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Updated March 28, 2024 – With spring budding all around us, animals of all shapes and sizes are preparing for the arrival of little ones. In preparation, animals build nests, dig dens and line caves with soft material. However, parenting is a bit different in the wild, and you'll want to know what that means when you come upon a seemingly lost or abandoned baby animal.

It's not unusual for a raccoon mom to leave her babies sleeping in a tree for the day or a doe to leave her young alone and hidden for long periods – they are not abandoning them. It's just the parenting style these species adopt to keep their young safe.

Individuals intervening when help is unnecessary harms wildlife, especially the young ones. There's a saying in the wildlife rehabilitation world – "if you care, leave it there." One way to help recognize a truly wild animal emergency is to learn about the species living in your backyard and the wilderness spaces near you. Also, know who to contact in those rare instances where human intervention is necessary. A little knowledge goes a long way in helping you decide what to do – and not to do – when you come across a baby animal in the wild.

Tips to Help Keep Wild Babies Safe 

  1. Know Wildlife Parenting Styles 
    Mother rabbits feed their kits once or twice daily, usually around dawn and dusk. A doe only visits and nurses their fawn a few times each day to avoid attracting predators. It's normal to find fully feathered songbird babies on the ground and parents caring for them for several days until these young birds master flying.
  2. Assess the Situation 
    If wildlife babies have good body condition and seem well-fed and growing, leave them alone. These animals likely are not abandoned. In contrast, if you see an animal with poor body condition, visible wounds, bleeding, or shaking, these animals need help. Consult your veterinarian or contact a wildlife rehabilitation facility if an animal is in crisis. 
  3. Rescue or Call in the Professionals? 
    Rehabilitators can provide instructions on how to rescue and transport different species of baby animals. Always wear gloves or other protective clothing when handling wild animals to minimize your risk of being bitten or scratched. What about animals higher up in the food chain, like eagles or even young mountain lions? Leave them alone and call in the professionals. Many rehabilitators have a network of volunteers specially trained to rescue and transport these animals. 
    Never attempt to rescue a disoriented animal exhibiting trouble breathing, acting aggressively, or covered with parasites, and ensure that your children and pets also stay away. 
    Call your local animal control agency, whose professionals can safely capture, test, and sound the alert if they encounter an animal infected with a transmissible disease such as rabies, distemper, mange or even plague.  
  4. Re-nesting is OK 
    If you find an uninjured bird that is a hatchling (featherless, eyes closed) or nestling (starting to develop feathers, eyes open), they often can be re-nested. You can either replace the original nest if it's been blown down or make an artificial nest and secure it to a tree near where you found the baby bird. Then, watch and see if the parents return to care for their young.  
    If you find an uninjured baby squirrel with closed eyes, place the animal in a container near the base of the tree where you found it. Once the baby calls out, the parent will locate it and re-nest the baby for you. In either case, if no bird or squirrel parent returns within several hours of your re-nesting attempt, these animals may need professional help and care to survive. 
  5. Know Who to Call  
    See if your veterinarian is part of a rehabilitation network that can treat wildlife or exotics. If not, many clinics, especially emergency clinics, have lists of local rehabilitation facilities and the types of animals they assist. You also can contact your local humane society, the Audubon Society, wild bird stores, your local animal control officer, or an aquarium or marine patrol (for marine reptiles and mammals). 
  6. If You are Unable to Reach a Professional Immediately 
    If you can easily handle the wild animal, place the baby in a box with airholes lined with something soft, like a T-shirt or towel. Keep the animal in a warm, dark, quiet place. Darkness makes the animal feel more secure. To minimize stress, leave the animal alone. 
    Although this sounds counterintuitive, only provide food or water if a professional instructs. Different animals have species-specific nutritional needs. Also, providing even a small amount of water runs the risk of the animal getting wet, chilled or even drowning if the animal is small and vulnerable. An act of kindness may do more harm than good.
  7. It's Illegal to Care for Injured Wildlife
    Keeping and caring for wildlife with a proper license and training is legal in many areas. Know the laws in your state or region to avoid risking fines. These laws exist to protect both you and the animal.

    A wildlife baby's natural parents are always the best option to raise that animal and give it the best chance of survival. Knowing when not to intervene is equally important as knowing when to rush in and help. Veterinary or rehabilitation professionals are your best resource for saving a life, sometimes by letting you know when to leave the animal alone.  

Learn more about how Morris Animal Foundation's funded science is saving wildlife. More than 25,000 species benefit from our work.

Our work helps researchers develop life-saving diagnostics, treatments and strategies for rehabilitation and rescue organizations to save even more lives. From sea turtles to frogs, mountain gorillas to marsupials, we are here to help wherever an animal lives. And we couldn't do it without the generous support of our animal-loving donors like you.

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