N.C. Wildlife Officials Urge Everyone To Leave Young Wildlife Alone

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Spring has sprung and with the start of a new season, the N.C. Wildlife Commission has put out a warning to residents to resist the urge to “rescue” baby animals.

Wildlife officials say well-meaning people often put young wildlife’s health in danger when they intervene in a wild animal’s natural process of growing up.

As people begin to garden and play outside this spring, officials say they may stumble upon young bunnies, fawns, and fledgling birds mistakenly though to be abandoned.

Officials say it is a natural response to want to help, but in the majority of cases, one or both parents is a short distance away searching for food and will only return when the coast is clear.

“Wild parents can’t hire a babysitter, so most young animals spend a lot of time on their own well before they can fend for themselves,” said Falyn Owens, extension biologist at the Wildlife Commission. “When the mother returns, sometimes many hours later, she expects to find her young where she left them.”

Owens says that if you truly feel the animal needs help, the best thing you can do is leave it alone (or put it back) and call a wildlife rehabilitator for advice.

Rabbits:

Officials say rabbits spend their first few weeks hiding in plain sight (in shallow holes tucked among clumps of thick grass, under shrubs, or in the middle of open lawns) and these nests can be hard to find.

Female rabbits avoid their nests, only visiting once or twice a day, to avoid attracting predators.

“We hear from concerned people every spring who say they’ve found an abandoned nest of bunnies, when in fact the kits are just fine and quietly waiting for the doe to return,” Owens said. “If they appear to be healthy and unharmed, the best thing you can do is to cover up the nest and walk away. The mother won’t return until well after you have left the area.”

Fawns:

Officials say newborn deer spend nearly all of their time hiding for the first few weeks of their life.

After nursing, officials say the doe gives a signal and her fawns instinctively split up to find a quiet place to lay down and stay put.

“If a fawn has already been moved from where it was found but only a little time has passed, return it immediately,” Owens said. “A doe will usually try to find her missing fawn for about 48 hours before she gives up. After 48 hours have passed, or the fawn has been given any food, contact a fawn rehabilitator as soon as possible.”

Songbirds:

Officials say it is important to know the difference between a nestling and a fledgling in order to make the right decision on what to do if you see a young bird on the ground.

Nestlings don’t have their feathers yet and can’t survive outside their nest for long.

Fledglings have their feathers and are able to walk, hop, and or fly a short distance.

Officials say although fledglings may appear to be helpless, they are being cared for by their parents at a distance.

“If you find a nestling on the ground, return it to the nest as quickly as possible, if you’re able to find it,” Owens said. “If the entire nest has fallen, you can place it back in the tree, or even construct a makeshift nest.”

However, officials say fledglings should be left alone in most cases.

Obey the law:

Wildlife officials say leaving young wild animals alone is not only being responsible, but it is also the law.

“Taking most wild animals out of the wild and into your possession is illegal,” Owens said. “The chances that a young wild animal will survive in human care are slim at best. Even those that live long enough to be released won’t have developed the skills to survive on their own.”

Owens stresses the importance of not feeding young wildlife as it can lead to irreversible harm and often death.

“When in doubt, contact a professional before you do anything,” she advises. “Each spring, wildlife rehabilitators take in a lot of young that are malnourished, sick, or injured from well-meaning people trying to provide care.”

Owens says it is also best to leave a wild animal where you found it, even if someone has picked it up or touched it because wild parents almost never abandon their young, even if they detect human scent.