Think Before you Act
Is it Really an Orphan?
In the spring and early summer, you may have the good fortune to observe a nest of birds or a young mammal with no adult in sight. Enjoy the scene, but unless there appears to be something amiss (a nest out of the tree, broken legs or wings, or wounds and bleeding) - LEAVE IT ALONE!
Many species of animals are raised by one adult that may temporarily leave its offspring in search of the next meal. Wildlife parents are devoted to the care of their young and rarely abandon them (abandonment is usually a result of injury or death). Since they cannot be in two places at once, the young may be left alone several times a day.
When in doubt, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitators, trained to handle cases of orphaned animals.
Information on Young Wildlife
Songbirds & Birds of Prey
Nestlings, nestling songbirds, and birds of prey (hawks and owls) usually lack feathers or are covered with down. They are not yet able to perch. These young birds must be placed back into their nests or new nests must be constructed for them.
Fledglings - When songbirds and birds of prey leave the nest, they are “fledglings” and have feathers covering their bodies. They leave the nest for short periods of time and often fall out of trees. If this happens, keep your pets indoors and observe the fledgling. Watch from a distance to see if the bird can get out of harm's way by itself and if the adult birds continue to care for the young bird.
Ducks and Geese - Young mallard ducks and Canada geese are commonly separated from their brood as they follow parents to food or water. Parents usually return for the stragglers.
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit - Eastern cottontails feed their young at night and will not be on the nest during the day. Rabbits leave the nest when they are just three weeks old. A small rabbit with its eyes open and ears standing up is self sufficient and does not need your assistance.
Squirrels - Squirrels will retrieve their offspring when they fall or venture from the nest. They also have alternate nest sites if one nest is destroyed. Give the adult female squirrel plenty of time to find and rescue her young.
White-tailed Deer - A small fawn alone in a meadow is not necessarily an orphan! The female deer often protects her young by leaving them alone in a secluded spot. Do not attempt to rescue a fawn - their chance of survival is greater if left alone. Read more about the white-tailed deer fawn.
Opossums - Opossums are marsupials. The young stay in a pouch on the female’s belly for several months. After emerging from the pouch, the family unit stays together for another six weeks.
Fox and Coyotes - Foxes and coyotes make a den in hollow logs or trees, under a rock pile, or occasionally in ground borrows. Pups are born from February to May. Pups may be left unattended when the adult animals go off to hunt for food.
Raccoons - Large hollow trees in woods are preferred den sites, but nests may be in ground burrows, rock or brush piles or old buildings in proximity to people. The female cares for the young which are born between February and June. Raccoons feed primarily at night. The young scavenge with the female at two months of age and set off on their own in the fall.
Rabies is a virus that attacks nerves and brain tissue of most animals.When an animal is sick with rabies,the virus is shed in the saliva. It is then spread to other animals or people when the virus-laden saliva gets into a wound or mucous membrane. This is usually through a bite. Most rabies is found in wildlife such as skunks and raccoons. Pets get rabies from wildlife. Dogs and cats pose the greatest risk in spreading the disease from wildlife to people. Birds and reptiles do not carry rabies. Wildlife with rabies lose their fear of people. If rabid, raccoons and other nocturnal animals may be out roaming during the day.
What Should I Do if I Have to Rescue an Orphan?
After consulting your wildlife district office or wildlife rehabilitator, keep the animals in a warm dark area until they are placed with a permitted wildlife rehabilitator. Avoid handling the animals –this is for your benefit as well as theirs. The animal may carry parasites or diseases that could harm you. Handling by humans stresses the animal which may cause it to act defensively resulting in a kick, bite or scratch for you. It may also cause a mental and physical overload for the animal contributing to its death.
Act on Positive Information
If you have found an obviously injured wild animal or know for a fact that an animal has been orphaned, intervention is an acceptable course of action. But don’t plan on raising the animals on your own. Young wildlife require special care and feeding that is beyond what the average household is prepared and able to manage. Only a licensed wildlife rehabilitator can legally care for native wild animals. Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
Humans are always a young wild animal’s LAST hope for survival, NEVER its best hope. A young animal should only be removed from the wild after all avenues to reunite it with an adult animal have been explored.
May I Raise a Wild Animal Myself?
No. Native wildlife are legally protected. It is illegal for anyone to possess a native wild animal unless permitted by the Division of Wildlife. Wildlife rehabilitators have a permit to provide care to orphaned or injured wildlife. Wildlife rehabilitators are not employed by the state.
What Can I Do to Prevent Wildlife Orphans?
- Check for nests before cutting down a tree or clearing brush. It is best to cut trees and clear brush in the autumn when nesting season is over.
- Place caps on all chimneys, vents and window wells to prevent animals from nesting there.
- Keep your pets under control so that they do not injure wild animals.
- Educate children to respect wild animals and their habitat, and not to try and catch or harass them.
- Exercise caution when driving and watch the roadsides for wild animals,especially at dawn and dusk.