GREAT OUTDOORS: They’re cute, but don’t ‘kidnap’ baby animals
Many wild animals are born live or hatched from eggs into nests or dens of some sort this time of year. Now that regular mowing and yard work are underway, it is the peak time for encounters with shallow nests full of baby bunnies; wandering miniature raccoons, skunks, opossums, groundhogs, squirrels, fox or coyote pups; and fawns.
Animal rehabilitation facilities get stretched beyond capacity in the spring when well-meaning citizens rescue what they interpret to be abandoned or orphaned baby animals.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, “Most wild animals are raised by only one adult or are not tended to during the daylight hours.”
For example, “Doe (deer) will tend to their hidden fawn(s) several times daily, usually at night. They are left alone in tall grass or other vegetative cover to instinctively hide motionless in the presence of danger.”
Rabbit kits will remain in their well-hidden nests during the day, with the doe coming to the nest each evening to feed them. The nest is a shallow depression about the size of a softball, with the kits hiding beneath a mix of dried grass and fur during the day.
If a nest is inadvertently disturbed, the young animals and the nest material should be placed as close to the original location as possible.
In the case of birds, if a young one falls from the nest, it is fine to put it back or the tree. It is an “Old Wives Tale” that the parents will abandon their chicks if they have human scent on them.
In the case of fledglings that jump from the nest during “test flights,” their parents will feed them on the ground until they can fully fly. Development is quick, usually happening within a few days.
In the best interest of the animals and humans alike, it is illegal to keep any wild animal without a rehabilitator permit.
Animal rehabilitators have been trained to follow proper procedures and agree to care for orphaned animals only as a last resort and limit human handling.
Taming an animal makes it unsuited to turn back loose into the wild, since they will lose their fear of humans and seek food handouts. Their complex nutritional requirements are rarely met by people feeding them a diet consisting of limited or inappropriate items.
Some mammals can transmit diseases and parasites when precautions are not taken. In fact, some facilities may refuse to accept certain species of animals that are known vectors of rabies, including bats, skunks, fox and raccoons.
Before capturing any animal, the answer to at least one of the following questions must be yes.
- Is the animal known for a fact to be orphaned, due to the confirmed death of its mother from an automobile, mower, predator or pet?
- If left alone, is it in imminent danger from a pet, exposure to inclement weather or busy roadway traffic?
- Is the animal injured, acting weak or sick, or covered in parasites?
- Was the animal brought to you by a pet, with the nest location unknown?
If so, the Ohio Division of Wildlife suggests calling the nearest Ohio Division of Wildlife District office. For Erie, Huron, Ottawa, Sandusky and Seneca counties, that’s in Findlay at (419) 424-5000.
Local animal rehabilitation facilities that specialize in young, orphaned animals include: Back to the Wild in Castalia: (419) 684-9539 (no raccoons) and Nature’s Nursery in Toledo: (419) 320-4901.
In the case of injured adult animals, call the closest animal rehabilitation facility to receive instructions before attempting to capture it. They may likely have experience with knowing how each species of frightened animal defends itself.
If asked to deliver the animal, use gloves to avoid bites and scratches. Blankets and a pet crate or a cardboard box are useful to keep the animal calm and confined.
While checking traps one winter, I picked up a Great blue heron that had a broken wing. I did not know at the time that when captured that they sometimes defensively peck at eyes. Luckily, I carried it back to my car wrapped in my jacket without incident. The local wildlife officer retrieved it from my garage later that day.
For further information on Wildlife Orphans, call 1-800/WILDLIF(E) or see wildohio.com.
Originally posted at the Sandusky Register online by John Hageman, Tandem Media Network, on May 26, 2019.
Image by John Hageman.