What to Do if You Find an Orphaned Animal
Article and photos provided by Chippewa Valley Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
At dusk on an early summer day in 2012, a gentleman was drawn into his wooded backyard by a continuous crying sound. He discovered a hairless animal on the ground and contacted the Chippewa Valley Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (CVWR). Immediate action was taken. Upon arrival at CVWR, a full exam was performed on squirrel #17. She was approximately three weeks old and eyes still closed. Her body was cold, unresponsive and severely dehydrated. After two weeks in the intensive care area receiving around the clock care, this young squirrel was no longer identified as intake #17, but a thriving survivor named “Blackie” who now freely roams the acres surrounding CVWR.
Spring is filled with new life in the Chippewa Valley’s great outdoors. It is also during this time of the year that both Beaver Creek Reserve and CVWR receive numerous questions and inquires about animals that seem to be abandoned, injured, or in need of help. Unfortunately, Beaver Creek Reserve does not have a license to take in injured or abandoned animals, so that’s where CVWR comes in.
The frequency of human-wildlife encounters increases, especially those involving young animals. Most young animals that seem orphaned or abandoned do not need help. Animals take care of their young in a variety of ways. Here are a few examples:
Cottontail Rabbits make shallow fur and grass-lined nests in the middle of lawns, by sidewalks, and in gardens. A mother rabbit will only feed their young at dawn and dusk and does not stay in the nest during the day. If a nest is disturbed because of a pet or lawn and garden work, the nest can be rebuilt and the young replaced and the mother will most likely return.
White-Tail Deer fawns have the natural instinct to lie in the grass quietly and wait for the doe’s return to nurse. Fawns are protected from predators by their lack of body odor and by their coloration. The mother deer only comes to feed the fawn every few hours. She then retreats to a safe distance so as not to enlighten predators to the young’s location. Unless a fawn seems injured or is walking around calling, it does not need help.
Grey Squirrels will make a nest in trees by using tree cavities or leaves. If a baby squirrel is found with its eyes still sealed shut, it has probably fallen out of the nest. If the squirrel cannot be placed safely back into the nest, place it in an uncovered shoe box with a soft ravel- free cloth and place it at the base of the tree so the mother can retrieve it. Infant squirrels either injured due to a fall or not retrieved within a couple hours will need assistance.
Raccoons will nest in tree cavities, brush piles, rock crevices, and buildings. A healthy kit (baby) found outside the nest can be placed in a ventilated box overnight within close proximity to the nest for the mother to retrieve. If the kit is still there the next morning, assistance is needed.
Mallard Ducks will make a concealed nest in wetland grasses or by bodies of water, but can also be found in flowerpots, parking lots, or on rooftops. Seek advice if there is concern about the nest being in a dangerous place or the hen is unable to get the ducklings to water because of the nest’s location. If a duckling is alone, look and listen for any sign that the mother and siblings are in the area—it is not uncommon for a duckling to get temporary separated from the others. If the family is not located or does not accept the young within an hour, the orphan will need care.
A young animal’s best chance for survival is to be raised by its natural mother. It is important to make every effort to try to return the young to its mother. CVWR should be contacted immediately if the animal is injured, bleeding, emaciated, shivering, has no parents, has been handled by a predator, is in a dangerous location, or has flies, fly eggs, or maggots.
The mission of CVWR is to care for injured, sick or orphaned wild ones with the goal of returning them to their native habitat as healthy, productive members of their community. Chippewa Valley Wildlife Rehabilitation may be reached at 715-838-0326.