Wildlife Baby Season

Apr 25, 2016

DeerAs the weather gets warm, New Jersey’s wildlife starts to quickly reappear. Birds are singing loudly and squirrels are chasing each other across lawns, which means baby season is just around the corner!

As you spend more time outside doing yard work or going on walks and hikes, you may come across wildlife that looks like it needs help. This is a great time for a reminder of when it is appropriate to intervene with wildlife and when Mother Nature should be left to her own devices.

Wildlife Habits

Many of New Jersey’s native animals leave the young unattended for long periods of time throughout the day normally. It is important to identify whether a baby has been abandoned or if mom is just around the corner keeping a close eye on her young.

  • Rabbits: The mother only visits the nest twice per day for a brief 5-10 minutes to feed the young. This prevents predators from being attracted to the nest by the mother’s stronger scent. A nest full of rabbits should be left alone unless the babies are surrounded by flies, appear thin and dehydrated, or have been injured during lawn care. If you are unsure if mom’s around, you can gently crisscross thin sticks or string across the top of the nest and see if it is disturbed the next day.
  • Fawns: Does leave their well-camouflaged baby deer for long stretches of time. A fawn should only be disturbed if it appears injured or if a dead female deer is found nearby.
  • Squirrels: You may find a baby squirrel fallen from a tree after a night of rain and wind. If the animal is uninjured, it can be placed on fleece or flannel on top of a heat pad set at the base of the tree. The mother will often come and retrieve fallen young.
  • Fledglings: Fledgling birds look like miniature versions of the adult but the feathers are not fully grown in yet. They naturally spend a few precarious days on the ground hopping around and learning how to fly while the parents perch nearby and provide food. These birds should not be disturbed unless injured.
  • Nestlings: Nestling birds are small and not yet fully feathered. If fallen and uninjured, they can be gently returned to the nest. If the nest is too high, a “pseudo-nest” made of a deli cup or small basket can be hung or nailed to the tree so that the parents can continue to feed the baby. Don’t worry about touching the baby- it is a myth that the parents won’t come back to a nest touched by humans.

To Touch or Not to Touch

Healthy juvenile wildlife that are “kidnapped” by well-meaning good samaritans are deprived of natural learning experiences obtained from their parents including how to find food, seek shelter, and avoid predators. In addition, birds learn their species-specific songs from their parents and other relatives. Intervention is only necessary for animals that are injured and need medical attention.

Wildlife Rehabilitators

If you find wildlife that is injured or if you have questions, contact your local wildlife rehabilitator or veterinary hospital. Information and a list of NJ rehabilitators can be found here.

Rehabilitators are licensed by the State of New Jersey in the care and management of wild animals. Most wildlife species in New Jersey are protected by state and/or federal law and cannot be kept in captivity without proper licensing and permits. These animals should not be kept as pets. Keeping wildlife without the proper permits can results in confiscation of the animal and monetary fines as well as some unintended, potentially harmful consequences such as human exposure to diseases carried by wildlife (even if they appear healthy) or altering wildlife behavior that then prevents them from being able to be released back into their natural environment.

Wildlife rehabilitators are specially trained on how best to help wildlife while avoiding unintended consequences.  So, if you find injured wildlife and want to help it, please contact your local wildlife rehabilitator or your local veterinary office.