COLUMN: What to do when you encounter wild animal babies

Michele Olson
Jones County Naturalist

     Now is the time of year our office receives “wild animal babies” calls. Every spring and summer we receive dozens of inquiries about baby rabbits, raccoon, deer, skunk, owls, hawks, robins, and a variety of other wild animal babies.

     As wild animal babies “learn the ropes” and “spread their wings” many will have close encounters with their human neighbors. Here are some common encounters and what you can do to help make sure these young animals have the best chance for survival in the wild.

     It is normal to find a baby wild animal temporarily by itself. Many mammals, such as whitetail deer, rabbits, fox and raccoons, will leave their young in a well-hidden area, and go off to feed, returning periodically to nurse their young. Fox, squirrels, and many other wild animals will move their litter one by one to a new and safer den location if they sense danger or are disturbed in some way. If you find a baby animal the best thing to do is give mom time to come back – simply observe it from a distance and keep it safe from household pets and children. The mother will not come back until you are out of sight or gone from the area.

     If you find a baby bird, with few or no feathers, that has fallen out of its nest, simply pick it up, locate the nest, and, if it is safe to do so, return it to its nest. If the whole nest has fallen during a storm you can place the entire nest back as close to the original location as possible. If the original location was too high or a branch fell you can try to place the fallen nest into a basket and attach it to the tree as close to the old location as possible.

     Fledgling birds, including hawks and owls, are those that are old enough to have feathers, but have not yet mastered flight. They are easy to identify by their somewhat still fluffy feathered appearance, inability to fly or get around very well, and ruckus the parents will probably be making if you are too close. They are often spotted hopping around your yard or sitting on the lower branches of trees and shrubs. The parent birds are almost always close by and will continue to care for and feed the fledgling birds until they are ready to be on their own. This is a very important time in a young bird’s life as they will learn the skills necessary for survival in the wild. Again your job is to watch from a distance and make sure they are safe from your pets and inquisitive children.

     If you disturb a rabbit nest in your yard while mowing or gardening, return the babies to the nest and cover them with the fine grass and fur that lined their nest. Rabbit nests are simply a depression in the yard, lined with fine grass and fur, they are commonly found out in the open or under landscape plants. The mother rabbit hides somewhere nearby and returns to feed the young rabbits periodically when she feels safe. If you know of a nest location keep children and pets away from the site until the baby rabbits are no longer using it. Rabbit babies grow quickly and can feed on grass and flowers when they are still very small. You should not try to capture and feed a young rabbit in your yard. Simply observe their hilarious antics and watch them grow.

     You should only try to “save” a wild animal baby that you know is truly abandoned or is injured in some way. For instance, if you saw the mother perish. Baby wild animals have a far greater chance of survival if they are raised wild. It is also important to remember that wild animals can carry many types of diseases and parasites. Only licensed wildlife rehabilitators are allowed to care for injured or abandoned wildlife.

     In eastern Iowa the Wapsi River Wildlife Project Rehabilitation contact number is 319-480-5048, or look them up on Facebook.




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