Here Come the Babies!

Spring is literally around the corner now. We have already had reports of baby squirrels. So far Procyon has gotten injured or sick adult raccoons. But no babies have arrived just yet.

Overwintering animals have been released back into the wild. By now, the training of volunteers was supposed to be in full force, however, that is temporarily on hold.

Still, all the sterilizing and getting food and medical supplies being topped up for all the different species are in motion. They are ready at Procyon. So far the sick and injured have topped the list. Let’s all hope for a good year with more saves than losses.

But right now a pandemic called COVID-19 virus is also in motion, putting volunteer training on hold for now. This is not good and as you know people are being asked to limit close contact or stay in if they feel unwell, companies are closing to deep clean and only drive-throughs are open for restaurants. Grocery stores are going to remain open so they are generously still donating food to us for the animals. Let’s hope with a lot less traffic on the roads these days our wildlife will be safer.

What you need to know is the importance of getting any baby into a wildlife rehabilitation centre ASAP. Do not feed, do not keep it, thinking, hey I can do this. This sweet adorable baby is so cute. How hard could it be? Truth is, you can do more harm than good not knowing the proper food, handling and feeding technique for each individual. Babies need their mothers. They need the right food, or as close to it as we can get. We need to know as surrogate moms and dads how to safely feed them, to know if they are aspirating and what to do if that happens, because time is of the importance if that happens. These tiny babes are just that. Tiny. They get certain food and each has a certain amount. Their mothers are the absolute perfect choice, but if that fails we are their second chance at life. It all has to be recorded and kept track of. And you may just have to do it umpteen times a day and night at first, depending on the situation.

They could be injured if a dog or cat got hold of them and need antibiotics right away for infection. Animal bites are the worst and are full of bad bacteria. You can’t do this.

You need to keep them warm and covered making sure the box or container has air holes for them. And call your nearest wildlife rehabilitation centre. Never just go, always call first. You cannot just leave an animal on their doorstep. Depending on the time of year there may be limited volunteers in and you could miss them. The babies could freeze to death. Just don’t do it. The wildlife centre could be so busy, that phone call will alert them you are coming and they can be ready if it is an injury or emergency. Or if they do not have the room they can give you other options on where to call. That phone call is a very important first step. Especially right now with COVID-19.

With this COVID-19 virus, we are all dealing with right now, you need to know 100% that the baby or babies are truly orphaned. Please don’t kidnap babies. Be sure. Although Procyon will be open it will not have as many volunteers. Protocols also have been put in place there to keep the volunteers and everyone healthy and safe. But the fact is things will be different.

So what do you do? Wait. Be sure. Please be as positive as you can be. It is perfectly normal for fawns to be curled up all alone while moms are out feeding. She will leave them in a safe place, they do not have any scent so predators can’t smell them. A doe will leave her fawn for up to 12 hours. Please do not hang around as she will not come if you are near. She will sense the danger of human scent.

If you see a fawn that is vocalizing and crying and wandering around, seems unsettled and scared or injured, then you may very well have an orphaned fawn. Call the nearest wildlife centre nearest you for help and instructions.

Next. A mother rabbit, also called a doe, will not abandon her babies, she leaves her nest protected while she feeds and in doing this her young are safe. They also have no scent and in their nest, an indent in the ground, or sometimes you may even find their nest in flowerpots or in a garden with wood chips. They are snuggled in nice warm fur and grasses that cover them in their nest. Well camouflaged.

But sometimes a domestic cat or dog will come across the nest and grab a baby. That baby will need to go to a rehabilitation centre ASAP. Animal bites are the worst. They will not survive. They are very delicate like the fawns. Unless you physically see the mother has been killed please assume she is around. You can sprinkle flour around the nest area. Not on the nest. You will see her prints if she is there. She returns typically at dusk and dawn to feed her young so you may not physically see her. However, if the nest site is undisturbed for more than 24 hrs please call a wildlife rehabilitation centre for instructions.

