Teton Wildlife Rehabilitation Center Offers Guidelines for Baby Season

For Immediate Release: March 30th, 2021, Teton Valley, ID: Teton Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is providing local communities with guidelines for how to assist with wild animal orphans and manage incidents. All animal incident-related phone calls can be directed to Renee Seidler, 435-760-7267. 

With spring slowly arriving, it’s time to keep an eye out for young wildlife emerging. Typically, baby season begins with squirrels in March, foxes in April, and waterfowl and other bird species in May. Citizens have the instinct to help any injured or abandoned animal but there are some pointers to keep in mind depending on the species, age, behavior, and incident. Never handle an adult animal without first consulting a wildlife professional. Even small animals can injure you. Once you’ve contacted the Teton Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (TWRC), describe the animal and its physical condition as accurately as possible. Many species may leave their offspring camouflaged and others have strict habits of supervision. Signs that an animal may require your help include: 

1) if the animal is brought to you by a cat or dog 

2) there’s evidence of bleeding 

3) the animal has an apparent or obvious broken limb 

4) the bird is featherless or nearly featherless and, on the ground 

5) the animal is shivering 

6) you observe the dead parent nearby 

7) the animal is crying and wandering for a day or more 

The Teton Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is providing the following suggestions for our most common species if you discover an animal that looks like they require assistance: 

If baby birds are clearly injured or in imminent danger, contact TWRC immediately. If featherless or nearly featherless babies have fallen from their nest but appear unharmed, return them to their nest if you can do so without danger to yourself. It is a myth that birds will abandon their young if a person touches them. If you find fully feathered birds, it typically means the original nest was destroyed or is too high to reach. Hang a small, shallow wicker basket close to where the original nest was. The baskets resemble natural nests and allow rain to pass through, so the birds won’t drown. Adult birds won’t jump into anything they cannot see out of, so make sure the basket is not too deep. Put the fallen babies into the new nest and keep watch from a distance for an hour to make sure the parent birds return to the new nest to feed their chicks. Watch closely, because parent birds can be quite stealthy. If they do not return, contact TWRC. 

For nearly or mostly featherless birds, birds will become too cold in a makeshift nest, so you must place them in the original nest. If that’s not possible, call TWRC. Remember that baby birds do best when raised by their parents or other birds, so try to reunite them with their parents before calling a rehabilitator. For fledglings with fully feathered bodies, one might see them hopping on the ground, unable to fly. This is normal behavior. Birds learn to fly from the ground up so fledglings might remain on the ground for a few days or even a week, supervised and fed by their parents a few times each hour before they get the hang of flying. You can tell if the fledglings are being fed by watching from a distance to see whether a parent bird flies over to them, usually a few times an hour. You can also look for white-grey feces near the fledgling.

Birds defecate after being fed, so the presence of fecal material means that the birds are being cared for. Be sure to keep cats indoors and dogs leashed until the fledglings are old enough to fly. If you are positive that the parents aren’t returning to feed the babies, contact TWRC. 

For rabbits, young that are at least four inches long with open eyes and erect ears who hop well are independent of their mother and should be allowed to fend for themselves. Uninjured baby rabbits in an intact nest should also be left alone. Although they may appear abandoned because a parent isn’t observed, mother rabbits visit their dependent young only a few times a day to avoid attracting predators. If the nest has been disturbed, lightly cover it with natural materials you find around the nest, like grass, fur, or leaves. With baby rabbits, take care to make sure pets are kept out of the nest area. Do not touch baby rabbits because foreign smells might cause the mother to abandon the young. You can use yarn or string to make a tic-tac-toe pattern over a nest to assess whether the mother is returning to nurse the young. Check back 24 hours later to see if the yarn or string has been disturbed and if the yarn or string remains undisturbed for 24 hours, contact TWRC. 

A nearly full-sized squirrel that has a full and fluffy tail and can run, jump and climb is independent. However, if a juvenile squirrel continuously approaches and follows people, it is likely abandoned. In this case, call TWRC immediately because the baby is very hungry and needs care. There are a few cases where you might need to intervene when a baby squirrel falls from a nest, a nest falls from a tree, and when a felled tree contains an intact nest. If the baby and/or nest has fallen from the tree the same day, wait to see if the mother squirrel returns. If the baby is uninjured, leave the animal alone and leave the area. Try to keep people and pets away while monitoring from a safe distance to see if the mother returns. If the babies are not retrieved by dusk, call TWRC. 

Do not assume that a baby deer by itself has been abandoned. If the fawn is lying down calmly and quietly, the mother is nearby. A doe will only visit and nurse their fawn a few times a day to avoid attracting predators. Unless you know that the mother is dead, leave the fawn alone. If the fawn is lying on their side, wandering and crying incessantly, they most likely need help, contact TWRC. 

Fox kits often appear unsupervised for long periods while parents are hunting for food. They will play like puppies near the den site until the parents take them hunting. Then they will suddenly disappear. Observe the kits from a distance; if they seem energetic and healthy, leave them alone. If they appear sickly or weak, or if you believe both parents are dead, contact TWRC. 

Mother raccoons don’t let their young out of their sight for long. If a baby raccoon has been alone for more than a few hours, they are likely an orphan. An easy way to protect the babies until the mother returns is to take an inverted laundry basket and place it over the baby (with a lightweight on the top so the baby cannot push their way out). Observe the babies until well into the nighttime hours as raccoons are nocturnal animals, if the mother is still alive and around, she will return to reclaim her offspring. If the mother does not return, contact TWRC. 

In spring and summer, people often set traps in a misguided effort to resolve garbage and other “nuisance” issues. But the traps often lead to trapping and killing the mothers leaving abandoned and starving young behind. Please try to dissuade neighbors from setting traps and to use more humane and effective alternatives. It is best to wait until the animals have raised their young and leave the area and then put up fencing or boards to exclude the animal from returning to the location next year. If animals need to be removed immediately, call a humane wildlife relocation service. If you need help choosing a safe, humane company, follow these guidelines offered by the Humane Society of the U.S. 

If you observe a baby skunk (or a line of baby skunks, nose-to-tail) running around without a mother in sight, they could be orphaned. Skunks have poor eyesight and if something scares the mother, she will run away, and thus, the babies can quickly lose sight of the mother. Monitor the situation to see if the mother rejoins their young. If the babies are on the move, put on gloves and slowly place a plastic laundry basket (with lattice sides) over the babies to keep them in one spot and make it easier for the mother to find them. Do not put a weight on top of the laundry basket. If the mother does return to her young, she will flip up the basket and reclaim the babies. If she has trouble doing this, you should lift the basket to let them out. Remember that skunks are very near-sighted, so fast movements can startle them into spraying. If you move slowly and speak softly though, you will not get sprayed. Skunks warn potential predators by stamping their front feet when they’re alarmed, so if the mother doesn’t do this, you’re safe to proceed. If no mother comes to retrieve the young by dawn, contact TWRC. 

TWRC welcomes supply donations to assist with animal care. We are always accepting the following: Esbilac’s puppy formula, towels (Please no terrycloth, just smoot towels. Animals’ claws can easily get stuck in the loops. They need to be smooth towels), baby blankets, baby bottles )with various nipple sizes), bottle cleaning brushes, dish soap, antibacterial wipes, laundry detergent, small containers for serving food (flat, shallow dishes or lids are ideal). 

For further information about TWRC, visit www.tetonwildlife.org or contact Tibby Plasse, Director of Development and Outreach, tibby@tetonwildlife.org.