Despite the lingering cold weather in many parts of the nation, spring is here, bringing the arrival of baby birds and mammals.
It's a good time to remember newborn wildlife may be found in your yard, along trails or in open spaces.
What should you do?
The very best advice is to leave them alone. In many states, personnel in Parks and Wildlife or Departments of Conservation receive scores of calls from concerned residents about wildlife that seem to have been abandoned by adult animals.
Many good-hearted people are tempted to help a young animal by picking it up or trying to feed it. However, it is critical to understand there is no substitute for the natural parents. Wildlife experts agree it is quite normal for adult animals to leave their young in a safe place while they go forage for food.
Often baby birds are learning to fly or fledging near their nests when they are deemed abandoned. While well-meaning people sometimes gather up this feathered baby and bring them to wildlife rehabilitation facilities, it is often the wrong thing to do.
"Baby mammals are nearly scentless to prevent predators from finding them," according to Janet George, senior terrestrial biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "When humans touch these animals, they are imparting them with a scent their adults will not recognize or even fear. This can result in true abandonment of healthy offspring."
Baby birds are a different story.
They can be moved out of harm's way or placed back in the nest if they are songbirds. However, do not try this with raptors! Great-horned owls and other raptors are territorial and have been known to fly at humans they view as a threat to their young.
If you find young wildlife, enjoy a quick glimpse, leave the animal where it is, and keep pets out of the area. Quietly observe the animal from a distance using binoculars, and don't hover so close that the wild parents are afraid to return to the area.
"If 24 hours go by and the parent does not return, it is possible the newborn was abandoned or something happened to the adult animal," said Jenny Campbell, customer service expert with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. In that case, it’s best to call local DNR experts or a certified wildlife rehabilitation center to get aid for the wildlife. But please, do not move the animal yourself.
"It's hard to stand back when your instincts are telling you to do something," said Lea Peshock, Animal Care Supervisor at Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. "But the best chance baby animals truly have is staying in the wild."
"The most important rule to follow when you encounter a baby mammal or songbird that you suspect may be abandoned is to wait at a distance and observe," Peshock said.
"There is a vast amount of information online to help people determine if an animal is truly orphaned, because it's not always easy to tell."
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If it's established that the animal is an orphan, remember not to feed it or even give it water. This can be a very hard rule to follow, but there are good reasons behind it.
"The animal can aspirate or consume the wrong type of food and die. If you feed a cold animal, it can die. Given there are so many variables, the most important thing you can do for it is let it be assessed by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator," Peshock said. "As much as we feel the natural pull to help animals that we think are in trouble, sometimes it’s best to just leave the animal be."
Humans also need to recognize potential harm to people and pets. Risks associated with handling of wildlife animals include disease transmission of rabies, distemper or other illnesses. Wildlife can also carry fleas that can spread disease to humans or pets.
In many states, it is illegal to own or possess wildlife. People can avoid heartache if they don't adopt the cute baby raccoon or skunk. Human-raised and hand-fed animals are rarely returned to the wild because of their lack of survival skills or imprint on humans.
Licensed wildlife rehabilitators are trained to use methods that will give a wild animal the best chance of surviving upon release.
— Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife