Wildlife 'rescues' can do more harm than good
Monday, April 19, 2010
Media contact: Karen Parker, 386-758-0525
Winter is finally over. Trees and flowers are
blossoming, birds are building nests and critters are being
This is also the time of year when the Florida Fish
and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) begins getting calls
about "abandoned" animals that folks believe may be in need of
However, these rescues may do more harm than
After giving birth, adult wildlife must forage to
provide food for themselves and their young. This means leaving
their newborns for short periods. Having some basic knowledge of
wildlife and the survival skills animals use can help avoid
attempting to rescue animals that don't need rescuing.
A common target of misplaced rescues is baby deer,
temporarily left in a safe place while their mothers feed nearby.
Many people who find fawns mistakenly assume they have been
abandoned, when in reality its parents are in the process of
ensuring the infant's survival.
"In most cases, it is absolutely not in the fawn's
best interest to try and rescue it," said Allan Hallman, wildlife
biologist at the FWC's Camp Blanding Field Office.
Hallman says what typically happens is someone
discovers a young deer waiting for its mother. Often, those fawns
are found in palmetto patches or in recently burned areas, where a
doe has placed her new offspring for protection. These settings
tend to help mask the fawn's scent, thus providing good protection
from the keen nose of a predator.
People discover these seemingly abandoned baby deer
and become concerned when the parent is nowhere in sight. The
would-be rescuer falsely believes the young animal will perish
unless they save it or take it to a wildlife rehabilitation
"Unfortunately, actions of this kind usually have
the opposite effect of a rescue," Hallman said. "The stress created
by changing the animal's diet and surroundings is often fatal.
"If the rescued fawn manages to survive, its return
to the wild is practically impossible because of human imprinting
or a lack of survival skills. If it had remained wild, the young
deer would have learned the necessary survival skills from its
mother," Hallman said.
Another way to help with the survival of the young
animals is to not feed them. Although that may sound odd, feeding
can cause problems ranging from poor nutrition to making the animal
dependent on humans for food to loss of foraging skills, all of
which can decrease the critter's chances of survival.
"These animals have survived for a long time
without assistance. They can continue to survive without handouts,"
The FWC recommends that if you find a fawn or other
baby animal, don't touch it, and quietly leave the area. Touching
the animal may cause the mother to reject it because it is
contaminated with human scent.
On the other hand, songbirds have almost no sense
of smell and can be returned to their nest without much chance of
rejection. Young songbirds are commonly found on the ground at this
time of year, looking a bit dazed or confused. The youngster may be
trying to hide in tall grass or in low bushes to avoid being seen
by predators. These young birds are going through a process called
When they're ready to fledge, young birds have
grown all the adult feathers they'll need to fly, but they still
must learn to fly. During this process, the immature birds
sometimes end up on the ground, where they may spend several days
before they learn all their flight skills.
"While on the ground, the juvenile birds' parents
watch over them, feeding them and helping them learn necessary
survival skills. Help the parents by keeping any pets that
may harm the young birds indoors during the spring and summer,"
Hallman said. "Please don't interfere in this crucial learning
Here are some important facts that can help
determine if a baby bird needs rescuing. According to biologists,
the only time a baby songbird should be rescued is when it is on
the ground and has almost no feathers, when the bird is injured by
pets or its tail is less than a half-inch long, and it cannot hop
around on its own.
If you find a baby songbird you are sure needs
rescuing, place the baby bird in a tissue-lined box that has air
holes in the top. Keep the box in a warm spot away from drafts and
air conditioning and out of direct sunlight. Do not give it food or
water. Call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your
area. The FWC's North Central Region Office, 386-758-0525,
has a list of rehabbers. Many local veterinarians also work closely
with wildlife rehabilitators and also can be a good source of
Another suggestion is to place the bird in a lined
box and attach the box to the tree from where the bird fell.
Sometimes the parents will come to the baby in the new box and feed
it there. This gives the birds a chance to be raised properly
by their parents.
"Most parents will come back to care for the
fledgling. Sometimes, however, they reject the chick because of a
limited food supply, an inability to care for the young chick, or
for other reasons we may not understand," Hallman said. "If the
parents don't return, then the chick should be taken to a rehab
center. Migratory birds are protected and need to be cared for by a
The FWC asks you to remember that removing an
animal from the wild to save it may actually have the opposite
effect. Seek advice from wildlife professionals before attempting
to rescue any animal, and please remember: in most cases, it is
better to leave wildlife wild.
For more information on Florida's wildlife and what
you can do to help, go to MyFWC.com/Wildlife and click on "Living