by Jennifer Howard
‘Tis the season. As baby wildlife continues to grow, more and more of them are being noticed by the public. Fledglings, baby bunnies, fox kits, raccoons, squirrels, and more. At Procyon, we receive over 30 calls per day on our emergency hotline. But not all these wild babies are orphaned.
In a wildlife baby of any kind, getting through their first year of life is a major challenge. Education is the key factor to help us learn about wildlife babies, so if I can help lower those calls and admissions and overall wildlife/people incidents, I’m sure going to try.
Here are some useful tips:
Mothers don’t want to draw attention to their young so they can be very mysterious. Often if you are near, a mother will stay away, it is her way of protecting her young.
Cottontail rabbits only come at dusk and dawn to feed their young. Their babies have no scent. Baby bunnies are snuggled into a nest in the ground. Covered with mom’s fur and grasses. A baby is ready to be on its own in only 3 to 4 weeks from birth. Sometimes your dog or cat may stumble onto the nest. If this happens and they have picked one up, you must have them checked over to be sure they are okay. A wound, especially from a cat, is a death sentence. A cat’s mouth is the worst for bacteria and an animal bitten by a cat needs to go on antibiotics asap. Best thing is to keep cats indoors, especially during baby season. Cats are responsible for 250 million wildlife baby deaths per year in Canada alone or more. They aren’t killing for survival but for fun. This is not natural. A wild animal kills for survival, to feed its young to stay alive.
Please check your yard for bunny nests before you cut or weed whack your lawns. So many wee bunnies are injured or killed every year this way. Horrible. If you find a nest it won’t be long before the babies are out and gone, so take dogs out on leash. You can cover the nest with a laundry basket during the day. Being mindful to make sure it is off for mothers to come feed. If you are unsure about if mother is coming, you can crisscross string over the nest, in the morning you will know if she came as it will have been moved. If it is untouched call us at 905-729-0033 or your nearest wildlife rehabilitation centre. The little ones need help.
Baby birds fledge usually within a couple weeks or so depending on species. They grow rapidly, being fed by their parents multiple times per day.
But not all birds come out flying. Parents know where they are and are constantly feeding them. The peeping let’s mom and dad know where their young are.
Rest assured if you see a fledgling on the ground and it looks okay, its parents are nearby watching. Keep cats indoors, maybe take dogs out on leash until they are strong enough to fly.
Don’t interfere, if you are too close to the baby bird, its parents won’t come. Don’t bother nests as you may scare a nestling out prematurely. It is okay to put the bird back provided it’s not injured. Keep your distance.
White tail deer have their fawns in April and May. Fawns have no scent and are tucked away in tall grasses, under bushes or maybe even in your backyard while mom is out feeding. They lie quietly as not to attract attention. As long as it’s safe to do so, the doe returns to feed her fawn every 4 to 5 hours. It takes about a month for the fawn to get strong enough to follow mom. She will move her fawn during that time from one place to another where she feels the fawn will be safely hidden away.
If you find a fawn, please pay attention to its shape and condition before you act. If a fawn’s ears are curly at the tips, then it is dehydrated. If it’s wandering around crying frantically it probably is without its mother and needs help asap. If it looks good, is alert but quiet, it’s doing okay waiting for its mom. Keep children and pets away from it, as its mother will not come if you are near. Also, deer stress incredibly easily and this could do harm.
With a fawn in need, do not and I can’t stress this enough, do not take it home, do not feed it.
Fawns get habituated to humans very easily. They need to remain afraid of humans. Also, deer have a special digestive track. And special diets. You can do more harm than good for that animal by trying to care for it yourself. It needs to come in to be cared for by us. Right away.
Do the right thing by the animal. It’s not a pet. And will be scared and possibly weak.
When people try to care for an animal it’s always out of the kindness of their hearts, we care, have compassion and want the animal to live. But.
#1, it’s illegal to have a wild animal in your possession for more than 24 hours which gives you time to find a rehabilitation facility.
#2. Feeding a wildlife baby can actually kill it if you do it wrong, it may not happen right away, but it may be something we cannot fix when we get it. And the baby dies despite all our efforts. They all have special diets, may need tube feeding and if bottle feeding the correct size nipple must be used so the right flow and amount of formula is being given.
