It's that time of year again! Wild animals are producing young, sometimes right in our own back yards. Baby animals are soooo cute! However, they sometimes choose to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Rabbits: Rabbits are notorious for nesting in our yards. We often don't see them until we are mowing near the nest or the dog or cat flushes them out. A few things to remember about rabbits: 1) Mom doesn't stay with the nest. She'll return at night to feed the babies, so do not assume they are orphaned. 2) When a bunny's eyes are open and ears are up, it is weaned from momma and on its own. It is not an orphan.
If you find a nest, or your dog finds a nest, cover the nest loosely with grass clippings and place a box or basket over it with holes for the mom to get in. Keep pets away from the area. You can tell if mom visited if the grass covering the nest is disturbed.
If a rabbit has an obvious injury or wound, it need to be seen by a licensed wildlife veterinarian.
If you cover the nest with loose grass clippings and more than 24 hours pass without anything disturbing it, then the babies are likely orphaned and need to be taken to a licensed wildlife veterinarian for care.
Raccoons: Raccoons typically nest in tree cavities and have several babies at a time. Babies may follow mom around, or mom may leave them to hunt food and return. You may see babies climbing up or down a tree, or wandering around on the ground if mom is nearby.
If you suspect a raccoon has been orphaned, first observe the nest or location of the raccoon for 24 hours. Hungry babies will leave the nest and look for mom. Baby raccoons that approach humans or if you have not seen mom for 24 hours and the babies are crying, they should be cared for by a licensed wildlife veterinarian.
Opossum: Opossum are marsupials, meaning the babies hang out in momma's pouch. Adults nest in abandoned dens/nests of other animals. Babies crawl directly to the pouch after birth (they are extremely tiny) and stay there for 2-3 months, at which time they will leave the pouch to explore near momma, but return to nurse. They are weaned and on their own at age 4 months.
Most opossum that become orphaned are the result of being hit by a car. Opossum babies require special care to feed and need to be cared for by a licensed wildlife veterinarian.
Deer: Baby deer (fawns) are born a tan/soft red color with spots. This is nature's design to camouflage the fawn. Momma will have the fawn lay down in the grass or under a bush. Its coat resembles spots of sunlight through the trees. Mom will often leave the fawn while she looks for food, or to lead a predator away from the fawn. You may see fawns bedded down in the woods-do not assume it is orphaned! Check the area a couple times over the next 24 hours to see if mom returned for the fawn.
Birds: Birds spend a short amount of time in the nest as young before they spread their wings and fly...or try to. Baby birds are often found out of the nest after a storm (due to wind), but most often when they attempt to fly...and land on the ground.
If at all possible, do one of two things: 1) return the baby to the nest if you can reach/find the nest. The parents WILL still care for the baby! If you cannot locate or reach the nest, 2) leave the baby where it is and the parents will hear it and continue to feed it.
I personally have had to make a nest for a baby bird when I couldn't reach the nest. Empty hanging flower baskets work great. Simply line it with toilet paper and grass clippings, making a little 'bowl' in the center for the baby to rest in. Hang the basket nearby-for me, it was the porch directly beside the tree. The parents heard the baby and continued to feed it.
It's definitely baby animal season, and chances are, you will see a variety of baby wild animals and birds over the next couple months. Some species produce two litters a year, meaning a repeat performance in late summer.
A baby animal's BEST chance of survival is always its PARENTS. Whenever possible, LEAVE THE BABY ALONE. It's hard-we all want to help the cute, helpless baby! However, first observe to see if momma is truly around or maybe just out for food. Give momma a chance to return to the nest or find the baby and care for it. If it truly looks like momma's not coming back, then the young need intervention.
Rabbits, birds, and other small animals can be carefully placed in a box and taken to a licensed wildlife veterinarian. Orphaned or injured deer, coyotes, fox or raccoons should be brought to the attention of ODNR or you may call a wildlife veterinarian. These animals should only be handled by professionals. PS: Young skunks may be able to spray depending on their age:) If you arrive at a wildlife veterinarian with a skunk, leave it in a box outside while someone goes inside to check in.
The Central Ohio area is lucky enough to have The Ohio Wildlife Center, a facility with trained staff and veterinarians with the proper licensing and permits to treat wild animals. Most veterinarians legally cannot treat wild animals, nor would many know how to as they do not work with them on a regular basis.
Also know that it is illegal for anybody to keep a wild animal for any reason without the proper permits. Wild animals will always possess a wild instinct, and should be left in the wild.
If you find an injured or orphaned animal, call your local wildlife center or Department of Natural Resources.
Ohio Wildlife Center: 614-793-WILD (9453)
2661 Billingsly Road Columbus, OH 43235
Ohio Department of Natural Resources: 1-800-WILDLIFE (945-3549)