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* Items to always remember concerning baby animals
Is the baby really an orphan?
Most babies are still under the watchful eye of their parents and are taken from them by people only trying to help. Unlike human babies, wild babies are not constantly watched by their parents and spend large amounts of time alone. (This is especially true of mammals.)
In most cases, wild animal babies should be left alone. The following is what we recommend to do in specific situations.
1. FLEDGLINGS People often see baby birds that are partially feathered sitting on the ground below a tree and automatically assume that they fell out of the nest and need to be helped. At this stage in a birds development, they are considered "fledglings". Fledglings NORMALLY will jump or fall out of the nest. This is their "flight training" stage. The mother bird will then continue feeding the bird on the ground until the bird is able to fly (usually only takes a few days). Unless injured, these birds should be left where they are. Efforts should be made to keep cats, dogs, and curious children away from the bird so the mother can continue to feed it.
Cat or Dog Danger?
2. NESTLINGS Baby birds that are naked for the most part (featherless or feathers just starting to come in) are considered to be "nestlings". These birds stay in the nest and the parents come to feed them there. These babies, when found, are usually on the ground directly below the nest. This occurs either because the baby fell out, blew out (common after wind storms), or was "pushed" out by a sibling. One must realize that this last behavior is actually adaptive for some species. This way, only the strongest of the brood survive and go on to raise young themselves.
The best thing to do is to try to place the bird back
in its nest if at all possible. If the nest cannot be reached for
some reason, the following works very well. (This is also the procedure
to use if you find the whole nest on the ground.)
People often believe this to be true and therefore think they need to keep the babies. This is simply NOT TRUE and is just an old wives tale. Birds in general have a very poor sense of smell (vultures are one exception) and will not mind the fact that you have handled them (but will be bothered by your presence by the babies).
1. Get it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator AS SOON AS POSSIBLE; the longer the delay, the less chance it has of surviving
2. Keep the baby bird WARM and in a quiet, dark place until you can bring it in (a small cardboard box works well)
3. DO NOT give the baby bird any liquids (they get all they need from their food and very often will inhale any liquid)
Cottontail rabbits make their "nests" in small depressions in the grass. The nests are lined with fur from the mother and loosely covered with grass. They are frequently disturbed by people when they are mowing their grass or raking. In addition, dogs and cats find these nests and often kill or injure the babies.
If a nest is found or distured, please do the following:
It is crucial with cottontail babies to bring them in only as a last resort. Baby rabbits have a high death rate when hand raised, due in great part to the stress of handling by humans. People are NOT doing the babies any favors by attempting to raise them themselves. It usually only ends in sadness and frustration. Again, they need special diets, care, and antibiotics if they are to have any chance at survival.
Also, when baby rabbits are about 5 inches long, they are totally on their own and away from their mother. These rabbits do not need to be brought in unless they are injured. (If you have to chase the rabbit to catch it, IT DOES NOT NEED TO BE RESCUED!!)
These are often found after a nest has blown down from a storm. They are best placed into a box set at the base of the tree. The mother will usually come retrieve them when people are not around. Keep dogs, cats, and children away. It may be necessary to keep them overnight and try again the next day. It is best to call your local wildlife rehabilitator for instructions and advice as to if the baby needs to be brought in. If you are requested to bring in the baby, make sure you keep it in a warm and quiet area (usually in a box with towelling) until you can get it in.
1. A young animal's best chance for survival is to be raised by its natural mother. It is important to make every effort to try to return the young to its mother. ONLY after all efforts to reunite them have been exhaused should the orphan be removed from the wild. DO NOT try to raise the baby yourself.
2. All birds (except Pigeons, European Starlings, and House Sparrows) and most mammals are protected by law and it is illegal to have them in your possession without proper permits from the federal and state government.
3. Proper care and nutrition are crucial to the survival of the baby and any deficiency will more than likely cost the animal its life.
4. Baby animals easily imprint onto whoever is feeding them and steps are needed to prevent this. An animal that is imprinted on people cannot be released back into the wild and usually must be destroyed.
NOTE: We frequently have people bring in babies they have been trying to raise themselves that are now having problems. These animals often have metabolic and nerve problems from an improper diet. We can save many more if we get them in right away.
