Wildlife Tips: What to Do If You Find "Orphaned" Babies!

May 01, 2018

There is one specific thing that our community's people can do to most effectively help wildlife who appear to have been abandoned.

And that is: nothing.

Really. Nothing. We get frantic calls frequently this time of year about people finding "abandoned nests of baby bunnies" or an "abandoned baby bird" or various other manner of "abandoned" wildlife. Here are a few things to remember regarding wildlife in southwestern Indiana.

1) The babies are most likely 
NOT abandoned. 

Just because you haven't seen mom in awhile, doesn't mean she's not around. With rabbits, mom only visits the nest a few times a day and is out finding food the rest of the time. Animals like rabbits, squirrels, deer, and chipmunks are prey animals, and their primary job is to stay hidden from predators and keep their babies hidden from predators. If you are doing mowing or landscaping and uncover a nest, you didn't "find some abandoned" wildlife -- you found them exactly where their mother meant for them to be: covered up in your yard, invisible to predators. The same goes for hiking. If you see a deer fawn nestled in the woods, he is where he's supposed to be. Mom is not going to make herself known to a big scary human and reveal the location of her babies. She will hide until you leave.

If Mom is gone, she'll be back! The best thing you can do for the babies is leave them exactly where they are. 

2) Wild rabbits and domestic rabbits are not the same. The VHS nor any other agency apart from a licensed wildlife rehabilitator can't accept wild rabbits or other wildlife of any age.

Please don't bring us wild animals, including bunnies. Even though we care for domestic rabbits here, we cannot accept wild ones by law. And we do not want to accept them because we are not equipped to care for them properly. Most humane societies are only meant to care for domestic companion animals. Wesselman Woods and Mesker Park Zoo also CANNOT accept wildlife drop-offs from the public, even if they already have the same kind of animal in their care.

If you are positive that you have an actual abandoned or injured wild animal on your hands, we will refer you to a wildlife rehabilitator licensed through the state of Indiana.

3) The human scent willnot discourage an animal's mother from caring for it.

That is a myth. If you did accidentally touch (or need to intentionally touch) a baby animal, you can still leave it close to where you found it. Your scent will not keep its mother from returning. This is an old wives' tale.

4) Only very young baby birds should be put back in their nest.

Hatchling birds are covered in downy white or gray fluff. If you find a bird this young on the ground, check for a nearby nest and return the hatchling to it. (Again, having touched it will not keep its mother from caring for it.)

If the bird appears to have more adult-like feathers, it is a fledgling and may be out of the nest on purpose learning to fly. Even if it cannot, the best course of action is to leave it alone.

5) It is illegal in Indiana to pick up or keep box turtles unless you are moving them out of the roadway.

Turtles roam in a very short span of space throughout their whole lives. Moving them is traumatic and confusing for them. Unless a turtle is in the actual roadway, leave it alone. If it is in the road, move it off the roadway in the same direction it was facing.

Overall, wild animals are smarter than we give them credit for and they survive without human assistance the majority of the time. We animal lovers tend to want to be compassionate helpers, but the truth is -- they don't need us! Unless there is obvious injury, the best way we can help wildlife is by letting them do their own thing and letting nature take its course.

If you do find injured wildlife, such as deer, geese, ducks, opossums, etc., please call Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement so they can direct you to the appropriate agency.

For more information on how to interact with local wildlife, here are some good resources from Wesselman Woods and the Indiana DNR.