Leave the mothering to nature
Experts say young animals who appear to be abandoned often are in parents' care
By Angelia Joiner
Special to the Reporter-News
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Spring is just around the corner, and as the new season arrives so do the offspring of a variety of wildlife.
Kindhearted humans sometimes find -- and try to take in -- young birds, squirrels, fawns or rabbits that appear to be abandoned.
Roy Johnson, Taylor County game warden, said most of the time this is not the case.
"Mother Nature has a way of taking care if itself," Johnson said. "If you see a fawn, I promise you the mama has not abandoned it. She will come back and take care of it."
He said the same is true for other animals.
Johnson said the exception is when someone sees a dead mother. The fawn will not leave it, and in that case, the fawn should be taken to a licensed rehabilitator -- but those are hard to find.
"There are no rehabilitators in Abilene. The closest is Breckenridge or Baird," Johnson said. "I've encouraged four people to get a license, but they don't follow through because it is extremely difficult to obtain and it's at their own expense."
Johnson said to find someone in the area, go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us -- but be prepared to drive to them or to meet them somewhere.
Sometimes, he said, fawns can be seen lying on or near the road. To keep them from being injured, they can be moved and placed over a fence.
"It's a rumor that a deer won't come back to its baby once it's been touched by humans," Johnson said. "That's not true."
Birgit Sommer, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in Erath County, said the same is true for most animals. The human touch myth is "just an old wives' tale." And if a baby is found, it's best to try and reunite with the mother if possible.
Sommer specializes in caring for squirrels, but also cares for other wild critters and all kinds of domesticated animals.
She said February is the time of year when young squirrels are often knocked out of their nests. The best policy she said is to place the baby squirrel in a shoe box at the base of the tree where it was found. Because they chill easily, a plastic bottle can be filled with warm water and wrapped in a T-shirt to keep the young animal warm. Sommer said to avoid using terry cloth in the box because the tiny claws will become snagged.
If the baby squirrel could be in danger from predators, such as dogs, tie a basket to the tree.
Most likely, the mother will come back for her offspring if she feels safe to do so; it is best to observe from a distance.
It's a different matter for baby squirrels found during the evening hours.
"Squirrel mothers will not come back at night, so try putting it out first thing in the morning," Sommer said.
Squirrel feeding is difficult, so it's best to take the young to a trained professional because they aspirate easily, she said.
Sommer also has raised opossums successfully. She noted that opossums often are often struck and killed by automobiles.
She said that if an animal is hit, it's good to check the pouch for surviving babies.
"These are the only marsupials in North America and often times, the infants will still be alive -- protected by the pouch," Sommer said. "And they are not known to carry rabies, either."
Young birds are commonly found on the ground, she said.
"Fledglings may look like they are unable to be on their own, but the parents are still caring for these fledglings and keep track of where they are. So the baby bird you see may be a fledgling that is being taken care of by its parents still."
Sommer said that if the bird is not fully feathered, the best thing to do is to put it back into the nest.
"A baby bird might need to eat every 20 minutes in daylight hours depending on its age and species," Sommer said. "The parents can take care of it so much better than you can."
Sommer cautions that if people find wild baby bunnies during the day, "leave them alone." Many folks think they have been abandoned and most times they have not, she said.
Rabbits don't feed their young very often and usually only nurse for about five minutes a day, returning to the nest only once or twice in a 24-hour period.
"If the babies' bellies look plump, then they've been fed," Sommer said. "If a nest has been destroyed, you can rebuild it within 10 feet of its original spot."
Sommer said that if you know for certain that the mother rabbit is dead, locate a rehabilitator because infant rabbits have a high mortality rate, especially cottontails.
Following the law
Johnson, the game warden, said it is against the law to keep any live game animal and that should be considered when someone is contemplating keeping a baby animal they've found.
Before she gained her license, Sommer said, the Erath County game warden fined her $150 for caring for baby squirrels and the action prevented her from obtaining the license for one year.
She said the licensing process is incredibly difficult and because of the expense of buying formula and building shelters, etc., she believes this is why there are so few licensed rehabilitators.
For more information on animals or guidance in acquiring a license, contact Sommer at www.rainbowwildlife.com.