Lone Baby Animals are Rarely Abandoned

June 16, 2018 at 4:01 am Leave a comment

The wealth of available resources and mild weather make spring the perfect season for most animals to raise offspring. When these helpless (and often adorable) babies are in danger, it’s natural for people to want to provide aid. Unfortunately, these altruistic actions tend to do more harm than good. Most seemingly abandoned or vulnerable young animals aren’t actually in trouble—in most cases, their parents are nearby and keeping a close eye on them. Although people have good intentions, “helping” these animals generally leads to more problems, especially for the wildlife rehabbers left to pick up the pieces.

bunny

Bunnies

Wildlife rehabilitators tend to cringe whenever someone brings in a litter of “abandoned” rabbit kits. The truth is that it’s very rare that the bunnies have actually been abandoned. Rabbits are prey animals and babies are easy pickings for nearly any predator. Mother rabbits don’t want to draw attention to their nest so they actually stay far away, returning to feed their litter just twice a day for a few minutes. After nursing their young, they go back to foraging far from the nest.

If you suspect that the mother rabbit has been killed or that the babies have truly been abandoned, try placing some small sticks in front of the nest. Come back the next day and check to see if they’ve been moved. If the sticks remain untouched, it’s possible that the kits are genuine orphans. Baby rabbits are extremely difficult to raise and need to be brought to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Never attempt to bottle-feed them on your own as mortality rates are high, even when a veterinarian or other professional is caring for them.

Birds

Sometimes well-meaning citizens end up kidnapping baby birds. That might sound dramatic but it’s a common scenario—someone finds a little baby bird hopping around on the ground, no parents in sight. The bird is declared an orphan (or injured) and brought to a veterinarian. In reality, the bird’s parents were probably supervising nearby.

Baby birds go through a fledgling stage in which they become more independent and begin learning how to fly. Flying takes practice so they end up hopping along the ground a lot but a parent is always in the vicinity to look out for danger. As a general rule, if you find a baby bird with open eyes and at least a few feathers, it’s a fledgling and should be left alone. If the bird is in actual danger (maybe there’s a cat around), it’s safe to pick up the fledgling and place it back into the nest or onto a nearby tree branch. This also goes for newborn chicks with closed eyes and no feathers; it’s perfectly fine to pick them up with your hands in order to return them to the nest. There’s a myth that mother birds will reject babies that have been touched by humans but this is completely false. No mother animal is going to abandon her offspring because they smell a little different—and birds are sight-orientated animals to begin with. If the nest has been knocked down or destroyed, you can even build a substitute nest and the mom will figure things out. After all, birds are known for their intelligence and tight family structures. They’re not going to forget what their babies look like after a few minutes of handling by a human—otherwise, they’d likely have gone extinct by now!

Deer

Fawns are very vulnerable creatures, especially when first born. This is why they learn to walk so much earlier than other baby animals; mastering the skill right away allows them to potentially escape a deadly attack. Their cute appearance and perceived helplessness drive humans to assume abandonment if one is found curled up alone in the woods. The animal is generally hunkered down in some tall grass or bushes, lying completely still. This looks far worse than it is and is actually for the baby’s safety.

Mother deer don’t want to bring any attention to their offspring so will leave their young somewhere safe while grazing. The doe will continue to watch her baby but generally from a distance in a hidden location. It’s rare that a fawn is actually an orphan because they sadly don’t last long on their own. If the mother has died, the fawn likely has as well. If a discovered fawn is in poor condition and truly needs help, a wildlife rehabilitator should be called right away. This is rarely the case, however, and the baby is often safe, healthy, and being watched over from afar. In fact, approaching a fawn can temporarily spook off the mother and put the baby in extra danger. Unless the baby is clearly injured or emaciated, it’s best to ignore them and quietly move on.

This article has a common theme—don’t mess with wild animal babies, especially if you’re unsure about whether or not they actually need assistance. If you end up needing to help a baby get back to their home, don’t worry about the mother rejecting her offspring; it’s unclear where the myth started but it’s unquestionably false. Enjoy wildlife from a distance and leave the rescuing to the professionals.

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Photo: Ashley Frillman (cc)

Sources: humane society, sciencedirect.com, rabbit.org, rspb.org.uk, snopes.com, fawncare.com

Entry filed under: Animals, Despite Popular Belief. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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