Cottontail rabbits are ready to leave the nest at 21 to 28 days old and are still pretty small and fully equipped to survive on their own. They would be about 41/2 to 5 inches long at that point. However, if they are injured or in distress just pick up that phone and make that call. Even in rehabilitation centres, their little lives can suffer terrible stresses and therefore may not make it. There is nothing like the real thing.

Another popular animal to arrive at rehabilitation facilities are squirrels. Wildlife moms are pretty amazing animals. They rarely leave their little ones. But if the nest has been disturbed or even moved she may leave out of stress. Try to reunite them first. Put the babes in a box with a heat source and put it as close to the nest area as possible. It may need to be anchored down depending on location. Do take babes in at night as she will not be around at night. If mom doesn’t come back by noon the next day they probably are orphaned. Or if they are covered in fleas because mom keeps her babes clean. She is most likely gone. Then you should call a wildlife rehabilitation facility. Tiny squirrels are called pinkies, they are bare, eyes closed and pink.

Raccoons are also very tiny at first; they are called kits or cubs. They are born with just a bit of peach fuzz with a faint little mask, eyes closed, even ears closed. They do rely on their mother for 12 weeks then after that, for about a year, they may even overwinter their first winter with her. Many people lock them out of attics when they find them there, not thinking there could be babies.

People will get pest control in but the ending is not what you think. Leaving a light on and a radio 24/7 may help to oust the family. The mother will find a new place and move her babes. She wants peace and quiet. Again there is no replacement for mom, they are the best. If a baby is crying non-stop for over 24 hrs, for instance, covered in fleas or is wounded it needs help asap. Never feed or give water though as they have special needs. Call wildlife rehabilitation facility immediately. Mom and babes can be reunited if a babe has fallen from the nest. It is a myth that if a human handles the baby the mom will not accept it. She will.

As with squirrels, place in a box, keep it warm but in this case, leave it out all night. Hopefully, mom will get the baby or litter. Place the box at the bottom of the tree or nearest where you think it came from. Baby or litter will be hungry and will be crying for the mother. That’s what you want. If they are older babies and can get out, place a laundry basket flipped over them with a brick on top, mom will be able to get them out. Just remember do not feed or give water but keep warm and comfy. Some things you can do to provide heat are as follows. Gather up a clean sock and fill with uncooked rice. Microwave for 1 minute, a plastic bottle filled with hot tap water, I even have used those hot paws we use in our gloves, you just shake them to activate, I then put them in a piece of fleece and put them under another piece of material. You don’t want the baby to be too hot. Fleece is great, you also do not want a material that their little nails will get caught in.

If moms do not come back, keep warm in a dark quiet place and call the wildlife rehabilitation facility nearest you. Do not feed or give water. Unless instructed to do so. So basically, in a nutshell, these are things you can do before you call your nearest wildlife rehabilitation facility. But if you need to call right away, then place that call. We are there to help. Let’s help our wildlife friends.

But in the meantime, let’s all take time out from our usual routines and do what governments and health departments are asking us to do, which is self-isolate. If you can’t stay home, follow the procedures they have put in place to keep you and others safe.

I have heard some folks complaining about why are Provincial and Federal Parks closing, why can’t we use the trails? The thing is, this is keeping them safe, you safe and keeping this virus at bay from spreading even further right. By not allowing people who may be carrying it or may have been near someone with it but didn’t know, who have been travelling, yes not everyone is listening, this is keeping the virus from spreading. You may not have it but you could be carrying it and can pass it on.

Let’s just listen. Wash those hands, something we should be doing anyway, use hand sanitizer when you do have to go out of the house. Be smart, be patient and be safe. We will beat this. Let’s do it sooner than later so we can get on with our lives.

Meanwhile, spring is arriving, whether the virus is here or not. Enjoy the sounds of the first migrating birds coming back, the first blooms and the warmer temps. Just enjoy life and most of all, be kind and help one another. Be safe.

Call Procyon Wildlife 905 729 0033

Or go on the following link:

Ontariowildliferescue.ca. (To find a facility nearest you.)

Jen Howard
Procyon Volunteer/ Photographer

Here Come the Babies!
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