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Earth Day: What to do when you find young wildlife

Many young animals picked up by people are over-rescued.

Spring is here, which means so are wildlife youngsters. Many of us come across young wildlife that at first appear abandoned or injured. This is most often not the case. 

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at this time of year many animal shelters and wildlife rehabilitation facilities get calls from the public saying there is an abandoned fledgling bird on the ground.

Fledgling American crow. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut.
Fledgling American crow. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut.

Most songbirds spend time on the ground before they can fly. They fledge (leave) the nest and go to the ground and learn to fly from there. The parents are nearby and will feed it. They will also do their best to keep predators away, however, this is the most vulnerable time of a songbird’s life and many do not survive. 

Domestic cats and dogs pose a threat and wildlife rehabilitators advise callers to keep cats indoors and dogs leashed during this crucial time. 

Most birds of prey and larger songbirds such as the common raven will take flight from the nest or a branch or other structure close to the nest. 

Nestling birds, which have little or no feathering and cannot stand, do fall from the nest and the parents have no way to return them. If the nestling is warm and without visible signs of injury, return it to the nest if possible. 

It’s untrue that birds will not tend to a youngster that has been touched by humans; it’s a myth that once they smell humans on their young they abandon it. Most birds have a weak sense of smell, tough vultures are an exception.  

If the bird appears injured follow the guidelines below. 

 

Deer and rabbits

Female black-tailed deer with two fawn. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut.
Female black-tailed deer with two fawn. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut.

Female deer and rabbits are away from their newborns most of the day, returning at dawn and dusk to feed them. As a way to keep them safe they have camouflaged coloring, are hidden in tall grasses or reeds and they have no natural odor. Because they are left alone most of the day they can appear to be abandoned.

If a person or a domestic animal picks up a fawn or young rabbit the animal should be wiped down with a warm wet cloth and returned to source. If it is returned with a scent on it, natural predators may be drawn to it. 

If the animal appears injured follow the guidelines below. 

 

Carnivores and omnivores

Finding young coyotes, bobcats, raccoons and skunks is not unusual, though neonates are usually in dens. If you come upon a healthy animal alone, leave it alone, do not intervene. If the animal appears injured follow the guidelines below. 

 

Bats

Do not touch a bat regardless of its age. While most bats do not have rabies, it is very often what brings a Mexican free-tailed bat (also known as a Brazilian free-tailed bat) to the ground. Call a wildlife rehabilitator or animal control. Animal Control for San Benito County is handled by Hollister Police Animal Care and Services. They can be reached at (831) 636-4320 and their shelter is located at 1331 South Street in Hollister. 

 

 

Reptiles and amphibians

Do not handle a rattlesnake of any age. While the young are less venomous than adults they can still cause injury. Call Animal Control. Follow the guidelines below. 

 

Assisting an injured animal 

If you find a young (or adult) animal that is injured, call a wildlife rehabilitator or a local animal shelter. If safe, pick up the animal and place it in a warm dark quiet place. Dark and quiet will reduce stress. Do not approach if it is unsafe. An injured animal will be defensive, an adult animal could be nearby trying to protect its injured young. 

Do not give the animal food or water. If their bodies are shutting down or if they are very weak, metabolizing food could kill them. Administrating water can be dangerous because it is easy to aspirate the animal. 

When in doubt, call wildlife professionals for guidance. 

California wildlife is protected by law under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It’s unlawful to have a native wild animal in your possession for more than 48 hours without the necessary permits. Permits are required for rehabilitation and education purposes. 

Regardless of your intent, a young or an injured wild animal sees you as a predator. Cumulative stress can and does kill wildlife. This is particularly true of rabbits, hare and deer. Many rescued animals do not survive. If an adult is sick or injured enough for capture it could already be too late. While statistics vary, most reliable sources state that only about 50% of wild animals survive their first year. 

 

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Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.