#3. If injured the animal may need antibiotics immediately and even x-rays so that we can help it quickly.
#4. Capture myopathy is very real, if you think a baby sick, injured, or orphaned is enjoying your holding it, touching it, talking to it, bathing it. It’s not. It’s terrifying for any wildlife baby. Any wildlife no matter how old. And they can actually die of fear.
#5. Wear gloves and masks, secure the animal or bird and give it warmth right away. Cover it, keep quiet away from people and pets. Do not give anything by mouth.
And call us at 905 729 0033. Leave a detailed message and we will get back to you.
Opossums this year are having a tough time, car strikes have brought many to the centre. Broken jaws are the most popular injury. Babies are in pouches and now are starting to come out to ride on mom’s back. They are very vulnerable. She can have 13 little ones so if one falls off, she may not notice. If you find one by itself, secure it and call us right away. They will not survive on their own yet.
Turtles are in full swing, searching for areas to lay their precious eggs. Getting hit by cars or getting caught on the road by passing cars. If safe for you, please help them across by taking them in the same direction they are heading. Your safety must be first, however.
Never pick one up by its tail. Its spine is connected to its carapace (upper shell). Grab its shell near the back on both sides. If it’s a small snapper, if you can, support it underneath with your fingers. For a larger snapper, lift its tail, put one hand underneath its plastron (lower shell) and grab the back of its shell on one side and lift it across. Car mats or shovels can also work. With all other turtles, grab the shell in the centre to move them.
Always wash or use hand sanitizer after handling a turtle if you’re not able to wear gloves. Always a great idea to have a turtle moving kit in your car just in case. Depending on species, turtles are anywhere from 12 to 25 years old before they can breed. The older they get the bigger they get, especially snapping turtles who can live to be 100. It’s horrible but it has been proven that people hit them purposely. It’s sickening but true and I have seen that a few times. Just devastating beyond.
A snapping turtle cannot tuck into its shell-like other turtles. If you drive over a large snapper he could panic and stand up. Getting his carapace (upper shell) sheared off by the undercarriage of your car, or worse, you could hit his head, causing serious head injuries. So never drive over them, try to pull over and help them get across.
If a turtle has been hit please stop and check it. They can withstand a lot if hit by a car and can live, or if it is only recently deceased, it should be brought to the centre to check for eggs. Eggs can be extracted by a trained rehabber and incubated.
At Procyon, we can stabilize injured turtles however, then they are transferred to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough where they can perform surgery if needed, do x-rays, and extract eggs. I believe last year their intake was over 1000 turtles. So don’t pass a turtle, even if it looks dead, there may still be life there, in the form of eggs.
An interesting fact about turtles is how we determine whether we will get how many males or females. In warmer temperatures, females will dominate, in cooler temperatures, males. The female may dig many nests before she finds the right place. The temperature of the soil must be just right. She may take hours digging and laying her precious cargo. When all is done the exhausted female strenuously covers her eggs with the earth and leaves, never seeing her young. Her job is done. They are prone to predation from animals like raccoons and foxes etc., especially for the first 24 hours. It is a very nutritious meal. Again, it’s wildlife trying to survive and feeding their young the best they can, so this is a natural part of the wildlife food chain.
There are conservation groups in certain areas that monitor turtle nesting sites and use protective cages which are also monitored and marked. I have been part of such groups in different areas. When you see a hatchling fight its way out of that nest in the fall into the big world. Well, there is nothing like it. Snapper hatchlings are the size of a toonie and midland painted, a loonie. Help our turtles.
Please give our wildlife a chance and go slowly through known wildlife areas. That extra little bit of time may save a life or lives, including yours if it’s a large animal. Life is precious and can’t be replaced.
Onward to older young ones. Fox kits are now starting to go out and adventure the world. Squirrels and raccoons are doing the same. They haven’t learned quite how to be safe yet. Parents have quite the job when they have multiple babies. I have found watching wildlife for many years that there seems to always be a dominant baby. One that won’t stay back at the den for instance when Mom or Dad go hunting. One that just doesn’t listen.
