By Heather W. Barron, DVM, DABVP
Hospital Director, CROW
Spring brings to life many beautiful things, including a variety of wildlife. Baby birds, squirrels, rabbits, deer, turtles, and many other adorable creatures are born in the spring.
Every year wildlife hospitals, like the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) on Sanibel, are flooded with young animals that are abducted away from their parents by well-intentioned people who believe these babies to be orphaned. In fact, wild animals are very devoted to the care of their young and human interference is rarely warranted.
While it is possible that a mother might be unable to return to a nest due to illness, injury, or death; it is more likely that she is just away foraging for food and will return in due course, according to the natural biology for the species.
For example, a mother rabbit will only return to nurse her bunnies for a few minutes at dawn or dusk, at a time when she is unlikely to be observed by predators (or humans). The rest of the time she stays away from the nest because her natural scent may attract predators to the unscented bunnies and because she is busy foraging for food. Young bunnies leave the nest at approximately 3 weeks of age, so even a very small rabbit may be self-sufficient.
If you are concerned, please call us at CROW at 239-472-3644 and we will be happy to give you some tips on how to determine if a young animal may be truly orphaned and in need of your help, or if Mother Nature has the situation under control.
In the case of most songbirds, both parents caretake. So even if one of the adults is no longer able to care for the young, the other may be able to carry on successfully.
If you see something clearly wrong, like a fallen nest or an obvious injury, please still call us so that we may advise you on the next steps. In most cases, a fallen nest can be replaced into a tree or nearby bushes and the parents will continue to care for the young.
If the nest itself is missing or damaged, an artificial nest may be created. CROW has had excellent success in re-nesting young animals. In fact, a research study at CROW showed an 88% success rate (defined as the young being re-nested and later fledging normally) in raptors over a 3-year period.
A young animal should only be removed from the wild after all efforts to reunite it with the parent(s) have been exhausted. Remember, humans are NEVER a young animal’s best hope for survival; they are its last hope.