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  • Writer's pictureJane Schnelker

Assisting Young Wildlife

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

Every year thousands of young wild animals are found by people. Many of these animals do not need to be rescued!!

Your area wildlife rehabilitation facility can help you decide whether or not to rescue a young wild animal. The following information will help you to assess a situation before you call

Am I an Orphan? An "orphan" is a young animal that is not able to care for itself and whose parents cannot be found or are known to be dead. If you find a healthy young animal that is able to walk and is fully feathered or furred, it may not need your help. Its parents are usually nearby. Observe the young animal from a distance for awhile before calling the wildlife rehabilitation facility.

Am I in Danger? Young wild animals in danger do not necessarily have to be taken from the wild, just protected from the danger. Pets and children are the most immediate hazard to a young wild animal in your yard. Pets may attack the young animal and children may cause injury by mishandling it. Some wild animals carry diseases. Keep pets and children away from the animal while you assess the situation with a wildlife rehabilitator.

Another danger is hypothermia. Nestling (infant) animals need to be brooded and kept warm by their parents. If a young animal is cold to the touch, tell the wildlife facility so they can advise you about what to do.

Am I Injured or Weak? If the young animal appears thin, weak or injured, it should be rescued and delivered as soon as possible to a rehabilitation facility. If an animal has been attacked by a cat or a dog, assume it is injured even if no injury is obvious. Pet attacks usually cause significant internal damage.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit - Eastern cottontails feed their young only at night. You will not find the female at her nest during the day. Rabbits leave the nest at a very young age. A small rabbit with its eyes open, ears standing up, and approximately five inches long is self sufficient and does not need your help.

Squirrels and Raccoons - Squirrels and raccoons will retrieve their offspring when they fall or wander from the nest. They also have alternate nest sites if one nest is destroyed. Give the mother raccoons and squirrels plenty of time to find and rescue their young before intervening.

Virginia Opossum - Opossums are marsupials. Their young stay in a pouch on the mother's belly. Female opossums that have been killed by cars may have live young in their pouch that need to be rescued

White-tailed Deer - A small fawn lying alone in a meadow is not necessarily an orphan! The female deer will protect her young from predators by leaving it alone in a secluded spot. A fawn in trouble will usually be wandering around making distressed sounds. Do not attempt to rescue a fawn until you have discussed the situation with a rehabilitation facility.

Songbirds and Birds of Prey - Nestling songbirds and birds of prey (hawks and owls) usually lack feathers or are covered with down. They are not yet able to perch. These young birds can be placed back into their nests if at all possible.

When songbirds and birds of prey leave the nest they are "fledglings" and have feathers covering their bodies. They leave the nest before they are able to fly well and often are in danger due to introduced predators such as domestic cats. If possible, remove the danger and place the young bird under cover of shrubbery or on a tree branch. Watch from a distance to be sure the adult birds are caring for the young bird.

Waterfowl - Young ducks and geese are often separated from the rest of the brood as they follow parents to food or water. When you find a young duckling, note the location of possible places where the rest of the brood may be, then call a rehabilitator for advice on how to reunite the youngster with its family.


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