It is wildlife baby season and the cuteness factor is off the charts. But please don’t assume you can rescue what appear to be orphaned birds, rabbits or newborn fawns.
Many baby animals are left alone for short periods of time.
Think Wild, a wildlife hospital and conservation center, is busy caring for orphaned animals, such as house finches we saw on a recent visit.
“We have a lot of strict protocols for caring for orphaned baby birds. We wear a face cover as well as a Ghille suit so there’s no association with humans that are feeding them,” said Pauline Heice, Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation at Think Wild. “We also play bird noises so it’s a normal and safe environment for them. We also keep them on a feeding schedule. At this stage those little house finches are fed every half hour.”
It’s common to find baby birds on the ground in late spring and early summer. Sometimes they fall out of their nest before they are capable of flying or get blown around by storms.
“People will think they need to be picked up and rescued. Usually, they don’t,” said Kelli Neuman, Sunriver Nature Center Program Director. “They just need to get back up into the nest if they are in a dangerous situation if there are cats or dogs around. But otherwise, that’s perfectly natural to do — bounce out of the nest, be on the ground and continue to be taken care of by their parent until they learn how to fly, which is usually just a couple of days.”
Precocial birds, such as ducks, geese and quail, are ready to go as soon as they hatch and immediately begin following their parents around. It explains why many of these types of birds are not abandoned.
Altricial birds such as robins, raptors and house finches, are born helpless. These birds spend a few weeks in their nest before their feathers fill in and then start learning how to fly.
“After hand-raising baby birds, I’m very appreciative of the amount of work a parent bird does,” said Heice. “They have six babies at a time and these babies are very hungry. They have to make sure every baby in their nest is fed. They are constantly going back and forth. It’s very energetically costly.”
The nestling house finches are fed wax worms and crickets soaked in water saturated with vitamins so they get the nutrition and moisture they need to grow.
As they grow, their diet will transition to seeds and insects, which rehabilitators will teach them how to find for themselves.
“People are really concerned about baby wildlife,” said Neuman. “And to be fair, they are all adorable. It’s hard not be like ‘Oh my goodness, this poor thing!’ But the growing up process is incredibly complex and the mother or the parents are really essential for the animal to have a complete life. So whenever possible, we are trying to help that animal be parented. To learn the things that parent is going to teach is so it can be successful and bring on another generation.”
If you see a baby animal alone, it’s probably not lost, abandoned or orphaned. The parent is likely nearby getting something to eat or drink while keeping an eye on the baby.
“Deer will stash their fawns under a bush and visit them infrequently to keep predators away,” said Neuman. “Rabbits also employ that strategy. So, if you find an animal that’s by itself, you might assume it’s been abandoned but it’s really still being taken care of and it’s doing just fine. It’s just hiding out while its mom forages and keeps the predators away.”
Unless you are a trained and certified wildlife rehabilitator, do not handle or feed baby wildlife.
The best course of action is to call the Wildlife Hotline at 541-241-8680 and ask for guidance on what to do.
“We ask that if anyone finds an injured or suspected orphaned animal, before taking any action, please give us a call,” said Heice. “We are equipped to handle any wildlife interaction. We can guide you on the correct course of action with a phone call.”
Think Wild rehabilitated and released about 200 orphaned animals in 2021 including songbirds, waterfowl, raptors and mammals.
2022’s call load was ahead of the previous year as of mid-June, perhaps due to the mild winter and the growth of the community which translates to more people out and about exploring and encountering baby animals in their natural environment.
“Be very respectful of wildlife babies when you see them,” said Neuman. “Like I mentioned, a lot of times the wildlife baby’s mother or father is nearby and keeping an eye on them, but they won’t come back if you are around.”
If you really want to help orphaned animals, donate cash or supplies to Think Wild and let the professionals rehabilitate and release wild animals back into the wild.