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Does This Wild Baby Need Rescue?

Situation: You've found a wild baby animal with no parent in sight.

CLICK HERE for a print-friendly PDF of this info!

Why this happens:
Unlike humans, most wild animals do not have babysitters or daycare services for their offspring. In some species, busy wild animal parents must leave their babies unattended for periods of time. After all, like human parents, these animal parents have lots of work to do like finding food, defending their territory, and staying clean. Some animals, like deer and rabbits, may also deliberately stay away from their young for periods of time to avoid attracting attention to their offspring. 

FAQs and Humane Solutions

“I found a baby animal that is injured [or cold, dehydrated, or sick]. What should I do?”

If the animal is bleeding, bruised, has a limb that is broken, has punctures or lacerations, feels cold to the touch, or has bugs or maggots on it, it will need the care of a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Call your local licensed wildlife rehabilitator for advice. If you are in Milwaukee County, you are welcome to call us at 414-431-6204. CLICK HERE for more information. 

“I found a nest of baby bunnies and there’s no mother rabbit around. What should I do?”

To keep from attracting the attention of predators to her babies, a mom Cottontail stays away from her well-hidden nest and only make brief visits a couple times each night to feed her babies. For more information about how to tell if a nest of baby Cottontails is orphaned or not, CLICK HERE.

“I found a baby squirrel on the ground and there’s no adult squirrel in sight. What should I do?”

Once they are fully furred and their eyes are open, it is not unusual for juvenile squirrels to come out to play near their nest and practice climbing up and down a tree when their mother is away looking for food. But squirrels whose eyes have not yet opened or whose bodies are not yet fully covered in fur should NOT be out of the nest. For more information about what to do when you find a baby squirrel, CLICK HERE.

“I found a fawn curled up on the ground and I don’t see a mom deer. Is it orphaned? What should I do?”

For the first two to three weeks of life fawns are too weak to follow their mother or run away from predators. At this age, their best defense is to lie completely still and let their spotted coat camouflage them from predator’s eyes. To keep from attracting attention to her hiding baby, the fawn’s mother leaves the area to feed or bed-down. She’ll return periodically to nurse the fawn when she thinks it is safe to do so. To learn more about how to determine if a fawn is orphaned or not, CLICK HERE.

“I found a baby songbird that has feathers, but it can’t fly. What should I do?”

Many birds go through a “fledgling” stage where they are big enough to leave the nest but their flight feathers haven’t completely grown in, and they are not strong enough for sustained flight. Oftentimes these young birds end up on the ground after their first attempts at flight and they’ll essentially have to learn to fly from the ground up. They are vulnerable to predation and other hazards at this stage, but for them it is a natural part of growing up and it’s usually best to leave them in their parents’ care. Speaking of parental care, it is not at all unusual for these birds to be seen alone, and for people who find them to assume they are orphaned. In fact, the parent birds are usually hard at work finding food and can’t always stay right there with their young ones. They’ll return with a mouthful of food, stuff it in the youngster’s mouth and take off again to find more food. To learn more about when you should and shouldn’t intervene with baby birds, CLICK HERE.

“Red Foxes have a den near my house. I can see the baby foxes playing at the den opening, but I don’t see any parent foxes. Might the babies be orphaned?”

It is not unusual for fully furred fox kits or the young of other species of mammals to play outside their den. The parent(s) are probably either hunting for food or resting inside the burrow. Sometimes, especially in hot weather and when their babies are juveniles, one or both of the parents will leave their young for a couple hours to rest somewhere else. They do this because it is too hot and/or crowded in the den. However, if a baby animal has been crying for some time, or it looks weak, sick, or has flies on it, it might be orphaned. Please call your local licensed wildlife rehabilitator for advice.

“A Raccoon nested in my home’s fireplace chimney. Tonight, the babies have been crying for over an hour. Could that mean they’re orphaned?”

Raccoons are nocturnal animals. Since you are hearing the babies cry at night (but didn't hear them during the day), their mom has probably left them to go out foraging for food. Crying that goes on for a few hours, especially if it happens during the day when the mother Raccoon should be “home” with her young, can be an indicator that something is wrong. But before concluding that the babies are orphaned and removing them from the nest, please talk with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area that is experienced with Raccoons. CLICK HERE to learn more. 

“My children found a baby bird [or mammal] on the ground. They touched it, so that means that we can’t put it back where they found it because the mother will reject it, right?”

Generally, not true. If a mother rejects one of its young it is usually because the youngster is injured, sick, cold, or has a birth defect. That being said, you shouldn’t touch a baby wild animal at all if it is not in need of help. 

“I found a baby mammal or bird with hardly any fur or feathers on it. What should I do?”

Hairless (or featherless) baby animals, or those with only a sparse growth of fur or with downy feathers, should not be out of their nest. These little ones will usually need human intervention if they are to survive. In some cases, they can be successfully returned to their nest and the care of their parent(s). However, an injured or sick baby should not be returned to the nest and any baby that is cold to the touch should not be placed back into the nest without warming it first.