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If You Care, Leave it There - Baby Animals Belong in the Wild

Spring is baby season for all things wild, with most birds and animals busy with the task of raising their offspring. It's also the time of year when well-intentioned folks find "abandoned" critters and bring them by our office or call with questions about how to care for their new discoveries. We offer this simple solution: leave them alone.

Most young wildlife picked up by well-meaning, concerned citizens die in captivity. Their dietary and other needs are highly specialized and difficult to mimic sufficiently. Should they beat the odds and survive, they face a hostile world with no survival skills. A lifetime of captivity is likely their fate.

The list of young animals brought to our office this time of year is nearly limitless: baby robins, young red-tailed hawks, fawn mule deer, calf elk, baby raccoons, and baby rabbits just to name a few. The unfortunate part of these well-intended "rescues" is that in most cases, the animal was not lost, abandoned, or orphaned.

As baby birds mature, they often leave the nest in their efforts to hone their flying skills. Adult birds continue to feed their offspring until such time that the young birds can survive on their own. Mammals (including deer and elk) routinely leave their young ones in a secure location, moving off to feed and returning later (sometimes hours later) to retrieve their youngster(s). So in your forays afield, should you be fortunate enough to encounter a wild baby, appreciate it and then leave it alone. Chances are very good that its parents are nearby, waiting for you to leave.

Resisting the urge to pick up "abandoned" wildlife helps ensure it will remain wild. Once an animal is removed from the wild, Fish and Game has only three alternatives. We can attempt to locate a professional wildlife rehabilitator who might be able to raise the animal to the point that it can be released back into the wild. This is both a difficult and costly endeavor. The second choice is life in a zoo, hardly the place for a wild animal. And finally, many animals brought to our office must be humanely destroyed. If that strikes you as difficult to think about, consider what it must be like to carry it out.

If you find a baby bird, rabbit, squirrel or other critter, the best approach is to leave it undisturbed. Only move the animal if it is in harm's way (wandering in the road, for instance). Placing baby birds in a shrub or on a tree branch will help them avoid house cats. Don't fret about getting your scent on a baby bird. The myth that birds will abandon their offspring once humans have handled them is just that: myth. Most birds lack a sense of smell.

Remember that all wild animals (no exceptions!) have a better chance of survival if left alone than if raised in a human environment. So, if you care, leave it there.