Do’s and Don’ts
With the arrival of spring comes the baby season for Georgia’s wildlife population. Wildlife rehabilitation centers across the state and the U.S. become inundated with calls and messages this time of year from caring individuals who believe a young animal has been abandoned, is sick or injured. While it is only natural to want to help an animal you feel is in need of assistance, sometimes your intervention can do more harm than good. Determining whether an animal is injured or is abandoned can be difficult, especially when there are no outward signs of injury or disease.
By remembering some simple facts, you can prevent mistakes and ensure you are only helping animals in need. The most important reminder is to never take abandoned animals into your home to rehabilitate or to keep them as pets. Wild animals require special care, as well as specialized training and permitting.
Several native Georgia species, including mammals such as rabbits, white-tailed deer and fox, leave their young unsupervised for hours at a time as they hunt and forage for food. These absences are the mother’s way of preventing attracting predators as young animals often have a distinctive scent predators detect. Young babies are hidden in tall grass, in shrubbery or near brush piles. Many of these perfectly healthy baby animals are inadvertently separated from their mothers and taken to rehabilitators by concerned homeowners (in most cases) who mistakenly believe these babies have been abandoned.
Following are some of the most common instances of mistaken abandonment.
Birds: Baby birds can sometimes accidently fall or be pushed out of their nests. Should you find a featherless baby bird or one with a downy coat, place the bird back in the nest. A mother bird will still accept a baby after it has fallen out and touched by humans. However, young birds with feathers are commonly found hopping on the ground as they learn to fly and should be left alone.
Rabbits: The Humane Society of the U.S. recommends tying a string over the top of the net in an ‘x’ pattern. If the string is undisturbed 24 hours later, then the babies are likely abandoned or the mother is no longer living.
Squirrels: If you find a baby squirrel on the ground due to it falling out of the nest, the other will attempt to retrieve it and return it to the nest. This may take some time! Leave the baby squirrel alone and keep pets away from the area until the mother returns. If the baby squirrel is hairless, you can place it in a basket or box to keep it warm. Make sure the mother has enough access to retrieve it. However, if a baby squirrel is left for more than 24 hours, it probably has been abandoned.
Large Mammals (fawns, foxes): Lone babies can be monitored from afar (not too close as the mother will be deterred by your presence) for a day or two to see if the mother returns to retrieve them. If the mother does not return in the 48-hour time period, or the baby animal is clearly sick or injured, call a rehabilitation center.