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- For information on wildlife rehabilitation, contact:
- Amanda Cyr
Wildlife rehabilitation/captive wildlife liaison
Bureau of Wildlife Management
During the warmer months of spring and summer, the frequency of human-wildlife encounters increases, especially those involving young animals of the year. While most of these encounters are harmless, there are times when well-intentioned people interfere in wildlife situations because they incorrectly assume an animal is orphaned.
What to do if you find orphaned wildlife
If it is determined that an animal is injured, sick or orphaned, contact the department or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately. Wildlife rehabilitators are licensed individuals trained and equipped to provide temporary care and treatment to injured, sick and orphaned wild animals for the purpose of release back into the wild. Never attempt to rehabilitate wildlife on your own. Wild animals can carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans and pets. They are also capable of inflicting injury to themselves or others as they fight to defend themselves against a perceived threat (humans). They have very specific dietary and housing requirements that are not easily met in captivity. Plus, rehabilitating wildlife without a license is against the law in Wisconsin.
Contact a wildlife rehabilitator immediately, if any of the following apply.
- The animal's parent is dead or no longer in the area (trapped and relocated).
- The animal has been handled by a predator.
- The animal is bleeding.
- The animal appears injured.
- The animal is emaciated.
- The animal has diarrhea.
- There are flies, fly eggs or maggots present on the animal.
- The animal is in a dangerous location.
- The animal is shivering.
- Orphan Wildlife Fact Sheet
- Keep the 'wild' in wildlife - Natural Resources magazine article
- Creature Comforts - Natural Resources magazine article
- EEK Critter Corner for environmental information for kids.
Common Wisconsin species
The following are tips for determining whether these common animals are truly orphaned. For the protection of all young wildlife, please do not revisit a nest site and do not let dogs and cats near the area.
Rabbits commonly make shallow fur and grass-lined nests in the middle of lawns, by sidewalks and in gardens. To avoid attracting the attention of predators to her nest, mother rabbits do not stay with her young, but only visit the nest briefly at dawn and dusk for a quick feeding. The babies' eyes open at one week and they leave the nest at about 2-3 weeks. A cottontail rabbit approximately the size of a softball (4-5 inches long) with upward pointed ears is capable of being on its own and should be left alone. These animals can have multiple litters each year so baby animals may be encountered any time from spring through fall.
Tip: If a nest is disturbed by a pet, child or because of lawn work, the nest can be rebuilt and the babies replaced and the mother will most likely return. To determine if the nest is abandoned, you can place leaves or grasses in a crisscross pattern over the nest and check it the following morning. If the pattern has been disturbed, then you know the mother has been there to feed the babies. Do not keep visiting the nest, as your scent could lead predators right to the babies.
Baby grey squirrels are about the size of a human thumb when born. Their eyes open at about four weeks of age and they begin to explore outside the nest area. They are not weaned until they are 8 weeks old and they cannot survive on their own until they are at least 12 weeks old. Squirrels with bushy tails that are approximately half of the size of adults are old enough to be on their own. These animals can have multiple litters each year so baby animals may be encountered any time from spring through fall.
Tip: If the squirrel is so young that its eyes are still sealed shut, it has probably fallen from its nest. If uninjured, the youngster should be placed back in its nest, if it is safe to do so. If the squirrel cannot safely be placed back in its nest, place the squirrel on a soft ravel-free cloth and place it at the base of the tree with the nest. There is a good chance the mother will find the baby and return it to the nest herself. Keep an eye on the young squirrel from indoors or from a distance so your presence doesn't prevent the mother from returning, and so you can watch for possible predators. If, after an hour or so, the mother hasn't picked up the baby, call your local licensed wildlife rehabilitator for further advice. Squirrels that fall that are injured or not retrieved will need to be taken to a wildlife rehabilitator for help. Squirrels that follow people, pets or children are orphans and also need to be taken into care.
Raccoons typically make their dens in tree cavities, but will sometimes occupy the attics and chimneys of houses, if accessible. Baby raccoons are born into litters of 2 to 6. Their eyes begin to open at about 3 weeks of age and at 4 weeks, teeth begin to erupt. At 4-6 weeks, raccoon kits are capable of walking, climbing and running and may begin to explore alternate den sites with their mother. Weaning occurs at 8-12 weeks, but the offspring will remain with their mother until the following spring.
