Spring Babies

Dear Liz:

My family and I were out for a walk and found a nest of baby rabbits.  We left them there but keep wondering if we did the right thing.  What should we have done?


Peter Cottontail in Berlin

Dear Peter:

Every year around this time wildlife rehabilitators and nature centers are flooded with calls about “orphaned” baby animals that folks have found in their yards, in the woods, in the fields, etc.  And before the nature centers or rehabilitators can say “leave it alone”, these animals are brought to them, often very traumatized, by very well-meaning people.

When you find an animal or bird that you suspect has been left by its mother, take a DEEP breath and STEP AWAY FROM THE CRITTER!  Yep, you heard right.  The reality is that most of these “orphans” are not really orphaned at all.  Mom is just a heartbeat away (probably scared of you being so near her kids) and will return to help her offspring just as soon as you leave.  And by that I don’t just mean stepping away, I mean REALLY away.

If it’s a baby bird and you can locate the nest (and you’re SURE it’s the right one!) gently put baby bird back into the nest and leave the area.  If you can’t locate the nest, put baby in a bush, high enough up so that the local cat can’t easily get to it.  Baby bird will soon be chirping for its mom.

Baby deer are very common.  Momma Doe will leave them in what she thinks is a very secluded, safe spot.  Baby Deer is instructed to stay still in that spot, which they usually do unless something causes them to bolt (as in you coming too close!).  But Momma Doe will be back for her child.  She’s just off munching.  So leave Baby Deer alone.  Momma will be back.

Raccoons, squirrels and rabbits are actually out and about on their own at a very small size. Most times, they’re out and about when they’re only the size of an adult’s palm.  Parents still stay nearby, but the babies can fend for themselves at that age if needed.  Rabbits and squirrels are not really considered Rabies Vector Species (carriers of the Rabies virus) but raccoons are, so if you do see one you’re thinking is abandoned, it’s best to leave it there and call in for help (animal control, police department, nature center, etc).  If you DO need to move it or capture it, make SURE to wear GLOVES.  Do NOT touch baby raccoons (or gophers, or skunks, etc) with bare hands.   Rabies is a virus transmitted through saliva or body fluids and can be transmitted to you through something as small as a hangnail, so USE GLOVES.  And remember that these babies can die of shock so put them into a box with a towel over it to keep it quiet.

Opossums are about the same as raccoons but if you have to “rescue” this orphan, put it in a knit cap.  Opossums like that “pouch” feeling and find this very comforting.  They’ll also froth at the mouth and make weird noises – this is their way of telling you to go away.  They, too, are on their own at a very young age so if they’re out walking around, leave them alone.
Bears:  Ok, do I NEED to discuss this?

The point I’m trying to make is this:  Baby animals have existed for eons without our help.  They’ve been born, grown up and died without so much as a human voice having been heard.  I do understand that its human nature to want to help keep the baby from harm, but often times “rescuing” the baby causes MORE harm than good.
If you do find and animal that you TRULY believe is in dire danger, the best course of action is to back off and have someone call for help while you keep an eye on the baby (from a good, safe distance).  Most police departments have lists of wildlife rehabilitators who are in your area and who will come and help.
One more incentive:  per Connecticut General Statutes it is ILLEGAL to have or keep a wild animal in your possession unless you are a LICENSED wildlife rehabilitator.  Last time I checked, the fine for having a wild animal in your possession is ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS PER DAY, PER ANIMAL.
Nuff said?  Thought so!


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