DENVER – Despite the wintry weather in many parts of the state, spring is here, and with it comes the arrival of baby birds and mammals to Colorado. It’s a good time to remind citizens that newborn wildlife may be found in their yards, along trails, or in open spaces, and the best advice is to leave them alone.
Each year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife receives scores of calls from concerned humans about wildlife that have been “abandoned” by adult animals. Many are tempted to “help” a young animal by picking it up or trying to feed it, however it is critical that people understand there is no substitute for their natural parents.
Wildlife experts agree that it is quite normal for adult animals to leave their young in a safe place while they go forage for food. And often baby birds are learning to fly or fledging, near their nests when they are deemed abandoned. While well-meaning people sometimes gather up this baby wildlife and bring them to wildlife rehabilitation facilities, it is often the wrong thing to do.
“Baby mammals are nearly scentless in order to prevent predators from finding them,” said Janet George, senior terrestrial biologist for CPW. “When humans touch these animals, they are imparting them with a scent their adults will not recognize or even fear. This can result in true abandonment of healthy offspring.”
Baby birds are a different story. They can be moved out of harm’s way or placed back in the nest if they are songbirds. However, do not try this with raptors! Great-horned owls and other raptors are territorial and have been known to fly at humans seen as a threat to their young.
If you find young wildlife, enjoy a quick glimpse, leave the animal where it is, and keep pets out of the area. Quietly observe the animal from a distance using binoculars and don’t hover so close that the wild parents are afraid to return to the area.
“If 24 hours go by and the parent does not return, it is possible the newborn was abandoned or something happened to the adult animal,” said Jenny Campbell, customer service expert with CPW. “Call our office and we will work with a certified wildlife rehabilitation center to get aid for the wildlife if possible. Don’t move the animal yourself.”
“It’s hard to stand back when your instincts are telling you to do something,” said Lea Peshock, Animal Care Supervisor at Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. “But the best chance these animals truly have is staying in the wild.”
“The most important rule to follow when you encounter a baby mammal or songbird that you suspect may be abandoned is to wait at a distance and observe,” said Peshock. “There is a vast amount of information on our websitegreenwoodwildlife.org/foundananimal.php to help people determine if an animal is truly orphaned, because it’s not always easy to tell.”
If it’s established that the animal is an orphan, remember not to feed it or even give it water. This can be a very hard rule to follow, but there are good reasons behind it.
“The animal can aspirate or consume the wrong type of food and die. If you feed a cold animal, it can die. Given there are so many variables, the most important thing you can do for it is let it be assessed by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator,” said Peshock. “As much as we feel the natural pull to help animals that we think are in trouble, sometimes it’s best to just leave the animal be.”
In addition to potential harm for wildlife, humans need to recognize the potential harm to people and pets, as well. There can be risks associated with the handling of wildlife animals, including disease transmission of rabies, distemper or other illnesses. Wildlife can also carry fleas that might subsequently spread disease to humans or pets.
Finally, it is imperative for Coloradoans to understand that it is illegal to own or possess wildlife in the state. People can avoid heartache if they don’t “adopt” the cute baby raccoon or skunk. Human-raised and hand-fed animals are rarely returned to the wild due to their lack of survival skills or imprint on humans. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators are trained to use methods that will give a wild animal the best chance of surviving upon release.
For more information on living with wildlife, visit /wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeSpecies/LivingWithWildlife/Pages/LivingWith.aspx