmental Conservation Police (860-424-3333).
Rabbits: Baby rabbits are one of the wild animals rescued most often, but usually do not need human help. Mother rabbits are only at the nest to feed their young twice a day for about five minutes – at dawn and dusk. Often times, rabbits nest in the middle of a backyard so they can see any predators that may be approaching while they are nursing their young. Baby rabbits are only in the nest for two to three weeks before becoming independent. If a nest is disturbed, return the young to the nest and re-cover them unless they are found cold or obviously injured. A small rabbit that looks alert and is eating natural foods is most likely weaned and does not need help. Any rabbit that is bitten or scratched by a cat should be brought to a wildlife rehabilitator.
Birds: Many people find young birds hopping around the yard in June and July. Most of these birds are old enough to leave the nest, but are still not efficient fliers. If you find a fully feathered, young bird with a short tail that is unable to fly, it is best to leave it where it was found. The adults are probably still caring for the young bird, which should be capable of flying within a few days. Remember to keep pets away from the bird and watch it closely for over an hour to see if the adults are returning to feed it.
If you find a young bird on the ground that appears to not have feathers, look for a nest. If a nest is in a nearby tree or shrub and the bird feels warm to the touch, try to place the nestling back into the nest. If the nest has fallen on the ground, make a new nest with a wicker basket and some dry grasses and hang the basket with the nestling in it in a nearby tree or shrub. Most birds have a poorly developed sense of smell and will not be scared away if you touched the young bird. Be sure to watch the nest carefully for at least an hour to see if the adults return to find and feed their nestling.
Injured Animals: If you find an animal that is definitely injured or orphaned, you should:
- Avoid direct contact;
- Keep pets and children away;
- Use heavy gloves to transfer the animal to a cardboard box or escape-proof container;
- Keep the animal in a warm, quiet place;
- Contact an authorized wildlife rehabilitator.
“Connecticut’s authorized wildlife rehabilitators care for more than 11,000 animals each year,” said DEEP Wildlife Division biologist Laurie Fortin. “Most of these are young wild animals that were brought in by well-intentioned individuals. However, many did not need to be rescued.”
Wild Animals as Pets: Keeping wild animals as pets is discouraged, may be illegal, and when legal is subject to state and federal regulations. Raising wild birds and mammals for successful return to the wild requires considerable knowledge of feeding formulas, countless hours of care, and appropriate outdoor caging. Improper care results in underweight and undernourished animals or animals that are not releasable because they have become too accustomed to being around people.
“Although it may be natural to want to assist young animals, caring for them may actually do more harm than good,” said Fortin. “It may be dangerous too, as direct contact may result in exposure to rabies or other diseases carried by wildlife. Be aware that even young mammals can carry and transfer the rabies virus in their saliva. Handling a potential rabies carrier, such as a baby raccoon, without proper precautions may require that the animal be euthanized for rabies testing.”
In Connecticut, there are approximately 300 authorized volunteer wildlife rehabilitators with the skills and training to care for sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife. To obtain the names of wildlife rehabilitators in your area, check the DEEP Website at www.ct.gov/deep/wildlifeproblems (select “Dealing with Distressed Wildlife”); contact the DEEP Wildlife Division at 860-424-3011 (Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM-4:30 PM) or the DEEP Emergency Dispatch Center at 860-424-3333 (after hours or on weekends).
Individuals interested in learning more about becoming a wildlife rehabilitator should visit the DEEP website at www.ct.gov/deep/wildlifeproblems (select “How to Become a Wildlife Rehabilitator”).