This reference sheet was compiled to assist people that receive calls about distressed wildlife. The information compiled was primarily designed to help determine if a baby animal or bird needs attention during "the baby season", and what to do once it is determined an animal needs help.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Under game commission regulations, it is illegal for an unlicensed individual to possess a native wild animal.
It is important to contact the proper authorities as soon as possible for assistance, such as a wildlife rehabilitator or the Game Commission. Not just because it is illegal to possess a wild animal, but because many animals need attention immediately.
Moving a Rabbit Nest
If A Rabbit Nest is Disturbed or Moved
Monitoring a disturbed or moved rabbit nest
Raccoons, Skunks, and Foxes
Adult Raccoons, Skunks, and Foxes
Bear and bobcats
The statement, "if you handle baby birds, the mother will reject them" is NOT TRUE!
Feathered song birds or fledglings
Nestling song birds (partially feathered)
Since some baby birds need to eat every 1/2 hour or so, it is important to contact a rehabilitator as soon as possible for instructions if it cannot be put back in the nest or the mother is gone.
Pigeons and Doves
Birds and rabies
Once the animal has been contained, ***DO NOT HANDLE IT***
DO: Place the animal in a secure cardboard box with small holes placed in the side or lid. The box should be just big enough for the animal to stand and turn around, to prevent the animal from thrashing around and hurting itself. Place paper towels or a soft cloth on the bottom of the box.
DO: Keep the box in a warm, quiet, dark place, away from family pets. Many times wild animals are in shock and at the very least scared. The best thing to do is to keep them warm and quiet until they get help.
DO: If the animal is injured, cold, or featherless/hairless, put a heating pad on LOW under half of the box, with a folded towel in between the heating pad and the box. Small creatures that cannot move need to be checked to see that they do not get too hot. Call a rehabber for guidance if you're not sure this is necessary.
DO: Try to get an animal help as soon as possible. Some birds need to eat every 1/2 hour. If you cannot get an animal help in 2 hours, call a rehabilitator.
DON'T: Keep peeking at the animal or handling the animal. The more you look at an animal or handle it, the more you stress the animal and reduce its chance of survival. Resist the temptation to put an animal inside your shirt. Cute little squirrels are notorious for being covered with fleas.
DON'T: Put green grass under an animal. It takes the heat out of them. Drying grass can be toxic to rabbits.
DON'T: Give any animal anything to eat or drink, especially cows milk. Baby birds can't digest milk and may die. Many baby mammals are lactose intolerant and may develop diarrhea.
DON'T: Handle raccoons, skunks, fox, or bats. If anyone gets bitten, scratched, or licked (hence, possibly exposed to rabies), that person may need to get expensive rabies shots. In addition, the animal is at risk of being euthanized to be tested for rabies. **For your sake and the animals please bring them to, or contact a wildlife rehabilitator ASAP.
So you've found a baby bird. Now, what do you do with
Q. Won't the parent birds know I've touched the baby and reject it?
The majority of birds do not have a highly developed sense of smell. They will not "smell" a human and reject the nestling if you replace it in the proper nest.
Q. The baby has feathers but can't fly. It must be sick or fallen from the nest, right?
This is not necessarily true. Several species of birds (i.e. jays, towhees, American Robins) continue to care for their young and, in fact, finish the fledgling's education at ground level.
Q. I found a duckling swimming in the pond. I know they need water, so I filled a bathtub and put it in the water and gave it bread. Is this ok?
Downy waterfowl are protected by oil from their mother's oil gland. They do not have the ability to generate this oil on their own. If they are placed in water they cannot get out of, they will eventually become waterlogged and die.
Bread is a common misconception. Adult birds have gravel in their crop that allows bread to be broken down for digestion. Young babies do not have the benefit of gravel and, as a result, the bread will become compacted in their crop. This can cause death.
Q. I brought a baby bird into the house and
turned on classical music to soothe it.
Contrary to popular belief, music does not "soothe the savage beast". Baby birds are wild animals and as such have no experience with, nor need for music. This will, in fact, frighten them and add to their distress.
Now, back to the original question. What do I do with this cute, little baby bird?
1. Determine its age. Does it have feathers?
If not and you know where the nest is located, replace the hatchling in the nest. The parents will take it from there.
