Springtime in Outdoor Oklahoma means newborn birds, rabbits, squirrels, deer — and most every other critter that might come to mind. The main message from wildlife biologists to anyone who comes across baby birds or other creatures is this: “Leave Young Wildlife Alone.”
“People should keep their interactions with wildlife to a minimum,” said Mark Howery, Wildlife Diversity Senior Biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “Well-meaning people often misinterpret normal wildlife behavior as something abnormal, and it usually does more harm than good when people intervene.”
It’s almost always the best practice to leave young wildlife alone, he said.
Finding a young animal by itself does not mean it’s been abandoned or needs to be rescued. The adult animals are usually nearby and visit their offspring sparingly to avoid detection from predators.
Young wildlife removed from the wild are denied important natural learning experiences that help with survival. So even if these animals are returned to the wild, their survival chances are reduced. Also, these animals may become tame and return to places where people live, only to be attacked by domestic animals or hit by vehicles.
Most people quickly find they cannot properly care for young wildlife, and many of these animals soon die in the hands of people just trying to help.
Finally, “rescuing” a newborn animal is likely an illegal activity! Laws are on the books that prohibit people from picking up or handling most wildlife.
In rare cases, when a young animal is found with a dead adult animal or it has visible signs of injury, people can contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for advice and assistance. People might be asked to deliver an injured wild animal immediately to a licensed rehabilitator. The Wildlife Department does not have the facilities or trained staff to take injured or young wildlife at any of its offices. But ODWC does license wildlife rehabilitators who are qualified to care for most injured or truly orphaned wildlife. A list of rehabilitators is online at wildlifedepartment.com/law/rehabilitator-list.
Here are some guidelines:
Newborn birds or fledglings: While they might look helpless, they do not need assistance unless they have clear signs of injury, like a broken wing. If you find a hatchling or nestling (a young bird without feathers) outside the nest, you can try to return it to its nest or create an artificial nest using a small basket or box fastened to the branch of a nearby tree or shrub. The adult birds will not reject the young bird if you touch it. If you find a fledgling (a young, feathered bird) outside the nest, leave it alone. It is normal for young songbirds to leave the nest a day or two before they can fly well. During that time while fledglings are hopping around on the ground, the adults are usually nearby still taking care of them. If you find a fledgling near a road or exposed to danger, you can move it to a safer, sheltered location nearby.
Bunnies, other young mammals: Generally, young mammals are visited by their mother only a few times a day to avoid attracting predators to the young. A nest of bunnies will only be visited by the adult female twice per day to nurse the young. The young are generally safe when left alone because their color patterns and limited scent help them remain undetected. It’s best to leave young animals alone.
Fawns: Young deer are usually born in May and early June in Oklahoma. Even if you see a fawn alone for several days, you should still leave it alone. The animal may be motionless and seem vulnerable, but this is normal behavior for a fawn, and the doe is probably feeding or bedding nearby. Fawns are safest when left alone because their color pattern helps them remain undetected. Does visit their fawns to nurse very infrequently, a behavior that helps fawns avoid detection by predators. If sympathetic people repeatedly go near a fawn, it can prolong separation from the doe and delay needed feeding. If a fawn is visibly injured or found with its dead mother, call a rehabilitator or a local Game Warden listed at wildlifedepartment.com/law/game-warden-directory.
For more information, go to https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/wildlife/leave-young-wildlife-alone.
For media resources to help promote the message to “Keep Young Wildlife Wild,” go to https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/young-wildlife-media-packet.
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