Thursday, May 23, 2013

If You Care, Leave It There: Don’t Disturb Young Wildlife

Whitetail Fawn AdirodnacksThe New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is reminding New Yorkers to keep their distance and not to disturb newborn fawns or other young wildlife as many animals are in the peak season for giving birth.

It is not unusual to see a young bird crouched in the yard or a young rabbit in the flower garden, both apparently abandoned. Finding a fawn deer lying by itself is also fairly common. Many people assume that young wildlife found alone are helpless and need assistance for their survival, however, in nearly all cases this is a mistake and typically human interaction does more damage than good. Those that see a fawn or other newborn wildlife should enjoy their encounter but keep it brief, maintain some distance and do not attempt to touch the animal.

Young wildlife quickly venture into the world on shaky legs or fragile wings. While most are learning survival from one or both parents, some normally receive little or no care. Often, wild animal parents stay away from their young when people are near. For all of these young animals, the perils of survival are a natural part of life in the wild.

White-tailed deer fawns present a good example of how human intervention with young wildlife can be problematic. Most fawns are born during late May and the first half of June. While fawns are able to walk shortly after birth, they spend most of their first several days lying still. During this period a fawn is also usually left alone by the adult female (doe) except when nursing. People occasionally find a lone fawn and mistakenly assume it has been orphaned or abandoned, which is very rare. Fawns should never be picked up. If human presence is detected by the doe, the doe may delay its next visit to nurse.

A fawn’s best chance to survive is by being raised by the adult doe. Fawns nurse three to four times a day, usually for less than 30 minutes at a time, but otherwise the doe keeps her distance. This helps reduce the chance that she will attract a predator to the fawn. The fawn’s protective coloration and ability to remain motionless all help it avoid detection by predators and people.

By the end of its second week, a fawn begins to move about more and spend more time with the doe. It also begins to eat grass and leaves. At about ten weeks of age, fawns are no longer dependent on milk, although they continue to nurse occasionally into the fall. During August, all deer begin to grow their winter coat and fawns lose their spots during this process.

Should you find a fawn or other young wildlife, If You Care, Leave It There. In nearly all cases that is the best thing for the animal. DO NOT consider young wildlife as possible pets. This is illegal and is bad for the animal. Wild animals are not well suited for life in captivity and they may carry diseases that can be given to people. Resist the temptation to take them out of the wild.   For more information and answers to frequently asked questions about young wildlife, visit the DEC website.

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2 Responses

  1. Steve Hall Steve Hall says:

    Sage advice and a useful article. Young animals may be encountered, as predatory mothers are out hunting, while herbaceous mothers are out foraging, browsing and grazing. Can’t produce that milk if you don’t eat! An interesting example of why these strategies work, concerns the fact that the young of wild ungulates like whitetail, moose, elk, etc. are very nearly odorless, thanks to the constant sorting performed by natural selection. Calves with less odor are less likely to be discovered by predators, and therefore more likely to mature and eventually breed. Do this for thousands and millions of years, and the gene for “not smelling” becomes more important, as it is successfully passed along to offspring from parents who are less odorous than their ancestors. Grizzlies and black bears on the prowl in Spring pretty much have to step on the calf to find it, and have developed strategies of exploring thickets by grid. In Yellowstone, a grizzly who spots, say, an elk cow, remaining in the general area of a thicket, or some tall brush, may walk around the brush in a tightening spiral, in an attempt to find the calf.

  2. Steve Hall Steve Hall says:

    One exception to the “do-not-disturb” rule: there is an old saw that says never touch a baby bird, as the mother will smell your scent and abandon or kick the young bird out of the nest. Not true, as birds have, with the exception of scavengers like turkey vultures, a very poor sense of smell. If you can see the nest that the young bird has fallen out of, and you can safely reach the nest, place it back in the nest. If it is again discovered on the ground, it means that a larger sibling has likely been the culprit, ejecting the smaller bird to ensure more food for itself. At that point, leave its fate to Nature, as one of two events will likely occur: Mom and Dad will continue to feed the youngster on the ground, until it is able to fly, or a predator will discover the bird and the cycle of life moves on. If in doubt, call the DEC, or call us at 855-Wolf-Man.

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