Monday, April 18, 2016

You Found A Baby Animal: Now What?

Porcupine Baby PorcupetteSpring is here, which means baby season! Most mammals and birds in the northern hemisphere, are born in Spring to allow them time to mature physically before Winter, giving them a shot at survival, and many of us will find baby animals in our yards, or while hiking. What should you do?

If it’s a fawn, and it’s lying down, usually surrounded by shrubbery or tall grass, leave it alone. Mom is off browsing, getting the nutrition she’ll need to provide milk for her fawn, while the fawn is doing its job, staying hidden from predators. Thanks to natural selection, which favors prey which are harder to detect, and therefore more likely to survive to breed, and pass along their genes, fawns, as well as moose and elk calves, are nearly odor free, meaning predators like bears and coyotes will pretty much have to step on them to discover them, so get out of the area, as you may spook Mom, who may be watching, or worse, alert predators, who can definitely smell your presence, indicating there may be something of interest to investigate.

If the fawn is bleeding or is not walking properly, it’s probably been hit by a car, or grabbed by a dog, bear, coyote or coywolf. That’s when you should call a rehabilitation facility (our number here in Wilmington is 855-Wolf-Man). Leg injuries are particularly discouraging to treat, as they may leave the fawn mobility impaired to such an extent that they become easy prey. In such cases, euthanasia may be the most humane approach. If the fawn is wandering around and bleating, it is probably separated from mom, and may be signaling starvation. Try to observe for a time from a distance, to see whether Mom shows up. Many folks are tempted to bottle feed a fawn cow’s milk, which is a mistake, goats milk with lactate being a better choice. Be very careful about trying to restrain an injured fawn, lest you find out how effectively even a young fawn can kick!

What if you find a baby bird? Even if it shows no clear sign of injury, it has probably either fallen from a branch or the nest, or it’s been kicked out of the nest, the latter being an effective way for a larger sibling to get a greater portion of food. If the former, it means the baby is a “fledgling” or a “brancher” who has either fallen out of the nest on its own, or fluttered to the ground in its first attempt at flight. First try to find the nest, which is likely nearby. If you can safely reach the nest with a stool or ladder, place the baby bird back in the nest. The old saw about “Mom will smell you on the baby and reject it” is just that, as few birds have a sense of smell, birds tending to be visually oriented. The parents may threaten you from a distance, but they are very unlikely to intervene.

What if the bird falls out of the nest again? Birds are not equipped to lift chicks, so parents may try to feed a young bird on the ground until it is able to fly, or until a predator discovers it. If you observe parents feeding chicks on the ground, it’s probably best to let nature take its course. Keep the cat inside, which you should do in spring anyway, as cats take a terrible toll on young birds and mammals in spring. If you can’t find the nest, and this applies to small mammals such as rabbits, squirrels, etc. and there’s no sign of parents.

In the case of owl, hawk and raptor chicks generally, be cautious, as they don’t know that you’re trying to help, and even young raptor talons can puncture your skin. Many of our followers carry an empty cardboard box, and an old blanket in the car. The latter can be dropped over a young raptor, which can then be gathered up, and placed in the box, for transport to a rehabilitation facility. Raptors tend to calm down when placed in the dark.

Never physically touch a raccoon, fox or skunk, as these are animals who can occasionally be rabid, which means if you are bitten, even if your skin isn’t punctured, the animal will by law have to be euthanized and tested for rabies, per Board of Health regulations.

Photo: A porcupette recently birthed at Switzerland’s Zoo Basel.

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Steve and Wendy Hall run the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehab Center in Wilmington. They've been rehabbing and releasing wild animals for over 35 years, specialize in predators, keep wolves as the cornerstone of their educational program, and have lived in the Adirondacks for the past 13 years. The Adirondack Wildlife Refuge became a non-profit about 4 years ago.

Visit www.AdirondackWildlife.org to learn more.




8 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    This one is easy. Leave it alone.

  2. Dave Gibson says:

    Bravo, Steve, and thank you for this timely post…and for all you, Wendy and the team at the Wildlife Refuge do, and teach.

  3. Walt says:

    Curious about the mention of wolves kept by Steve and Wendy Hall …

    They’re not local wolves, are they? Canada?

    Are they not able to be rehabbed for release somewhere? Or are they regarded as something like zoo or game farm captives for educational purposes?

    • Steve Hall says:

      Walt, our wolves are captive bred, are typical of the kinds of wolves you’d find in Yellowstone or Minnesota, and are used for educational purposes. As keystone predators, wolves have dramatic impacts, through their inclusion or exclusion,upon the ecosystems to which they are native. The explosion of white tail deer in the east, is a good example of what happens when you remove key predators. In addition, wolves tend to control meso predators, like coyotes, just as coyotes control fox, an effective way of creating more prey at the smaller end of their prey selection. As a result, another consequence of eliminating wolves in the lower 48, was the expansion of western coyotes, a move which accelerated and increased the interbreeding of western coyotes with eastern Canadian wolves in Ontario and Quebec, producing the hybridized “coywolves” or “coydogs” we have in the northeast, which has itself become over time, an interesting canid mixing bowl.

      Captive bred animals tend to do poorly in the wild, as a career in the wild as a successful predator entails living with, and learning how to use the tools of the trade from parents already making a living on live prey, or in scavenging dead prey, factors made more critical as starvation tends to be the number one killer of wildlife, for predator and prey alike. You’ll hear a detailed explanation of these ideas at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington, or at our web site, http://www.AdirondackWildlife.org..

  4. Steve Hall says:

    Walt, another footnote. Many of us would favor a “rewilding” of the Adirondacks, for wolves, cougars, etc. There’s a number of articles in the Almanack history which discuss this, including one by me at http://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2014/12/the-economic-potential-of-rewilding-the-adirondacks.html.

    • Bruce says:

      Steve,

      I’m all for re-wilding apex predators in the park, and in your article you mentioned tourism dollars encouraged by their presence. You also mentioned the wolves in Algonquin Provincial Park as an example. Therein lies my concern: Algonquin is roughly 2/3 the size of the Adirondack Park, certainly larger than the protected portion of the AP. Algonquin is also largely contiguous, with one major highway cutting across the southern, narrower end, and a few smaller road incursions at the perimeter. On the other hand, the AP is more than 50% private land, and it is said no point is more than 5 miles from a public road. Most importantly in my view, is the AP is not very contiguous.

      I’m thinking if wolves came in on their own, took some time to look around and scope the place out, they might very well go back where they came from. A good food supply is only one part of the equation, the habitat must be suitable on several points.

      • Bruce says:

        And, having been involved for several years with one of Cornell’s “Citizen Science” programs concerning birds in a forested landscape and the effect of fragmentation on breeding behavior, I know that even roads through forests can have a negative effect, and birds are capable of ignoring them. Whitetail Deer and Black Bears seem to do quite well in man’s presence.

  5. Kathy Bushy says:

    You guys are remarkable! The Nort Country is lucky to have you!