If it is feathered and not obviously injured (broken wing, leg, etc.), clear all pets and children away from the fledgling and observe it for an hour. Chances are the parents will return for it. They may be waiting until all the hoopla has died down before approaching the youngster.
2. I tried all that, I don't know where the nest is and/or the parents haven't returned. What do I do now?
Carefully pick up the baby and put it immediately in a small cardboard box or plastic food container large enough for the bird to stand up in or move around a bit. (Try to have the container ready before you pick up the bird; this will reduce stress on the animal.) Use facial tissue, toilet tissue or paper toweling for padding and cover the container LOOSELY with a towel leaving a small gap at the edge for good air circulation. Place the box in a warm, QUIET area of the house and call your local wildlife rehabilitation center (see below) for further instructions. Do not offer the bird food or water until you have spoken with them and avoid peeking at or disturbing the bird.
3. Well, I think this baby I found is a duck. Do I do the same thing?
Absolutely. Always observe a young waterfowl before picking it up. These birds are doting parents and will respond to a lost offspring. They do know how many babies they have. Because of this, they'll backtrack until they find the errant youngster. If you listen, you'll hear the duckling/gosling calling for its parents.
If you're sure the duckling/gosling is an orphan, follow the same steps as above. Place it in a padded box/container, covered with a towel, and put it in a warm, QUIET place. You'll want to use a deeper container for ducklings as they will jump. Immediately call your local rehabilitation center for further instructions.
Proper imprinting requires
the presence of an adult conspecific: things that will NOT do the
trick include keeping a baby in a box that permits no visual contact
with human caregivers (imprinting to humans may be avoided, but there
is no opportunity for proper imprinting), feeding the baby with a
puppet (the bird will imprint to the puppet) and fostering the baby
with another species (the bird will imprint to the wrong species).
References for these statements and more information about imprinting
can be found in Chapter 9 (the bird chapter) of the NWRA Principles
of Wildlife Rehabilitation. If someone admits a baby raptor but is
unsure of the species, a digital photo could be posted . . . or alternatively,
any of the centers listed below could identify it and, if necessary,
transfer it to a facility that has the appropriate surrogate.
If you spot an animal, particularly a young or juvenile animal, that appears to be deserted or in difficulty, do not catch it right away. Take 20 minutes or so to observe it's behavior.
In the case of a young or juvenile animal, it may simply be waiting for a parent to return. Remember, adult animals will often leave their young to hunt for food and truurn within a short period of time to feed/care for the offspring.
If you believe the animal is injured, call a rehabilitation center near you BEFORE you pick up the animal. Injured wild animals can be dangerous and need special handling. Keep an eye on its whereabouts and describe its condition to the rehabilitator you reach on the phone. They will give you the proper course of action to take for that particular animal.
If, however, you are unable to reach a rehabilitation center for advice, a good rule of thumb is to wear appropriate clothing and safety equipment. use common sense: if the animal has teeth (like raccoons, opossums), a sharp beak or talons (like hawks), wear gloves and eye protection. Place an injured animal in a covered box (with air holes punched in it), and keep it in a warm, QUIET place. Do not try to administer first aid, offer food or water to the animal, and avoid lifting the lid to check on its condition. The less it sees of you, the less stress it will experience, and the better its chances for recovery will be. Call a rescue/rehabilitation center or, if you're traveling, deliver it to the nearest rehabilitation center, Fish & Wildlife office, or police station. In most cases, these people will be able to direct the animal to an appropriate rehabilitator.
Remember, most species of birds are protected and therefore it is not legal to keep them unless you are licensed to do so. Beyond the legalities, these animals require specialized care and diets to grow up healthy and strong. It's important to turn them over to an experienced person as soon as possible.
In most areas, Wildlife Rehabilitation is governed by Fish & Wildlife or Wild Game agencies. Although some areas do not have established shelters for wild animals, there are rehabilitation individuals who provide home care. Again, Fish & Wildlife offices, humane societies, animal control agenies, and often state or local police will be able to provide you with phone numbers and/or addresses.
Keep your cat indoors (especially during May and June)
Keep your dog well attended
Check tree branches for nests before pruning
Check the grass for nests before mowing
Educate children to respect young wild animals and to leave them alone
Install chimney caps and window well covers to prevent animals from nesting in them or becoming trapped
Leave healthy young wild animals where you find them and call a wildlife rehabilitator for advice on what to do
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