Please Leave the Baby Animal Alone!
The month of May is always a good time to remind people that baby wildlife animals are all around us. Probably the two animals that are most commonly “kidnapped”, or taken away from their natural parents unnecessarily, are baby songbirds and fawns. This is largely due to their natural behaviors, which are commonly not know or misunderstood. This month’s article will address these issues.
Songbirds in our area will often raise several broods of young each spring/summer. Therefore, birds may be nesting from March through August or so. With most species of songbirds, both the male and female are involved in nesting, brooding, and the rearing of young. The nesting process, from egg laying to babies fledging (leaving the nest) generally only takes a month or so. When the adult birds are sitting on their eggs (brooding), they are usually in the nest most of the time, leaving for only short trips away to find food. Once the young hatch, both parents will forage for food and bring it back to feed the chicks during daylight hours. However, depending on weather, they may not return to the nest at dark any longer. People often think this means the chicks have been abandoned, but it is just because the nest is crowded, the weather is warm, and it is not necessary for the parents to keep the chicks warm any longer. If something should happen to either the male or female parent, the remaining parent is usually capable of raising the young on their own (so again, there is no need to intervene). The most vulnerable age for baby birds (and when they are most commonly needlessly “rescued”) is when they are fledglings. Once the baby birds have most of their feathers and about 1” of tail feathers, they are ready to leave the nest (fledge). They leave the nest TO learn how to fly, not when they CAN fly. This is normal behavior; they are still being cared for by their parents while they learn to flit and fly and forage for food. Please leave them alone so they can learn as they were meant to. Stray or roaming cats as well as dogs are a danger for these babies; however, wildlife rehabilitators cannot take fledgling birds simply because “there are cats all around”. There simply are not enough rehabbers available to raise birds because they might be in danger. If a fledgling bird is on the ground, it can be placed in a low bush or tree so it’s safer; cats, if they are a nuisance, can be sprayed with a water hose or a sprinkler can be placed in the area on low temporarily (that will generally dissuade the cat but not bother the birds). Baby birds can also be moved away from danger, as long it’s relatively close to the spot you found the baby and the parents are still observed following the fledgling. If cats can be kept inside during daylight hours, that’s even a better solution. It is also good to remember that at times nature is not so kind, and some baby birds will not survive; that is unfortunately part of the circle of life. The best we can try to do is to protect them from unnatural dangers and only intervene when babies are truly orphaned or injured. When in doubt, refer to our flowchart, or reach out to a rehabber in your area for guidance before you intervene.
Fawns (baby deer) are also often thought to be abandoned or orphaned as they are very often found alone. Fawns in our area generally start arriving around Mother’s Day in May. Many does will have one fawn their first year as a mother, and often in subsequent years she will give birth to twins or even triplets. Fawns are generally born at night or very early morning, towards dawn. The doe will scope out a nice quiet spot (remember, we’re talking about a spot that is quiet in the dead of night…which might be your backyard or the side of a road) where she will give birth and then clean off her fawn. After nursing her fawn, the doe will lead it to wherever she has chosen to bed it down, at which time she will encourage it to lay down (in the case of twins or triplets, she will generally stash each fawn in a different location). The doe will then LEAVE THE FAWN ALONE while she goes off to graze. This is normal; the fawn has no natural scent as a newborn, and the doe is trying to keep predators away from her baby. She will return every few hours to check on her fawn(s) and nurse, but the older the fawn is the less frequently she will return to it. Fawns two weeks old and younger will be left this way; they are hardwired to lay completely still, sometimes all curled up, sometimes with their head up, but they won’t move until mom comes back for them. We often get called saying “I was able to go right up and pick it up”. Yes, that is also normal, but don’t do it please! If a fawn has been bedded down in an unsafe location, it is ok to move it to a safer location that is still very close by; after relocating, lay the fawn back down facing away from you and pat it between the shoulder blades several times, then quickly walk away). Patting the fawn is a way of telling it to stay put (the doe would do that with her snout). Again, before intervening further or taking a fawn away from its location, please refer to our flowchart or call for advice. If someone has mistakenly taken a fawn away, please take it back ASAP; does will continue searching for their fawns for up to 72 hours, and your scent on the fawn won’t cause her to abandon it (that is a myth). Again, rehabbers cannot take fawns because a rescuer feels it is in an unsafe, suburban, location; if deer are there and mom gave birth, that is that fawn’s home range, for better or worse. Texas Parks & Wildlife regulations are extremely strict, if not prohibitive, when it comes to the movement or relocation of deer or fawns.
To learn more about what we do and view pictures of many of the animals we assist, please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SavingTexasWildlife. Details and more specifies-specific flowcharts regarding how to help found animals can be viewed on our website at www.ftwl.org (click on “Help and Advice”). These charts are extremely helpful to determine if an animal truly needs rescuing or not. If you need assistance with a wildlife animal you have found, please call us at 281-259-0039 or email us at [email protected]. We offer many educational programs (including camps, birthday parties, educational presentations, and Second Saturdays).
Our educational visitor’s center is open the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., located at 29816 Dobbin Hufsmith Road, Magnolia, Texas, so our next Second Saturday will be on May 14 ($5 per person, kids three and under are free). Summer camp dates have also been set, and registration information can be found on our website or on Eventbrite.