Helping "orphaned" wildlife often means doing nothing.
It's springtime. And that means bluebonnets, warm days, and baby animals. Spring is when most animals produce offspring. It's also time when Wildlife Rehabilitators spring into high gear. It seems everyone wants to help an orphaned baby bird, or fawn or cottontail when they find it and most people think they are doing a good thing when they "rescue" one. Unfortunately, the fact is, most of these "orphans" aren't really orphans at all. Animal parents rarely abandon their young and only occasionally meet with untimely ends themselves during this season. Animal parents are never far from their young, however, they are very good at staying invisible.
Sometimes "rescuing" wildlife is the worst thing a person can do. It may be hard to not do something to help, yet that may be the very best thing you can do. Permitted Wildlife Rehabbers are trained to care for truly sick, wounded and orphaned wildlife and bringing them "kidnapped" wildlife, makes their jobs a lot harder and risks the welfare of the animals too. Their chances are much better in the wild, where they belong. Here are some tips about what to look for if you run across what appears to be orphaned or injured wildlife.
Assessing the Situation
The following specific situations are those you are most likely to encounter:
Offspring calling from nest. Parent not present: Many animals deliberately avoid areas where their offspring are present. Such "hiding" behaviors reduce the chance of calling a predator's attention to the young. While you may not be able to sense the presence of the parent, it is likely close by and in visual or auditory contact with its offspring. Patiently observe the nest to see if the parent returns. If, after observation, you still believe the nest is abandoned, carefully, without touching the nest, place small sticks around it. If after a day the sticks have been disturbed and the offspring still appear to be healthy, the nest has probably been visited by a parent.
- Blown-down nest: If the nest is relatively undamaged and the young birds or eggs are unharmed, replace the nest into the tree from which it fell or in a nearby tree. The parents should continue to tend the nest. A badly damaged nest may be placed into a strawberry basket or other appropriately sized basket before placement in a tree. You may need to secure the nest to the branch with twine. Note: It is a common fallacy that birds reject their young if they have acquired a human scent. In fact very few bird species possess a developed sense of smell. Excessive handling should be avoided none-the-less, as mammalian predators may be attracted to human scents in their search for food.
- Grounded baby birds: Frequently, birds seen hopping on the ground begging for food do not require your assistance. It is common for birds to fledge from the nest before they are fully feathered or flight-ready. They will be fed on the ground for a day or two until they are able to fly, and then may fly with a parent until able to forage on their own. Usually, if the grounded bird is a healthy fledgling, you will see a parent attending it or foraging nearby. Careful observation should help you make a correct determination. If the bird is in a street, place it under a nearby bush. If there are dogs or cats present, try to keep them away from the area for a few hours. Never unnecessarily handle or move the fledgling from the area where it was found. Baby blue jays are slow to mature, so the fledgling stage will generally take longer for them.
- "Abandoned" deer fawns: In Texas, it is very common for people to encounter seemingly orphaned or abandoned deer. Mother deer typically leave their fawns bedded down while they are away foraging. If the fawn is not crying, is not covered with fire ants, the eyes are not swollen and there are no visible wounds, do not handle or disturb it. Your presence will only cause unnecessary stress for the fawn.