Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Two baby fox © Herbert Lange

Born wild: Best left in nature.
© Herbert Lange

June 2013

Keep the "wild" in wildlife

Cute to view maybe, But don't touch.

Mandy Cyr

Wild animals have a place in nature. Every year thousands of people observe wildlife to make note of their natural behaviors and beauty. During certain times of the year, like spring and summer, wildlife viewing is even more popular because of opportunities to view wildlife parents and their babies. During these seasons itís especially important to understand wildlifeís natural behaviors and how they care for their babies.

It is common in most wildlife species for parents to leave their babies unattended for periods of time while they forage or hunt for food. Parents also minimize time spent at nest sites to prevent predators from easily finding their babies.

Fawns are born with spots and little scent to help them blend into their environment and stay hidden. They move very little in their first weeks and they are often left alone for much of this time. Their mothers only return a few times a day to feed them and then fawns return to their hiding places. If you see a fawn lying on the ground by itself, you should leave the fawn where it is and try not to disrupt the area.

Baby rabbits also are usually alone in their nest during the day when the mother is not there. The mother rabbit will return a few times a day to feed her babies, but will then leave quickly because baby rabbitsí best protection from predators is to remain in their nest concealed with grass or vegetation.

Baby songbirds are also left alone in their nest at times when their parents are looking for food. As baby songbirds get older they move around more and start to test out their developing feathers. At this age, songbirds are called fledglings. Fledglings leave the nest just prior to the full feather development and, thus, cannot fly for several days to a week. During this time they hop around on the ground building their strength and coordination under their parentís watch. It is best to leave the fledglings alone to finish their developments.

It is a common misconception that human scent on a wild animal will drive the parents away. If you or someone you know picks up a wild baby that is healthy and not orphaned, and it has been held for less than 24 hours, place it back where it was found. Also keep pets and activity away from the area so the parents will feel safe enough to return.

Itís also im-portant to understand the laws and risks about handling wild animals. Most wild animals are protected under state and federal laws, making it illegal to take them from the environment without proper permits and authorization. However, citizens may temporarily possess sick, injured, orphaned, or displaced wildlife for up to 24 hours for the sole purpose of transfer to an appropriately licensed individual.

Most wild animals have an innate fear of humans and are not meant to live in captivity. They have complex nutritional, physical, mental and social needs that are not easily replicated in a captive setting. They can also be stressed by human interactions and noises associated with human activity; or even become habituated to and completely dependent on humans, making reintroduction back into the environment impossible.

Wild animals also carry diseases and parasites that can be transmitted to humans or domestic animals such as rabies, salmonellosis, mange or intestinal roundworms. If an animal is truly orphaned or appears to be sick or injured, you should contact the Department of Natural Resources or a wildlife rehabilitator immediately. Wildlife rehabilitators are licensed by the state and federal government to temporarily care for and treat wildlife with the goal of releasing them back into their natural habitat. An online directory of wildlife rehabilitators is available at: Wildlife rehabilitation directory

Key points to remember:

  • A healthy animalís best chance of survival is to remain in its natural environment.
  • Wild animals are not meant to live a life in captivity.
  • Young wild animals found alone are not necessarily orphaned.
  • Human scent on a wild animal will not drive the parents away, so healthy baby animals can often be returned to their nests.
  • If an animal is in need, immediately contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or the DNRís call center at 1(888)936-7463 (1-888-WDNR-INFo).

For more information on wildlife commonly seen in Wisconsin and tips on determining if an animal is truly orphaned, please refer to the Orphaned Wildlife fact sheet under the Educational Resources section of the DNRís Wildlife rehabilitation webpage Orphaned wildlife . Younger readers can also visit the DNRís EEK! webpage Leave Wild Animals in the Wild .

Mandy Cyr is a DNR biologist.