Ah, yes, spring is in the air. It’s that time of year we once again see warmer weather, blooming flowers, buzzing insects, and baby wildlife. But, does that baby really need your help? Unlike our domestic pets, wildlife rarely need our help when it comes to raising their young, and in most instances, it is best not to interfere. For many wildlife species such as rabbits, deer, elk, and pronghorn, the young are often hidden alone in nests or tall grasses for most of the day to avoid attracting predators. Don’t worry, mom is often nearby keeping a close eye on her young and visits throughout the day to feed and care for them. Baby rabbits, known as kits, are often left alone for a large portion of the day. Mom only visits once or twice a day for a few minutes to feed and clean her kits before returning away from her burrow for the remainder of the day. Often times when young wildlife are removed from the wild, their chances of survival are slim since humans can only emulate the necessary care needed for them to flourish and grow. In addition, young wildlife may become imprinted on their human caretakers which further complicates their survival and severely limits their ability to be released back into the wild.
Baby birds can be a bit trickier. There are two groups of baby birds: altricial and precocial. Altricial birds are those that are born naked, blind, and completely rely upon their parents for care during their first few weeks after hatching. Examples of these birds include songbirds and doves. Precocial birds are up and ready to go soon after hatching. They are coated in a downy fuzz, can see, and are able to feed themselves. Quail chicks and ducklings are great examples.
If you see a baby bird, first assess the situation. Is it altricial or precocial? Tree nesting or ground nesting? Is it naked or fully feathered? Are the parents nearby? Is the bird able to get around on its own, is mostly feathered, and jumping from branch to branch? If so, this bird is probably learning how to fly.There are some instances where baby birds can accidently fall from a nest and can safely be placed back into it. Birds do not reject their young after they have been handled by a human. If the bird appears too young to survive on its own, it may need some assistance, but only after it has been fully assessed.
Precocial chicks, such as quail, often follow their parents in groups and hide under low shrubs and bushes. When a predator is nearby, the parents will often leave the chicks hiding and will try to direct the predator away from them. Some parents even fake an injury, like a broken wing, to lure danger far enough away before returning.
When in doubt, it is best to leave wild babies alone. If wildlife may need assistance, contact your regional department of natural resources or find a wildlife rehabilitator near you when seeking advice. If you come upon an injured or orphaned animal, the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association has great tips for locating a rehabilitator in your area: http://www.nwrawildlife.org/content/finding-rehabilitator.