Spring Babies — Do they Need Your Help?


Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Apr 16, 2020 - Reprinted by Permission

Keep Fawns in the Crib

Every year we see people who want to “help” fawns left alone in the forest. But, just because baby animals are alone does not mean they need help. Fight the urge to pick up and rescue bedded fawns — you might save their life.

Columbian Black-tail Fawn

Most fawns are not abandoned or orphaned; chances are their mothers are nearby. Fawns are born without scent, so if they remain still, they do not attract carnivores. A doe will often leave her fawn for long periods to feed and rest. She may only return at dawn and dusk to feed her fawn. In fact, fawns instinctively lie low while waiting for their mother to return.

Deer may leave their young in odd places like porches or yards. In many cases, a doe may leave her fawn in the same spot for several days, until it is strong enough to move with her.

If you encounter someone who has made the mistake of moving a resting fawn, you may still be able to salvage the situation with these three steps:

  1. Rub a towel on grass.
  2. Gently wipe the towel on the fawn to remove your scent.
  3. Using gloves, return the fawn to where you found it. The mother may come back if you return the fawn within 24–48 hours.

Contact a permitted wildlife rehabilitator if the mother does not return or if the fawn appears weak, ill, or injured.

Baby Birds Out of the Nest

If you come across a baby bird on the ground, it’s best not to interfere. The natural parents are better at raising their young than we can ever be — featherless baby birds must eat every 15 to 20 minutes from sunrise to 10 pm!

American Robin Babies

If the bird is fully or partially feathered, chances are it doesn’t need your help. Fledglings (partially feathered birds) typically leave the nest and move on the ground and low branches for a few days before they can fly. During this time their parents are nearby and continue to care for them.

Unless injured, a fledgling bird should be left where it is. You can help by keeping cats and dogs away from the bird so that it stays safe while the mother can continue to feed it.

If you find a baby bird with sparse or no feathers, it is a nestling that has likely fallen or been pushed from a nearby nest. If you can find it, you can give the bird a helping hand by returning the chick to the nest. It’s best to wear gloves, but mostly for your own protection.

Call a permitted wildlife rehabilitator if you are certain the parents are not caring for the nestling, or the bird is sick, has drooping wings, is shivering or lethargy, is injured, or has been attacked by a cat, dog, or other animal.

While waiting for or during transport to a wildlife rehabilitator:

  • Find a well-ventilated container, and line it with a clean soft cloth (not terry cloth) or paper towels.
  • Gently pick the bird up with gloved hands and place it in the container.
  • Keep the baby bird in a warm, quiet, and dark place. You can put one end of the container on a heating pad set on lowest setting.
  • Do not give the baby bird any food or water.
  • Wash your hands and anything that contacts the bird to prevent the spread of disease and/or parasites to you or your pets.

Baby Rabbits

If you see a rabbit in Washington, it is likely an eastern cottontail. They are prolific breeders and nest in shallow holes on the ground.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

If you find a nest of baby rabbits, leave the babies alone. Baby eastern cottontails are rarely abandoned, and the babies usually do not need “rescuing.” Mother cottontails are very secretive about visiting the nest in order to keep predators away. She feeds her young only twice a day at dawn and dusk. By three weeks old, baby cottontails are on their own and are about the size of a can of tuna (4 oz).

Cottontail nests are difficult to detect, even in lawns. Check your yard before you mow. Baby rabbits are sometimes injured or killed by lawnmowers and weed eaters. Try to stay at least 10 feet away from the nest if babies are present and leave the nest area as undisturbed as possible.

If the rabbit has any signs of injury, illness, or lethargy call a permitted rehabilitator for instructions. If the young rabbit does not exhibit illness or injury and is fully furred and has its eyes open, it has left the nest and can survive on its own. If the baby is small, eyes closed and appears weak, try to locate the nest and place the rabbit back. If you cannot locate the nest, call a permitted rehabilitator for instructions.

Wildlife rehabilitation in Washington

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife relies on wildlife rehabilitators to take in wild animals that need care. While WDFW manages wildlife populations on a broad scale, the department is not equipped to rehabilitate individual animals and values the services provided by permitted wildlife rehabilitators, who typically care deeply for the animals entrusted to their care.

If you contact a wildlife rehabilitator about a sick, injured, or orphaned animal, be aware that rehabilitators — including veterinarians holding a wildlife rehabilitation permit — are volunteers and are not paid for their services, except by donation. In addition, rehabilitators are:

  • Generally, not able to provide services to pick up wildlife.
  • Not on-call 24 hours a day, and many have their facilities at their home.
  • Limited by state and federal permits as to the number and species of animals they may admit to their facility.

Click here for more information on Washington’s wildlife rehabilitators. And, remember to thank the rehabilitators in your region for the important work that they do on behalf of our state’s wildlife.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

Photos: Fawn, Rabbit, Dave Wenning; Robins, Dan Codd