If You Care, Leave it There

Wild parents are always a wild baby’s best chance of survival. It is so important to exhaust all efforts to reunite displaced babies with their natural mother. Wild parents teach babies everything from hunting to the songs of their species and how to survive. Species to species interaction is what helps wild animals discover their role in the ecosystem. Rehabilitating wildlife is not just feeding them up until release, a release is not successful unless that animal can survive on their own in the wild. One of the most important reasons for reunification or rehabilitation with a certified wildlife rehabber is because wildlife will imprint and become habituated to humans, even just hearing human voices, can lead to a failure of raising a releasable baby.

Humans are never a young animal’s best hope for survival. They are its last hope. A young animal should only be removed from the wild after all avenues to reunite it with an adult animal are exhausted.

Wild animals may carry the rabies virus or other diseases transmittable to humans. Please do not handle these animals yourself and contact CROW or a local wildlife organization for assistance. Rabies vector animals include raccoons, river otters, foxes, skunks, bats, coyotes, and bobcats. A rabies vector species is a species more likely to contract the rabies virus, seeing one of these animals DOES NOT mean they have the rabies virus.

Orphaned or Abducted

Wildlife parents are very devoted to the care of their young and rarely abandon them. When abandonment does occur, it is usually the result of an injury or the death of the parent. Typically, it is the female mammal raising the young and often leaves the nest in search of the next meal. In the case of birds, where both parents are generally caretakers, both are often away from the nest for the majority of the day, returning only for the brief stops to feed their hungry young.

What Can You Do?

If you happen to see a young, wild animal, please leave it alone unless there appears to be something wrong such as a clear injury or fallen nest. NEVER feed any wild animal. It is illegal in the state of Florida to care for wildlife without the proper licenses and permits. If the animal is injured, ALWAYS bring them to your nearest wildlife rehabber for proper care. If the nest has fallen out of the tree but the young inside the nest appear healthy, please replace the nest in the tree as high up as you can reach. If this is not possible, consider placing the nest in nearby bushes or even nailing it to the side of the tree in an area where the young will have some shade and shelter from the elements. If the nest itself is missing or damaged, an artificial nest may be created.

Some species need cavity nests if theirs has been destroyed or the tree was cut down like screech owls, woodpeckers, and squirrel species. People can use the tree with the cavity that’s fallen or cut down and attach it to a nearby tree so parents can keep using it. Or contact us and we can provide a nest box, so unharmed babies don’t have to come into the clinic.

Some birds like nighthawks, vultures, killdeer, and Chuck-will’s-widows are ground nesters. If you find a baby of these species, PLEASE LEAVE THEM BE! These species are nearly impossible to renest and struggle in rehabilitation settings.

If you find yourself in need of assistance in a scenario like this, please reach out to CROW or a licensed rehabilitator. We will always be happy to walk you through the steps needed over the phone to ensure the baby has the best chance of survival!

Common Scenarios  

Nestlings are birds not quite ready to leave their nests. Songbirds or birds of prey (hawks and owls) are usually covered with fluffy down and lack feathers. They are not yet able to perch. These young birds must be placed back into their nests or new nests must be constructed for them.
Fledglings are when young birds leave the nest and feathers have replaced the down they wore as nestlings. Fledglings leave their nest for short periods of time to hop along branches and often fall out of the trees. If this occurs, observe the fledgling and please keep your pets indoors. Watch from a distance to see if the young bird can get out of harm's way by itself and if the adult birds continue to care for it. Usually, the adults will fly down to feed the fledglings who will fly on their own in a few days. Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls may not be able to fly back to their nests as fledglings but they can climb with tree branch access!
Bunnies such as eastern cottontail rabbits feed their young briefly once or twice a day at dawn or dusk. You will not find the female in her nest during the day because she is out foraging for food. Rabbits leave the nest when they are just three weeks old, so even a seemingly small rabbit with its eyes open and ears standing up is self-sufficient and does not need your assistance.
Ducklings need protection from mom at a young age from predators. If you see one or several ducklings on their own, mom may be nearby. Try to find mom and play calls to get her to come around. Babies can eat on their own once hatched but are very vulnerable in the early stage of their lives. Sometimes moms will leave their babies and go to a different pond then return, but if mom is nowhere to be found, please contact your nearest wildlife rehabber.
Bobcat kittens generally nest in dens and begin exploring their surroundings at four weeks of age. The female bobcat stays in the den with the kittens while the male bobcat does not participate in raising the young. If you happen to see a kitten(s) in a den, please leave them alone unless there is a clear injury.
Otter pups form strong family units with both parents participating in raising the pups. The pups begin exploring their surroundings at four weeks of age, but stay with the family for a year learning to hunt and avoid predators.
Squirrels, unlike birds, can and will retrieve their babies if they have fallen from the nest. Squirrels nest in tree cavities and sometimes babies can fall. If the nesting tree is cut down, they will need a cavity box, but also mom will have multiple nests. If a baby is displaced, leave the baby in a box with a small entrance hole at the base of a nearby tree. The hole should be large enough for an adult squirrel to get inside. Mom will hear baby crying (you can even play baby squirrel sounds from a distance) and will take baby back to the nest or to a new one! If mom does not return in 24 hours, please contact your nearest wildlife rehabber for assistance!
Opossums should never be on their own at a young age. Opossums are marsupials who spend the first few months of their lives inside their mom’s pouch (much like a kangaroo). If you hit an opossum or see someone hit an opossum, please check to see if she has a pouch full of babies. If you find young opossums, please bring them to your nearest wildlife rehabber.
Turtles and Tortoises receive no parental care after hatching. If you find a hatchling turtle or tortoise, please leave them alone unless they are in danger of being hit by a car. If they are in the middle of the road, you may assist them in crossing. Please always move them in the direction they were already heading. Turtles typically reside in freshwater environments and on land, sea turtles (typically seen on the beach) live in the ocean, and tortoises live ONLY on land. Never assist a sea turtle hatchling to the ocean, and never place a tortoise in the water.
Raccoon kits feed primarily at night. Young raccoons scavenge with the female parents at two months of age and set off on their own in the fall. The female raccoon cares for the young in the preferred den sites of large, hollow trees in the woods. They have a small territory, and nests are often easily located. Another common scenario for young raccoons is when the mother nests in a manmade structure such as an attic or crawl space and become a nuisance. If there are raccoons in an attic, there are ways to get mom to relocate on her own without ever involving a trapper! Find the entrance and disturb it or if there are multiple entrances, block off all but one so mom will know to relocate. If you have found the babies, you can also put them outside the attic entrance and mom will see they are disturbed and relocate. Also, yes, mom raccoons will forage at night but it's common to see babies out playing in the day while moms gone or to see mom foraging during the day. It doesn't mean they have rabies! Please always use caution and protective equipment if handling any wild animal!

Watch the Webinar

In June 2020, CROW’s Medical & Research Director, Dr. Heather Barron presented a “If You Care, Leave It There” webinar for the Lafeber Company. For a more in depth look at what to do if you find a baby bird or other animal,  watch the webinar here: