To prevent problems, check carefully for bird nests before trimming
or cutting trees or shrubs; put a bell on your cat or keep it indoors when baby birds
first leave the nest and cant fly well; keep your dog on a long line in the early
spring when tiny blacktailed jackrabbits, helpless little cottontails, and spotted fawns
lie hidden in tall grass and brush.
When you find an animal, you must determine whether it needs your
help. If the animal is injured or ill, it should be taken to someone trained in wildlife
care. Until you can contact them, place the bird or mammal in a cardboard box or other
container not much larger than the animal.
For handling large adult birds and adult mammals, wear gloves and
protect your face when moving the animal. You can drop a towel or T-shirt over the animal,
bundle it gently, and place it in the padded container. Put it somewhere warm, dark and
quiet while you call for advice and help. Dont give the animal food or water until
you get advice or until you are sure the animal is alert enough to handle it. A weakened
animal could drown in a dish of water. An emaciated animal could die if it suddenly eats
too much food.
Uninjured baby animals may not need help. They may be doing just
what Nature intended them to do. For example, if you see a fawn or baby jackrabbit lying
quietly in the grass or brush, leave it alone. Deer and jackrabbits (actually hares) are
precocial mammals, born with eyes open, fully furred; they can hop or run within a short
time after birth. They are well camouflaged and have no scent to attract predators. Their
mothers leave them alone most of the day when they lie quietly until she returns around
dawn and dusk to feed and groom them.
If a fawn or hare is on the road or in your yard, it may have been
flushed by a dog or human. Unless its injured, move the little one to a nearby safe
place under a bush or in tall grass. Close up your dogs and cats. Monitor the animal from
a distance; the mother should return at dark or by morning for her baby. Allow time, then
check to see if the baby is still there and showing signs of hunger by moving restlessly
or crying. If the mother doesnt return, something may have happened to her. Then you
need to contact a wildlife rehabilitatorsomeone trained in wildlife carefor
Other baby mammals, such as opossums, raccoons, and skunks, if they are
still naked with eyes closed should not be away from their mother or their nest. If you
know the location of the den or burrow and that the mother is alive, you can put warm,
uninjured babies back. If the animal is cold but unhurt, warm it and then try putting it
back. Smoothing the earth or spreading flour on the ground and looking for the
mothers tracks, or laying a long hair or string across the entrance and seeing if it
is moved, can let you know if the parents are returning. (Always use gloves to handle these
young mammals. This is a precaution against possible disease for you and the baby. If you
have touched an animal that could carry rabies, it will have to be killed in order to test
it for the disease.)
If you dont know the location of the den, place the animal in a
small, padded container and put it somewhere dark and quiet. They must be kept warm. Place
the box halfway on a heating pad on low (this allows the animal to move away if it gets
too hot), or place a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel inside the box. Then call for
help. Handle as little as possible; handling any wild animal or bird causes stress that
could kill it. It is best not to attempt to feed the animal until you have advice; better
yet, let the experts do it.
If you find a baby bird out of its nest, assess the situation. If
the bird is naked or covered only with down, it either fell or was taken out of the nest
by a predator. If it is warm and unhurt, return it to the nest if you possibly can. If
its cold or hurt, or you cant reach the nest, keep the baby safe and warm as
described above (temperature should be about 100 degrees for naked birds) and call for
advice. Again, it is best not to try to feed it or give it water. Each species needs a
different diet and the wrong food can cause problems for the bird. Also, the glottis
(opening into the lungs) in birds is in the back of the tongue and if any food or liquid
gets into the lungs, the bird will die or become ill.
If the young bird is fully feathered, most likely it has fledged and
left the nest, fluttering to the ground where it will practice flying, and the parents
will feed it and teach it to find food. Unless hurt, these birds should be left alone. If
theyre in an unsafe spot, pick up the fledgling gently and place it in a nearby tree
or bush. Another option is to return it to the nest or, if the nest is unreachable, make
an artificial nest (not much larger than the bird) out of an old basket, strawberry
container, etc. Pad the nest well and secure it as close to the actual nest as possible.
Then watch from a distance to see if the parents come to the fledgling. (Ive had a
lot of success with this technique.) Dont believe the old tale that parent birds
wont come back if the baby is touched by humans; most birds cant smell! You
wont get a disease from birds; just wash your hands after handling.
The goal in helping wildlife is always to return the animal to the
wild. Baby wild animals should be raised by their parents if at all possible. If you can
get that raccoon or robin back to its family, that s the best solution. For an animal
that is injured or sick, or whose parents cant be found, you need expert help. The
animal needs good nutrition, proper housing, and sometimes medical treatment. Wildlife
rehabilitators have years of experience and volumes of information and can provide the
best possible care for the animal you have rescued. You can find them through the yellow
pages, local vets or animal shelters, or on the internet at www.cc.ndsu.nodak.edu/instruct/devold/twrid/html/index.htm.
Cindy Kamler is a
trained wildlife rehabilitator who has been taking care of her wild brothers and sisters
for 13 years. She lives in the high desert in Bishop, California.