Spring 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.