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Found a Baby Wild Animal? Call Us Before Picking it Up.
We receive many calls every year about baby birds or mammals found in back yards or local parks, or have been brought home by cats or dogs. Faced with these vulnerable little creatures, it's not uncommon to wonder "does this baby need my help and what do I do with it?"
First and foremost, if the baby is visibly injured in any way, call the Shelter. If you are not sure about injuries, we can help you determine if the baby is in distress, help you look for signs of injury or stress, and give you some instructions on how to handle a baby if it does indeed need to be brought to the Shelter.
If the baby is not injured, determining whether a baby animal is truly orphaned and needs your help depends on age, species and behavior. Babies of some species, like baby cottontail rabbits and fawn, may be left alone all day and rely on camouflage for protection, while others are closely supervised by their parent(s).
So, what should you do if you find a seemingly healthy baby animal without its parent(s)? Here are some tips to follow.
First, do NOT remove the wildlife baby from its environment - yet.
Second, watch to see if the parents are around? In the case of baby birds, if the baby is a hatchling (with no or few feathers) see if you can find the nest and gently place the baby back in the nest, if possible. Don't worry, birds can't smell, so the parents won't mind if you've touched their baby. If the nest cannot be located, or if the parents do not return to care for the baby within 6 hours, please call the Shelter.
If the baby bird is a fledgling (developed feathers but short or non-existent tail feathers), it is an adolescent bird that has likely jumped off a tree branch in an attempt to learn to fly Mom and Dad are probably close by and will continue to feed their offspring on the ground while they are learning to fly.
For baby mammals, what to do is sometimes species specific since some mammals nest on the ground, some in trees, or in the case of opossums, babies stay in their mother's pouch. Here are some tips on the more common mammal babies you may come across.
- Fawns: Mother deer often leave their babies for up to 12 hours at a time to forage for food and draw predators away from their offspring. During the mothers absence, the baby lays motionless on the ground. If you see a lone fawn, please leave it where it is. The mother will return. If the mother does not return within 24 hours, the fawn is most likely an orphan and you should call the Shelter for advice on how to help.
- Baby Bunnies: Rabbits nest in tall grass. Mother rabbits will only quickly return to the nest to feed their babies a couple times a day. If you find an intact nest, you can tell if the mother is returning if you place some string or yarn over the nest and check later to see if the yarn has been moved aside. If the yarn is undisturbed after 12 hours, the mother has not returned and the babies are most likely orphans and you should call the Shelter.
- Squirrels: Squirrels nest in trees. If a baby and/or his nest fell from the tree and appears to be uninjured, leave it where it is and give the mother squirrel a chance to reclaim her young and relocate it to a new nest. If the baby is not retrieved by dusk, call the Shelter.
- Opossums: Once baby opossums leave their mother's pouch they start riding around on her back. Sometimes one (or more) may fall off and the mother may not notice. As a general rule, if an opossum is less than 7 inches long (not including the tail), he is an orphan, and you should contact the Shelter.
Wild animals are excellent parents by instinct, and we shouldn't try to take their place in raising wildlife young if possible. Unless you are sure the baby is an orphan, the first rule is to leave the baby in place and follow these general guidelines. Help us to keep healthy wildlife babies with their parents!
Taking wildlife babies into your home with the intention of raising them is against the law and increases the danger of imprinting and habituation, which can cause them to become a nuisance once you release them. If you or someone you know has taken in a baby, we are available to receive that baby and can provide the correct diet and life-saving care it needs until it is ready for release.
Please, call West Sound Wildlife Shelter BEFORE you pick up that baby animal. 206-855-9057.