Wild orphan animals — to rescue or not?

Spring and summer are busy times for people and animals. People are spending more time outdoors, and the chances are greater that someone may come across a young bird or mammal that may appear to be orphaned or injured. It is normal for many animals to leave their young alone for long periods of time, so your help may not be needed. In all likelihood, the adult is nearby watching and waiting to return.
White-tailed deer: The only time a female (doe) will be found with a fawn is during feeding times. Fawns are fed three to four times a day, each feeding lasting about 15 minutes. During the long periods left alone, newborn fawns instinctively freeze and will lie motionless when approached.
“If you come across a fawn, it is best to leave it alone for at least 48 hours to determine whether the adult is returning for feedings,” said Rick Jacobson, director of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Wildlife Division. “While waiting for the doe to return, it is important that both people and dogs stay away from the fawn. A truly orphaned fawn may show signs of distress by walking around aimlessly and calling out for several hours.”
Rabbits: Baby rabbits are one of the wild animals rescued most often, but usually they do not need human help. Mother rabbits are at the nest to feed their young only twice a day for about five minutes — at dawn and dusk. And, yes, they really do put the nest in the middle of your back yard. One reason for this is so the female can see any predators that may be approaching while she is nursing her young. Baby rabbits are in the nest for only two to three weeks before becoming independent.
Birds: Many people find young birds hopping around the yard in June and July. Most of these birds are old enough to leave the nest, but are still not efficient fliers. If you find a fully feathered young bird that is unable to fly, it is best to leave it where it was found. The adults are probably still caring for the young bird, which should be capable of flying within a few days. Remember to keep pets away from the bird and watch it closely for at least an hour to see if the adults are returning to feed it.
If you find a young bird on the ground that appears to not have feathers, look for a nest. If a nest is in a nearby tree or shrub and the bird feels warm to the touch, try to place the nestling back into the nest. If the nest has fallen on the ground, make a new nest with a wicker basket and some dry grasses and hang the basket with the nestling in it in a nearby tree or shrub.
Injured animals: If you find an animal that is definitely injured or orphaned, remember to:

  • Avoid direct contact.

  • Keep pets and children away.

  • Use heavy gloves to transfer the animal to a cardboard box or escape-proof container.

  • Keep the animal in a warm, quiet place.

  • Contact an authorized wildlife rehabilitator.

“Connecticut’s authorized wildlife rehabilitators care for more than 11,000 animals each year,” said DEEP Wildlife Division biologist Laurie Fortin. “Most of these are young wild animals that were brought in by well-intentioned individuals. However, many did not need to be rescued.”
Wild animals as pets: Keeping wild animals as pets is discouraged, may be illegal, and when legal is subject to state and federal regulations. Raising wild birds and mammals for successful return to the wild requires considerable knowledge of feeding formulas, countless hours of care, and appropriate outdoor caging. Improper care results in underweight and undernourished animals or animals that are not releasable because they have become too accustomed to being around people.
“Although it may be natural to want to assist young animals, caring for them may actually do more harm than good,” said Fortin.
In Connecticut, there are approximately 250 authorized volunteer wildlife rehabilitators with the skills and training to care for sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife. To obtain the names of wildlife rehabilitators in your area, check the DEEP website at ct.gov/deep/wildlife. Call the DEEP Wildlife Division at 860-424-3011 (Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or the DEEP Emergency Dispatch Center at 860-424-3333, after hours or on weekends.