It’s Time to Learn about Wildlife Babies

Mar 14, 2016 / General Care / Public Health / Wildlife

[white-tailed deer fawn in grass]

Wildlife babies do best when left in the wild

Each spring, wildlife babies are taken from the wild by well-meaning people who believe the animals have been abandoned by their parents. Although it may be human nature to want to rescue an animal that looks like it needs help, the truth is wild babies rarely need human assistance. The Wildlife Medical Clinic at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana wants people to know more about when and how to help wildlife babies.

A wildlife baby that is not with its parent is not necessarily orphaned. Some species, such as turtles, do not need parental care to survive. Species that are commonly hunted as prey, including deer and rabbits, use a parenting strategy in which the mothers leave the babies on their own for hours at a time, sometimes even for the whole day, to avoid drawing predators’ attention to their young.

In addition, wildlife parents often hide when humans are around. So while the parents may not be noticeable, it is best to assume a baby wild animal is being cared for unless there is evidence that its parents have been killed or that it is not thriving.

How to Spot an Orphan

  • Is the baby crying? Healthy wildlife babies that are waiting for mom to come back are quiet so predators do not find them. If a baby is crying or making lots of noise, it might be orphaned.
  • Are there bugs on the baby? If mom is taking care of the baby, she will keep insects away. Seeing insects on a baby is a good clue that it is orphaned.
  • Is the baby cold? If babies go too long without seeing mom or eating, they get cold. Cold babies are most likely orphaned babies.
  • Is the baby dehydrated? In young animals with little fur or feathers, dehydration causes the skin to look wrinkled. Wrinkled skin is a sign that babies have not been fed, and are likely orphaned.
  • Is the baby injured? Does it look like the baby is hurt or bleeding? Injured babies need human help even if mom is around, and they should be rescued.

What Not to Do with Wildlife Babies

[baby barred owl]

Can you recognize what this baby will grow up to be? It is a barred owl that was brought to the Wildlife Medical Clinic.

A host of problems arise from trying to raise orphaned wildlife. The young may imprint on a human caregiver and feel unnaturally comfortable around people, which would hinder its ability to survive in the wild. Human caregivers may not provide the proper diet or teach the lessons the babies needs to learn to survive on their own. Some species carry diseases that can be harmful to people, so contact with wildlife is not advisable. What’s more, state and federal laws make it is illegal to raise wildlife.

For all these reasons, both people and orphaned wildlife are better off if the animal is left in the wild or, in cases where it will clearly not survive, brought to trained wildlife rehabilitators. The bottom line is never attempt to raise an orphaned animal yourself and always make sure a baby animal really needs human help before trying to rescue it.

How to Help Wildlife Babies

  • Keep cats indoors. If you do let your cats outside, try to keep them indoors for spring and summer when wild animals have their babies. Cat bites are common injuries to wildlife babies, and many wild animals are orphaned when cats kill their parents.
  • Get to know your local wildlife rehabilitator. Know who to call in your area if you find orphaned or ill wildlife babies. Your local wildlife rehabilitator may also need volunteers to help care for their animal orphans. A list of Illinois rehabilitators can be found at web.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife/professionals.cfm#rehab.
  • Teach others. Spread the word about when wild animal babies should be rescued and when they should be left alone. Teaching others what you know about wildlife babies will prevent the well-meaning abduction of wildlife babies.

True or False?

Test your knowledge with this short quiz.

  • If a human being touches a baby bird or rabbit, the mother will reject the baby because of the human scent.
  • If you see a baby bird that can’t fly on the ground, it is orphaned.
  • You have a nest of baby rabbits in your yard and the mother has not been in view all day. These animals have been orphaned.

The answer is “false” for each of these statements. Learn more and find lots of interactive information like this at Wildlife Encounters, a website created by the Wildlife Medical Clinic for teachers and parents to help kindergarteners through high school students learn about wild animals in central Illinois. Visit vetmed.illinois.edu/wildlifeencounters/.

Photo from Pixabay