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425 East Broadway
Red Lion, PA 17356

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Posted on 04-19-2016

Don’t Create Orphans!  How to Handle Finding Immature or Injured Wildlife


            Spring weather typically means the resurgence of wildlife and lots of new babies being born in the wild.  We are privileged to have Mitzi Eaton as part of our Patton Veterinary team.  Mitzi has been a licensed raptor rehabber for almost thirty years, so she knows her stuff!  Though it was not a baby, Mitzi and some of the Patton staff were able to help the York County red-tailed hawk that had been shot with an arrow that had been in the news recently.  All of Mitzi’s work is volunteer and on her own time. 

In most cases, the best advice is to leave wild babies alone.  More than likely, mom or dad is nearby and the baby is probably NOT abandoned.  However, if you can safely watch the baby for an hour or two or if the baby is clearly injured, you may be able to find help for fledglings or baby mammals.  You should NOT try to keep the injured baby and nurse it or keep an orphaned baby as a pet.  ALL wildlife in Pennsylvania (both game and non-game species but with the exception of pigeons, starlings and house sparrows) and in many other states are protected by state and federal laws and it is ILLEGAL to care for injured or abandoned wildlife without a PA Game Commission License.  So, please leave the care of wild species to their animal parents whenever possible or contact a licensed rehabilitator so the animal gets the care it needs and can hopefully be released back into the wild where it belongs. 

Mitzi offers the following advice, “During early spring, as you spend more time outdoors, you will probably cross paths with some sort of wildlife baby. Please keep the following in mind: baby birds, whether owls, hawks, or robins, will leave the nest before being fully feathered and able to fly. At this stage, the fledglings are a mix of fluff and feathers, and are fully mobile (on the ground, anyway!). The parents will respond to their hunger cries and support them wherever they are. Resist the urge to interfere! Remember, babies will be alone for periods of time as parent go find food and bring it back. Yes, they are vulnerable on the ground; however, that is how they build up chest muscles for flight. Your job is to keep cats, dogs, or kids away and allow nature to take its course.

            If a nestling (fluffy covering of soft down, unable to stand or walk) falls from a nest and you can safely place it back in the nest, do so. Birds have a poor sense of smell and won’t reject it because of human scent. That’s an old wives tale.

            Baby bunnies are on their own when they are only half the size of a dollar bill. They can’t hop fast yet. Freezing in place is how they attempt to hide. If you uncover a nest accidentally, you won’t find mom. She stays away so that her scent doesn’t attract predators, and she only nurses them every 12-24 hours. Most people mistake this for being abandoned, but this is not the case. Simply re-cover the nest.  Baby bunnies that have gone astray can also be placed back in the nest without being rejected by momma. 

            Baby squirrels may fall out of nests during storms or if the nest is attacked by another squirrel.  The mother squirrel often has a back-up nest nearby and will move the babies one by one if she can, so do not immediately think that baby squirrels on the ground have been abandoned. 

            We rehabilitators consider ourselves a last resort because wild moms know exactly what their young need!” 

          Remember, use caution when handling any wildlife and do so only if you can do it safely.  Even babies will defend themselves by scratching, biting or pecking. If you do find wildlife that you think may need assistance, or, if you would like to make a donation to any of these individuals to aid their cause, please contact the following:

York Area Wildilfe Rehabilitators

Mitzi Eaton (birds of prey only) 757-4420

Tracie Young with Raven Ridge Wildlife Center (mammals, songbirds, waterfowl) Located in Lancaster County 808-2652

Theresa Deckard (herons only) 843-4914

This blog brought to you by the Patton Veterinary Hospital serving Red Lion, York and the surrounding communities.