The proper approach to "orphaned" wildlife

Spring is the best time to remember that wild animals belong in the wild. Too often, well-meaning people pick up animals, particularly white-tailed deer fawns and young birds, mistakenly believing that these animals have been orphaned or abandoned. This is almost never the case. The parent animals are nearby, waiting for the human threat to leave, so that they may resume caring for their offspring.

The best advice is: "If you care, leave them there!"

For an copy of the state brochure click If you Care

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife receives hundreds of calls each spring from people seeking advice on how to deal with young wildlife. In the case of white-tailed deer fawns, the scenario is almost always the same. The caller has found a spotted fawn, lying motionless in tall grass at the edge of a field. The doe is nowhere in sight, leading the calling to believe that the fawn has been abandoned and is too weak to flee. In reality, the caller is witnessing a healthy fawn's natural defenses at work. The spotted coat provides camouflage while the instinct to remain motionless further helps avoid visual detection by predators. Fawns lack a distinctive scent during their first two weeks of life, preventing predators from keying-via their sense of smell. Even the doe limits her contact with the fawn, only visiting occasionally to nurse. If you encounter a fawn curled-up in sheltering cover, leave it there! Pass by quickly and allow the deer to take full advantage of the protection nature has provided.

People also misunderstand the early stages of a bird's life. As young songbirds develop they soon outgrow the limited space of a nest, particularly if there are multiple chicks in the grackle, leave the nest before they are able to fly and move about the ground and low branches, often for several days. The adult birds continue to care for the youngsters, answering the chicks' demanding calls with regular deliveries of worms and insects. This is when people often interfere, taking healthy chicks out of the wild and placing them in a shoebox with a few crusts of bread. Not only is this illegal, it deprives the growing bird of essential nutrients found in its wild diet. Resist the urge to pick up a baby bird and leave it there! The scolding calls coming from the nearby tree are likely the adult birds, voicing their disapproval while they wait for you to leave.

To help young wildlife at this time of year keep pets, particularly cats, indoors or leashed at all times. A University of Wisconsin study conservatively estimated that rural Wisconsin cats kills 7.8 MILLION birds a year and birds only comprised 20% of the total number of animals the cats killed. Also, remind children not to approach or handle wildlife and teach them the simple philosophy: "If you care, leave them there!"

For more information contact: MASS F&W Biologist John McDonald (508) 792-7270 x121

Wildlife Damage Control  would like to thank Mr. McDonald for permission to use reproduce his press release on our web site.

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