DEC Urges New Yorkers To Respect Wildlife By Leaving Young Animals Alone

Human interactions with wildlife do more harm than good
By Amanda Olsen
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This is the time of year when baby animals are being born, and in our suburban environment, this inevitably means some level of interaction with people. We see newly fledged birds leaving their nests, fawns curled up under manicured bushes, and tiny turtles making their way into the world. While it can be tempting to intervene, the best course of action is often to leave the animal where it is.

The New York State Department of Conservation’s (NYS DEC) new slogan, “If you care, leave it there,” helps remind well-meaning individuals that nature usually knows best. “In most cases, young wildlife is never really abandoned. So the slogan ‘if you care, leave it there’ is basically saying we want to avoid getting involved as much as we can, to make sure that nature can go on doing what nature does,” said Chip Hamilton, a wildlife biologist with the NYS DEC.

Avoid interactions with young wildlife
Human interaction with young wildlife can be problematic. When young wildlife venture into the world, for a brief time they may have limited ability to fly or walk on their own. While one or both parents teach survival skills to their offspring, some young wildlife receive little or no care.

The DEC reminds the public that young wild animals like fawns and baby birds are rarely abandoned. Parents often place their young somewhere to keep them hidden from predators while they are off collecting food. “There is a fine line between rendering assistance, getting an animal that’s in distress to rehabilitation, and interfering with natural processes. Obviously, we want to make sure that care needs to be rendered to that animal before getting involved. It is not uncommon for folks to call our office throughout the spring and early summer months saying that there’s a baby bird on their lawn and they put them in a shoe box. Our staff can hear the grackle or the blue jay calling hysterically in the background. That tells us that those birds were just on the ground before they really learn how to fly and the adult is keeping an eye on them,” said Hamilton.

Bird nestlings can have closed eyes and can be featherless, spending approximately two weeks in the nest until they begin to outgrow the space. Once they outgrow the nest, nestlings become fledglings, a bird with developed feathers, and begin to flap their wings and learn how to fly. In both stages (nestlings and fledglings) the adult birds are nearby and care for them. If a nestling is found on the ground and cannot be easily and safely returned to the nest, the public is advised to refrain from approaching and instead call a wildlife rehabilitator.

Fledglings, on the other hand, can hop and flutter on their own, and spend short periods out of the nest on the ground or in low branches. If attempting to return a fledgling to its nest, New Yorkers are advised to remember to stay below the nest so that the other babies do not hop out. If a young bird is alert, fully feathered, and moving around, people are encouraged to watch from a distance and not intervene.

Fawns are born during late May and early June, and although they can walk shortly after birth, they spend most of their first several days lying still in tall grass, leaf litter, or sometimes relatively unconcealed. During this period, a fawn is usually left alone by the adult female (doe), except when nursing. Fawns are vulnerable to predators during this period. If human presence is detected by the doe, the doe may delay its next visit to nurse.

“Fawns are often left alone by their mother, in some cases for hours upon hours. The baby is just sitting underneath a bush, waiting for mom to get back. Our recommendation for folks usually is to document it. See where that animal is. If it’s in a location where the animal was safe, not going to get pushed into traffic, just leave it alone. If it’s still there, you know, the next day, two days later, then you can give us a call. In most cases, those fawns will get up, they’ll move along with their mother,” said Hamilton.

Fawns should never be picked up. A fawn’s protective coloration and ability to remain motionless help it avoid detection by predators and people. By the end of a fawn’s second week of life, it begins to move about, spend more time with the doe, and eat on its own. At about 10 weeks of age, fawns are no longer dependent on milk, although they continue to nurse occasionally into the fall.

Sick or injured animals
The more serious cases of animals seemingly abandoned are due to injury. Anyone who encounters a young wild animal that is injured or orphaned should call a trained and licensed DEC wildlife rehabilitator. Rehabilitators are the only people legally allowed to receive and treat distressed wildlife, and have the experience, expertise, and facilities to successfully treat and release wild animals.

Additionally, the public should note the increased risk of rabies in raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats and are reminded not to handle these species directly. Anyone who observes wildlife that appears to be sick or behaving abnormally should contact their DEC regional wildlife office.

Would-be rescuers should keep in mind that animals have no problem biting, kicking, and otherwise defending themselves from people, who they see as a dangerous predator. “These are wild animals. Yes, they might look cute and cuddly, but there are certain inherent defense mechanisms that animals are born with. And when the time comes, they have no problem using them to make sure that they’re giving themselves the best opportunity to survive. And for certain species, the adults are a little more adamant on protecting their young,” said Hamilton.

Additionally, DEC reminds the public that young wildlife are not pets. Keeping wildlife in captivity is illegal and harmful to the animal. Wild animals are not well-suited to life in captivity and may carry diseases that can be transferred to humans. Hamilton puts it this way: “We all have cell phones in our pockets, right? So just enjoy nature. Take that picture. Then leave it where it is and just go on about enjoying your day. My son and his friend were out last summer on a hike in the Pine Barrens and they came across an Eastern Box Turtle nest that had hatched maybe a few hours prior. They were like, ‘What do we do?’ I said, ‘you enjoy it. You just take a picture of it and leave them alone.’ That’s like that’s the whole point of getting out there and getting connected to nature. We don’t need to pick things up.”

For more information and answers to frequently asked questions about young wildlife, visit the DEC’s website.

—With information from the NYS DEC

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