I remember years ago the crows started their alert calls, I went and looked out to see momma fox and one kit running towards my house. Full speed ahead. Only momma wasn’t first, she was chasing after her dominant kit. They ran under my gate into the backyard, through to the pond area. Then the kit went under the back fence while mom went over it. And off they continued like they were running a marathon. In Algonquin park years ago, I observed a Momma fox scolding her dominant kit trying to make it stay with its siblings. Barked at him, grunted, nipped. No way he wanted to go with mom.
A raccoon momma in one of our back trees was trying to have a much-needed nap on a really hot day. Her five little ones just starting to come out had other ideas. One would come out, then another and another, each time she got up and carried them back into the cavity. She was very persistent and finally, after all five were exhausted, she won the battle. They stayed put and she got her nap.
You must remember being a wildlife mom and dad in some species is a very tough job. Non-stop hunting, feeding, chasing, teaching, protecting. And grieving a lost young one or mate, mother or father. I’ve seen it, it’s real. It was awful.
Years ago they had so many more wild spaces to do the job at hand, didn’t see many people, and didn’t deal with many cars or pets. Today is horrific for them. Development, habitat loss, people galore, cars, trucks, and highways are so busy. Side roads are even busy. Speed limits are higher, people are impatient, speed boats, jet skis, fast, noisy, huge fireworks displays that rattle your house. Terrifying. Pollution is everywhere, on land and water. Climate change. It’s crazy, and scary.
Twenty years from now, will children get to see frogs and turtles? All 8 of our native turtles are listed from ‘special concern’ all the way to ‘endangered’ under our species at risk act. How many species will have disappeared 20 or 30 years down the road? Certain species of birds are declining. Butterflies, frogs, animals. We must speak up. Protect habitats, protect our wildlife crossing roads, nesting, denning. Slow down. Be respectful, responsible, and compassionate. It’s in us all. Protect Mother Earth.
Do not trap and relocate during spring and summer. Do not move more than 1 km if you do so later on. Those are MNRF guidelines we must follow. Moving an animal farther puts it at risk. It’s lost, it may be put into another’s territory ending up getting in a fight, getting injured or killed, no home, no food stash, and where is its water source? Also, relocation increases risks of spreading disease from one area to another disease-free area. Did you leave little ones behind? Yes, last year we even had young ones in late summer. Climate change has confused everything. It’s real.
Before winter check your homes. Fix places where animals may get in looking for a comfy place to give birth. Under sheds, garages. Take care of a problem before it happens. In early spring assume there are babies, try to let them raise their family and make sure they are gone, then fix.
Call us for help to get assistance in getting moms to move their families on their own. If that’s what you need to do and can’t wait it out, we will give you information on what to do.
Many admissions of orphaned animals to rehab centres could have been avoided, instead of putting wildlife rehabilitation centres at capacity before the season has even fully begun. Be mindful of our wildlife. They all are here for a reason, as part of the ecosystem’s food chain. Our wildlife controls rodents, insects, ticks, and grubs.
They let us know if our environment is healthy, and if our wetlands are in good condition. A wetland void of life has a problem… it’s not healthy, perhaps toxic?
Don’t litter. Balloons kill, and discarded fishing line maims and kills. Bottles, six-pack holders, and bags kill. In the south sea turtles’ favourite food are jellyfish. What looks like a jellyfish? A balloon. Many turtles die from ingesting balloons in the oceans.
Keep it clean, respect Mother Earth, and be responsible. Watch for babies becoming teenagers out and about for the first time. If you have garden water features that are deep, put a log across it or screening to protect baby birds from drowning. Or even baby squirrels and chipmunks. Think ahead and imagine you have a two-year-old adventurer around. Ask yourself, “What can I do to make it safer? What can they get into, what dangers lurk?” Plant native flowers for natural foods, sit back and enjoy.
Remember wildlife was here first and has learned to coexist with us. Now we need to do the same.
Help our wildlife rehabilitation centres keep on track to be able to never have to say no to an animal in need. Because we can only care for the number of animals for which we have volunteers to care for them.
Procyon Wildlife is currently seeking responsible volunteers in animal care and on phones. Please inquire at: firstname.lastname@example.org or to learn more, visit: https://www.procyonwildlife.com/interested-in-volunteering-with-us/
Come and join the amazing life of rehabilitation, helping wildlife in need and then releasing them back to the wild. The best reward of all.
Procyon volunteer / Photographer
Enjoy the following slideshow of images taken by Jennifer Howard: