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Idaho Fish and Game

short eared owl chick head shot

Found a baby animal in the wild? Leave it be


You might think picking up a baby animal is the right thing to do, but Mother Nature disagrees

You have heard of deer season, bear season, turkey season, and with warmer weather making appearances across the state, we have left ski season behind to welcome fishing season. But, right now, there is another important season just getting underway…baby animal season.

When visiting the great outdoors in the spring and early summer, even if you are only venturing as far as your own backyard, there is something important to keep in mind: when it comes to taking care of wildlife babies, no one does it better than wildlife moms.

If you see a baby bird hopping on the ground or a tiny deer fawn curled up in the shade of an aspen, leave it alone. Don’t assume the young animal has been abandoned. In almost every situation, the mother is very close by, and may even be watching you watch her baby.

Animal parents will periodically leave their young in order to search for food or to divert attention away from their vulnerable offspring, especially if they sense danger. Young wild animals, like deer fawns, know instinctively to remain still and in the places their mothers left them. Does will return every three to four hours to nurse and care for their young. In the meantime, a fawn’s protective coloring and lack of movement helps hide its location from predators.

Adult birds will often continue to feed their young even if they fall out of the nest. In fact, as chicks grow, mom and dad will actually “encourage” them out of the nest for some supervised flight training.

There are examples of adoption in the wildlife world, too. Have you ever seen a pair of Canada geese with 15 goslings following close behind? Mother goose didn’t lay 15 eggs—more like 6 or 8. But she and her mate undoubtedly “inherited” another goose’s brood—kind of like a neighborhood play date that never ends.

During the spring and early summer, Idaho Fish and Game receives a flurry of phone calls from the public regarding everything from baby owls and goslings to young foxes and fawns. While the first instinct of most callers is to “rescue” the animal by removing it from the wild, this is not always the best solution.

It may seem cold-hearted to just leave a baby animal alone, but imagine how sad it is for a mother to return to an area and find her baby missing. In the case of mule deer, a doe will often hang out in an area for several days, searching and waiting for her missing baby to reappear.

So, what do you do if you see a robin fledgling hopping in your backyard or stumble upon a pronghorn fawn that you think has been orphaned? Leave them be. Then if you wish, contact your nearest Fish and Game office. Fish and Game employees work for the agency because they truly care about wildlife. They are happy to take calls about orphaned or injured animals, answer questions, and when necessary, retrieve animals.

Fish and Game is committed to helping Idaho’s wildlife. There are times when we have had to place moose calves in a new home or even find a new nest and parents for a baby eagle. But keep in mind that sometimes “helping” means standing back and letting wildlife do what comes naturally. After all, mothers know best.