APRIL 2, 2014
Public should resist urge to “help” or "rescue" juvenile wildlife perceived to be in need
PHOENIX – Rising temperatures and longer days mean spring is here and newborn wildlife will become increasingly visible.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department understands people’s desire to help seemingly abandoned animals such as baby birds and bunnies, but reminds the public that “helping” or “rescuing” baby wildlife can have unintended negative consequences.
“The public’s intentions to care for wildlife are admirable, but removing baby wildlife from the wild often results in their death,” said Mike Demlong, wildlife education program manager with Game and Fish. “Although it may seem humane to ’help’ or ’rescue’ baby animals perceived to be in need, wildlife reared in captivity by humans – without the benefit of learning from their parents – have a greatly reduced chance of survival when they are released back into the wild.”
Demlong explained that young wildlife found in your yard or in the field is rarely abandoned. Typically, once the perceived predator (you, or your cat or dog) leaves the area, one or both parents will return and continue to care for the young.
Baby birds are the most common wildlife species encountered by the public and removed from the wild, said Demlong. Fledglings (fully feathered baby birds that are just learning to fly) may appear distressed because they are not capable of full flight, but should be left alone and moved only if they are at an immediate risk of injury. If the baby bird is truly in danger, it can be either placed back in the nest or at a safer, shaded location on nearby vegetation or a structure. Most often the parents will find and continue to care for a fledgling, provided people and pets stay away.
Younger, unfeathered baby birds that have fallen to the ground can be placed back in the nest, if feasible. If the entire nest with babies or eggs has fallen, it should be returned as close as possible to the original location. If the nest is missing or needs repair, a temporary artificial nest can be constructed from a shallow container and placed in close proximity to the original nest. Contrary to popular belief, human scent on the babies, eggs, or the nest will not concern the parents.
The eggs and young of quail, which are ground-nesting birds, are also encountered around homes in desert communities and often unnecessarily removed from the wild by well-meaning members of the public. Nests of camouflage-colored eggs should be left in place when discovered. If necessary, the eggs can be moved a short distance away to a protected location and the parents will likely return. After hatching, young quail will follow their parents closely. But if the parents are frightened, they will leave the area temporarily. Once the threat or predator is gone, one or both parents usually return to collect their offspring.
Demlong said that baby mammals such as rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, bobcats, javelina, and fawns (deer and elk) are also unnecessarily taken from the wild. Baby mammals in most instances should also be left in place, untouched, unless obviously injured. Although they may appear orphaned, baby mammals are typically left alone by their mother for long periods of time while she forages for food and water. Baby mammals that are immobile and at immediate risk of injury can be moved, if necessary, to a safe location nearby that provides appropriate cover. The mother will likely find the relocated baby by smell or hearing and continue to provide care, provided people and pets stay away.
“It’s very reassuring to know that our society values wildlife and is passionate about caring for wild animals,” Demlong said. “But, I would like to remind people that what is best for baby wildlife, and sometimes difficult to accept, is to leave them alone.”
If you have questions about a specific situation, please contact one of the wildlife rehabilitators listed on the department’s website at: www.azgfd.gov/urbanwildlife. Or, contact your local Game and Fish office.