Spring has sprung and that means birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians are laying eggs and having babies. This is the time of year when the phone at the Nature Center rings often, as well-meaning folks call us to report an “orphaned” baby.
Though the intention behind these calls and “rescues” is always honorable, it creates a new range of problems and often results in the loss of some of these animals. In most cases, an animal’s best chance of survival is in the wild. Baby birds in particular are vulnerable to human interference, because their systems are extremely delicate and they require guidance from their parents in order to learn to survive on their own.
Our advice, unless the animal is clearly injured, is to leave it be, exactly where you found it.
“It is amazing how many different birds and other animals live right in our back yards, often unnoticed,” says DPNC Executive Director Maggie Jones. “If you care about birds and wildlife, keep your cat inside. Cats are a tremendous threat to small mammals and birds, and ground nesters and fledglings are the most vulnerable. If you garden, please don’t use the lightweight polypropylene plastic netting to cover shrubs or lawn — birds, snakes and other animals can become entangled in it with fatal results. Our backyard wildlife does much to keep local insect and rodent populations in check: skunks foraging on beetle larvae in the soil; snakes feasting on mice and rats; birds and bats on insect patrol in the treetops. The more you can learn about our animal neighbors, the more you will know about whether or not to intervene.”
In the case of mammals, if you find a nest of baby rabbits or squirrels that appears to have been abandoned by the mother, please don’t touch the nest or move the babies. You may not see the mother, but she is likely close by or on her way back from foraging. If the baby is fully furred and alert, it may have recently left the nest as it becomes increasingly independent and learns to forage on its own. If the eyes are closed, try to find the nest and return the bunny or squirrel to it. If a cat or other predator has taken the baby from the nest, and you cannot locate the nest, only then should you contact the Nature Center or another wildlife rehabilitator.
Skunks, raccoons and foxes are categorized as rabies vector species, meaning they have the potential to carry and transmit rabies, so do not attempt to handle, trap or capture any of those species, including the babies. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator only if the animal appears injured.
Regarding birds, as nestlings grow, parent birds tend to leave their nests for long periods of time and will not return if there are people or pets in the area. Even if a nest appears to be abandoned, though, chances are good that the parent is not far away.
A parent bird can fly in and out of a nest in mere seconds, so dedicated observation is really the only way to know whether the parent is tending to the nest. If you watch the nest closely for several hours and determine that there does not appear to be a parent tending it (especially if you can hear the baby birds chirping without response from a parent), call DPNC or your local wildlife rehabilitation center before disrupting the nest. You can find a center by looking on the Internet or by contacting your veterinarian or local humane society. A licensed wildlife rehabilitator can ask you questions that can help in the rescue efforts, and, in some cases, can travel to the site to evaluate the situation.
Baby birds found on the ground are usually fledglings, meaning they have left the nest but are still being cared for by their parents while they learn how to fly. This is a critical natural step in the growth cycle of baby birds, and some birds will stay on the ground for several days before they take flight. Fledglings are fully feathered with short wings, and tails, features that can help you distinguish them from fallen nestlings, who have few or no feathers.
If you find nestlings on the ground, you can gently return them to their nest. If you cannot find the nest, craft a makeshift nest from a small berry basket or other container lined with soft grass. It is not true that parent birds will not care for babies that have been touched by humans. It is perfectly safe for you to touch a baby bird – just be gentle. Fledglings, however, should always be left where they are found.
In June, Connecticut turtles leave their ponds to lay eggs, especially around the full moon. If you find a turtle digging a hole in your yard, leave it alone. Their natural instincts help them choose suitable sites for their eggs. Baby turtles hatch in September, but many will stay safe underground in their nests until the following spring. If you find a turtle crossing a road, move it in the direction that it is going, out of harm’s way.
Here are some local wildlife rehabilitators to contact in case of an injured animal, but remember, in most cases, leave that baby alone! (The state DEEP website has a list of rehabbers for specific species.)
|Rick McPhearson||860-884-9070||all animals|
|A Place Called Hope||203-804-3453||large birds, raptors and coastal|
|Linda Johnson||860-572-9638||mammals, sea birds|
|Suzanne Colten-Carey||860-434-9999||rabies certified, mammals, birds|
|CT Wildlife Rehabilitators Assn||860-227-5997||all animals|
|Mystic Marinelife Aquarium||860-572-5955 x 107 (x134 after 5 p.m.||stranded marinelife|
|Ros Downing||860-450-6863||squirrels, chipmunks|
Please check out our Animal FAQ page for lots more information!