Monday, June 21, 2010

Injured, Orphaned, or OK?

Each spring our phone rings with a local resident wanting to know what to do with a baby bird or a lonely deer fawn found in the corner of their lawn.  These phone calls are pretty common for us, but the experience for the caller is always new, and the welfare of the wildlife species they've found is usually uncertain.  Without being present, it is difficult for us to assess whether the animal really needs someone's assistance, or perhaps it might be best left alone.

So what do you do if you find a young wildlife species?  Its important to determine if the animal might be injured, orphaned, or OK.  A fledgling bird, a young squirrel, or an "abandoned" fawn may not really need our help.  They may simply be struggling to learn how to use their newly formed and awkward bodies as they explore the great big world around them.  Here are a few things to consider when determining if a young animal may be injured or orphaned:
  • If you have to chase it, it doesn't need your help.
  • A fawn curled up in the lawn is not abandoned but left alone for short periods of time so the mother may forage to maintain her strength between bouts of nursing.
  • A young bird that is fully feathered and hopping on the ground or clambering in the bushes is likely a fledgling, not an orphan.
  • Many small mammals like rabbits and raccoons nurse their young for short periods of time, but then leave the nest to avoid attracting attention from predators.
Please seek help from a wildlife rehabilitator, local veterinarian, or nature center if you see the following:
  • An animal brought home by your pet cat or dog.
  • Signs of bleeding or other trauma.
  • Shivering.
  • A featherless or nearly-featherless bird on the ground.
  • Evidence of a dead parent nearby.
For more information about how to assess the need for help of young or injured wildlife, please visit or the NYS DEC.  These informative websites have resources about how to deal with potentially injured or ophaned wildlife, what to do if help is needed, and how to contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.  And at all times, please consider you and your family's health and well-being before attempting to rescue injured or abandoned wildlife.  Though you have good intentions, wild animals usually don't know they are being helped or rescued and may react aggressively regardless if they are healthy or truely injured/abandoned.  When in doubt, please remember this saying: "If you care...leave them there."

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist


chuck banks said...

Adam: While you're on the subject of interactions with wildlife, it might not be too late to remind people about female snapping turtles wandering around looking for nesting spots this time of year.

They shouldn't be molested, and, if they're in an inconvenient spot (such as crossing a road), they can be safely picked up by both hands on the sides of the carapace.

I've seen them wandering miles from the nearest pond or lake. One strode purposefully through my son's back-yard birthday party, scattering six-year-olds and their mothers.

Westmoreland Sanctuary said...

@Chuck: Thanks for the additional note about turtles. We get a few calls each spring/summer from local residents wondering why a water turtle is in the road or digging holes in their yard.

The thought of a snapping turtle crashing a party makes me laugh.