Tip: If young kits are wandering alone outside of the den before the age of 4-6 weeks, it is usually an indication that the mother has been gone for several days (e.g., trapped or dead) and a wildlife rehabilitator should be contacted. If raccoons have taken up residence in your house, they can usually be forced to relocate by making the area less appealing. To do this, place ammonia soaked rags, a radio set on a talk or rock station and bright lights at the entrance for several days in a row. The mother will likely relocate the babies to another den site, carrying one baby at a time. If you find healthy raccoon kits outside of their den, they can be placed in a ventilated box at the entrance overnight for the mother to retrieve. If the babies are still there the next morning, contact a wildlife rehabilitator. Preventatives measures are needed to ensure that another raccoon will not occupy that space in the future, so be sure to close up any possible points of entry and/or cap your chimney after the entire family has dispersed.
Baby deer can be as small as three pounds when first born. They are weak and cannot walk well and lack the strength to follow their mother as she feeds. Fawns are protected from predators by their coloration and their lack of body odor. The mother deer only comes to feed the fawn every few hours and the feeding is accomplished quickly.
Tip: If you find a fawn lying alone and you don't see any of the signs listed below, you should back away and not go near the spot again. Do not touch the fawn or bring children, pets and friends to look at it because to do so endangers the baby. Your scent can lead a predator right to the well-hidden fawn. If a fawn is in obvious danger, such as in the middle of the road, you can use gloves to pick up the fawn and move it 50 feet off the road. The mother deer will find the baby. Due to chronic wasting disease concerns, wildlife rehabilitators are currently not allowed to provide care for orphaned fawns in most of the southern region of Wisconsin, so it is critical that people protect the babies by leaving them alone to be raised by their natural mothers.
Photo courtesy of Bob Wright
Songbirds lay a clutch of eggs in a nest, which, depending on the species, can be in a tree, a bush, the cavity of a tree, a bird house, on an artificial structure like a porch light fixture or on the ground. Young birds are usually tended to by both parents. Incubation and time in the nest after hatching varies among species. Once the eggs have hatched, the featherless "nestlings" remain in the nest for some time, completely dependent on the parents for warmth and food. Baby songbirds leave the nest just prior to the full development of their feathers and, thus, cannot fly for several days to a week. During this time, they are referred to as "fledglings" and hop around on the ground building their strength and coordination under the watch of their parents.
Tip: If you find a fledgling, keep it away from predators, such as cats and dogs, and watch from a distance to see if the parents are still tending to it. If the parents do not return within an hour, contact a wildlife rehabilitator. If you find an uninjured bird on the grass and it is featherless or unable to hop from one spot, it needs to be replaced in its nest. It is a common misconception that parents won't return to care for a baby bird if humans have touched it. Birds actually have a poorly developed sense of smell, so your scent will not keep them from caring for their babies! If the nest has been destroyed, an artificial nest can be created with an old margarine tub or a slated pint-sized container (those typically used for berries). Make sure the container has drainage holes on the bottom and line it with a thick layer of paper towel, so the babies are snug in the new nest.
Mallards lay approximately 6-14 creamy to greenish-buff colored eggs in a nest. Mallard nests are typically concealed in wetland grasses or by bodies of water, but they can also be found in unusual places such as flower pots, parking lots, or on rooftops. The hen will not sit on her nest until all the eggs have been laid. Once she starts to incubate the nest, it will be approximately 23-29 days before the babies hatch. Mallard ducklings are born with their eyes open and a covering of downy feathers, but depend on their mother for warmth and protection from predators. The mother will lead them from their nest to water when they are about 24 hours old.
Tip: If the nest is in a dangerous place or you are concerned about the hen getting the babies safely to water, you can call a wildlife rehabilitator for advice. It is not uncommon for a duckling to get temporarily separated from its family. If you see a duckling alone, stop, look and listen for any signs that the mother and siblings may be in the area. If the family is not nearby or does not accept the baby within an hour, do not attempt to place an orphaned duckling with another family in the wild. The orphan will need to be placed in the care of a wildlife rehabilitator.