Wildlife Encounters - 9th - 12th grade
Lesson 2: Wildlife Populations
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Challenges of Raising Wild Babies

Wild animals are the best parents for their babies. Raising wild animals is incredibly challenging, and even with large amounts of training and time, humans are never as successful as wild parents. Here are some things to think about before rescuing a baby animal:

  • Imprinting: Babies learn about who they are supposed to be by watching their parents. Some animal babies raised by people think they are human. Imprinted animals will not want to be with other members of their species and cannot interact properly with their own species. Some baby animals have a stronger imprinting instinct than others.

  • For example, humans have to be mindful of imprinting when raising owl species. Owls will readily imprint on humans because humans are the ones who provide them food and social interaction. Wildlife rehabilitators that raise owls will often dress in owl costumes or use puppets when feeding the babies. Owlets are also given mirrors so that they see the image of an owl.
    wildlife rehabilitator
  • Increased Mortality: Humans are rarely as effective as wild parents at teaching orphaned wildlife the proper survival skills. Wildlife babies raised by humans may not learn all their natural foods, how to communicate with other members of their species, what dangers to avoid, or how to raise babies themselves.
  • Specialized Care: Raising wild animal babies is very hard! Wildlife rehabilitators and veterinarians that care for wild babies receive special training to learn how to properly care for wild animals. Wild babies should only be raised by trained caregivers who know how to avoid problems like imprinting, as well as the unique care and diets required by orphans.

    Night hawks and chimney swifts are examples of challenging species to raise. These birds are insectivores that eat on the wing. This means they only eat while in-flight. As they fly past insects, they catch them in gaping mouths. It is very difficult for humans to teach young night hawks and chimney swifts how to hunt. The care of these birds takes extreme human intervention, which increases stress on the baby animal.
    feeding a young night hawk
  • Legislation: Due to the challenges of raising wildlife, there are both state and federal laws that make it illegal for anyone who is not a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to care for these babies. When untrained and unlicensed individuals try to raise wildlife, the animals often do not survive. If the babies do survive, they may never be capable of living in the wild, or may even injure the person that raised them. Wildlife also carries diseases that humans or pets can catch. Raccoons have an internal parasite that is actually fatal to people!

The bottom line is never attempt to raise an orphan animal yourself and always make sure a baby animal really needs human help before trying to rescue it!



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