NCWRC: Leave young wild animals alone - The Coastland Times

NCWRC: Leave young wild animals alone – The Coastland Times

Cute baby bunnies are a spring staple, but taking young bunnies out of yards and into homes will likely do more harm than good. According to a press release from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, well-meaning people often put the health of young wild animals at risk when they interfere with a wild animal’s natural growth process.

As people begin to garden and play in their yards this spring, they may come across young rabbits, fawns and fledgling birds mistakenly thought to be abandoned. The natural response for most people will be to help, but in the majority of cases one or both parents are a short distance away looking for food and will not return until the way is clear.

“Wild parents can’t hire a babysitter, so most young animals spend a lot of time alone long before they can fend for themselves,” said WRC extension biologist Falyn Owens. “When the mother returns, sometimes several hours later, she expects to find her young where she left them.”

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Owens advises that for those who really feel the animal needs help, the best thing to do is to leave it alone (or put it back in place) and call a wildlife rehabilitator for advice.


Newborn rabbits (kits) spend their first weeks hiding in plain sight, in shallow holes tucked among clumps of thick grass, under shrubs, or in the middle of open lawns. Rabbit nests can be difficult to spot, often looking like a small patch of dead grass. Rabbits (or rabbits) actively avoid their nests, visiting only once or twice a day for a few minutes, to avoid attracting the attention of hungry predators.

“Every spring we hear worried people say they’ve found an abandoned nest of rabbits, when in fact the kittens are doing just fine and quietly waiting for the doe to return,” Owens said. “If they appear healthy and unharmed, the best thing to do is cover the nest and move away. The mother won’t return until well after you’ve left the area.


Newborn deer also spend almost all of their time hiding for the first few weeks of life. After feeding, the doe gives a signal and her fawns instinctively separate to find a quiet place to lie down and stay put. They usually remain curled up for several hours while the doe ventures out to feed. Fawns rely on a spotted, scentless coat, which makes it difficult for predators to find them.

Those who find a calm fawn that doesn’t seem hurt are encouraged to leave it alone and check it the next day. If he is still there and bleats loudly, looks thin, injured, or has visible diarrhea, contact a certified rehabilitator for advice.

“If a fawn has already been moved from where it was found but a short time has passed, return it immediately,” Owens said. “A doe will usually try to find her missing fawn for about 48 hours before giving up. After 48 hours have passed or the fawn has been given any food, contact a fawn rehabilitator as soon as possible.


Knowing the difference between a baby bird and a baby bird can help you make the right decision if you see a young bird on the ground. The chicks do not have their feathers yet and cannot survive for long outside their nest. The chicks have their feathers and are able to walk, jump or fly over short distances; they may seem helpless, but have already left the nest and are cared for by parents, usually from a distance.

“If you find a nest on the ground, get it back to the nest as quickly as possible, if you’re able to find it,” Owens said. “If the whole nest has fallen, you can put it back in the tree, or even build a makeshift nest.”

The baby birds, however, should be left alone in most cases. They are busy with the important tasks of learning to fly and to survive on their own. If a baby bird is obviously not injured or in immediate danger, let it be. Like human toddlers, young birds need plenty of practice to acquire the muscles and coordination necessary to grow into graceful adults. Keeping cats indoors and dogs on a leash is the best way to ensure these young birds get through this vulnerable learning stage.

obey the law

Leaving young wild animals alone is not only part of being a responsible steward of nature, but it is also the law, advises the NCWRC.

“It’s illegal to remove most wild animals from the wild and bring them into your possession,” Owens said. “The chances of a young wild animal surviving human care are slim at best. Even those who live long enough to be released will not have developed the skills to survive on their own.

Owens also stresses the importance of never feeding young wild animals, which can cause irreversible and often fatal damage to the animal.

“If in doubt, contact a professional before making anything“, she advises. “Each spring, wildlife rehabilitators take in many malnourished, sick, or injured youngsters from well-meaning people trying to provide care.”

And one last tip: it’s best to leave the animal where you found it, even if someone picked it up or touched it. Feral parents almost never abandon their young, even if they detect a human scent.


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