Baby Animal Season: Navigating Wildlife Encounters

You’re out for an evening stroll when you hear a strange little sound

coming from the ground. You – or your dog – decide to check it out, and you realize it’s a nest of baby bunnies. But where’s their mom? Are they abandoned? Are they in danger? You want to help but have more questions than answers.

Don’t worry! We’ve consulted with Stephanie Franczak, our Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager, to get all the do’s and don’ts. Now that baby animal season is in full swing – with baby bunnies, raccoons, squirrels, and birds being the most common in our area – this information is especially important.

Don’t accidentally kidnap baby animals. 

We know it’s distressing to find baby animals unattended and seemingly in peril. Before you scoop them up in an effort to rescue them, there are a few things you should know.

First, many moms stay away from their babies for long stretches of time for their protection. Mom bunnies are usually only with their babies for ten minutes at dawn and ten minutes at dusk in order to feed them.

Also, it’s normal for fledgling birds, those with their eyes open and a few feathers coming in, to be on the ground before they learn to fly. If you are worried these baby birds are vulnerable on the ground and you see their nest nearby, it is fine to put them back in it. “Moms won’t abandon them if you touch them. That’s a myth,” Stephanie said.

Looking at the babies’ stomachs is also helpful. If they are round, they are being fed regularly and aren’t abandoned. If their bellies are shrunken in and they look malnourished, then it’s time to call Anderson Humane.

An easy way to see if the babies are being cared for by their mom is to put two pieces of string or two sticks in a cross pattern over the nest. If those are disturbed the next day, you know they have been visited by mom. If they are untouched, it’s more likely they are abandoned.

If mom is still around, leave the babies be. Don’t be an “accidental kidnapper,” as some in animal welfare call well-meaning people who scoop up baby animals in a misguided attempt to save them.

“Mom provides the best care for babies,” Stephanie said. No one, not even a wildlife rehabilitator, can replace the care of a mother.

It’s important to note that you may also see fledgling birds on the ground or perched low in bushes or shrubs. Fledglings often have a mix of downy feathers and adult feathers. They may look fluffy or not fully feathered compared to adult birds of the same species.

Do not fear, they’re not lost, they’re just learning to forage and fly! “They’re teenagers! So they’re getting more independent but parents are still close by keeping an eye on them and helping them out.”  But if a bird on the ground looks super sleepy, does not rouse when you near it, or doesn’t have many feathers, call a rehabilitator, because they might need help!

Do protect the nest. 

You might have found a nest of baby bunnies or squirrels because your dog sniffed it out. “A lot of people call because they’re worried that their dog will hurt the baby animals,” Stephanie said.

She suggests a barricade that keeps your dog out. Try an upside-down laundry basket, a wheelbarrow, an upside-down tomato cage or a crate, that fits loosely enough around the nest that the mom can still have access to her babies.

It’s also worth noting that the babies are young and vulnerable for only a few weeks. “Another option is to keep your dog leashed, even when in your backyard,” Stephanie said.

Don’t try this at home.

If you have determined that the baby animals are truly abandoned, don’t try to raise them at home. Many baby animals require very specific care to develop properly.

The Anderson Humane wildlife team has received baby squirrels who have pneumonia because people fed them with a bottle or syringe, and the milk got into the animals’ lungs. 

Animals can also get too comfortable around humans if you try to care for them, losing the natural fear response they need to survive. 

And babies don’t stay young and cute for long. Eventually they get to the point of sexual maturity and can turn mean. 

But the biggest reason not to care for or raise a wild animal: It’s illegal. You need to have a license to rehabilitate wild animals, so leave it to the professionals.

Do call Anderson Humane if you need help.

Thankfully, Anderson Humane’s wildlife team is licensed and trained to care for wild animals. And they are happy to answer questions and advise you on how to handle your situation.

“If you come across an injured or abandoned wild animal, call us,” Stephanie said. “We will talk you through what to look for and what to do.”

Her team is always happy to help you navigate a wildlife encounter in a way that’s in both your and the animal’s best interest.

You can reach Anderson Humane’s wildlife team at 847-697-2880 ext. 25

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