Wildlife ‘rescues’ can do more harm than good
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Media contact: Karen Parker, 386-758-0525
Winter is finally over. Trees and flowers are blossoming, birds are building nests and critters are being born.
This is also the time of year when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) begins getting calls about “abandoned” animals that folks believe may be in need of rescue.
However, these rescues may do more harm than good.
After giving birth, adult wildlife must forage to provide food for themselves and their young. This means leaving their newborns for short periods.
Having some basic knowledge of wildlife and the survival skills animals use can help avoid attempting to rescue animals that don’t need rescuing.
A common target of misplaced rescues is baby deer, temporarily left in a safe place while their mothers feed nearby. Many people who find fawns mistakenly assume they have been abandoned, when, in reality, their parents are in the process of ensuring the infants’ survival.
“In most cases, it is absolutely not in a fawn’s best interest to ‘rescue’ it,” said Allan Hallman, wildlife biologist at the FWC’s Camp Blanding Field Office.
Hallman says what typically happens is someone discovers a young deer waiting for its mother. Often, those fawns are found in palmetto patches or in recently burned areas, where a doe has placed her new offspring for protection. These settings tend to help mask the fawn’s scent, thus providing good protection from the keen nose of a predator.
People discover these seemingly abandoned baby deer and become concerned when the parent is nowhere in sight. The would-be rescuers falsely believe the young animal will perish unless they save it or take it to a wildlife rehabilitation center.
“Unfortunately, actions of this kind usually have the opposite effect of a rescue,” Hallman said. “The stress created by changing the animal’s diet and surroundings is often fatal.
“If the rescued fawn manages to survive, its return to the wild is practically impossible because of human imprinting or a lack of survival skills. If it had remained wild, the young deer would have learned the necessary survival skills from its mother,” Hallman said.
Another way to help with the survival of young animals is to not feed them. Although that may sound odd, feeding can cause problems ranging from poor nutrition to dependence on humans for food and loss of foraging skills, all of which can decrease the critter’s chances of survival.
“These animals have survived for a long time without our assistance. They can continue to survive without handouts,” Hallman said.
The FWC recommends that if you find a fawn or other baby animal, don’t touch it, and quietly leave the area.
Juvenile birds are commonly found on the ground at this time of year, looking a bit dazed or confused. The youngster may be trying to hide in tall grass or in low bushes to avoid being seen by predators. These young birds are going through a process called fledging – learning to fly now that they have adult feathers. During this process, the immature birds sometimes end up on the ground, where they may spend several days before they learn all their flight skills.
“While on the ground, juvenile birds’ parents continue to watch over them, feeding them and helping them learn necessary survival skills. Help the parents by keeping any pets that may harm the young birds indoors during the spring and summer,” Hallman said. “Please don’t interfere in this crucial learning process.”
Here are some important facts that can help determine if a baby bird needs rescuing. According to biologists, the only time a baby songbird should be rescued is when it is on the ground and has almost no feathers, when the bird is injured by pets or its tail is less than a half-inch long, and it cannot hop around on its own.
If you find a baby songbird you are sure needs rescuing, and the nest is low enough for you to safely return it to its home, it’s OK to do that.
“Songbirds have almost no sense of smell, so the young birds can be returned to their nest without much chance of rejection,” Hallman said.
The other approach, when you are sure birds need rescuing and care by a wildlife rehabilitator, is to place the baby in a tissue-lined box that has air holes in the top. Keep the box in a warm spot away from drafts and air conditioning and out of direct sunlight. Do not give it food or water. Call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area. The FWC’s North Central Region Office, 386-758-0525, has a list of rehabbers. Many local veterinarians also work closely with wildlife rehabilitators and also can be a good source of advice.
“You can also place the bird in a lined, uncovered, shallow box with drainage and attach the box to the tree from where the bird fell. Sometimes the parents will come to the baby in the new box and feed it there,” Hallman said.
This gives the birds a chance to be raised properly by their parents.
“Most parents will come back to care for the fledgling. Sometimes, however, they reject the chick because of a limited food supply, an inability to care for the young chick, or for other reasons we may not understand,” Hallman said. “If the parents don’t return, then the chick should be taken to a rehab center. Migratory birds are protected and need to be cared for by a licensed facility.”
The FWC asks you to remember that removing an animal from the wild to save it may actually have the opposite effect. Seek advice from wildlife professionals before attempting to rescue any animal.
“Remember that in most cases, it’s better to leave wildlife wild,” Hallman said.
For more information on Florida’s wildlife and what you can do to help, go to MyFWC.com/Conservation and select “How You Can Conserve” and then “Wildlife Assistance – Injured or Nuisance Wildlife.”