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Orphaned and Injured Wildlife
Orphaned and Injured Wildlife

In the spring and early summer, when wildlife reproduction is at its peak, you may have the good fortune of observing baby animals in the wild. Often, the babies you see will be unattended by a parent. Unless something seems amiss, keep your distance and leave them alone. Human intervention is always a wild animal’s LAST hope for survival, NEVER its best hope.

Is the animal really an orphan? 

Wildlife parents are very devoted to their young and rarely abandon them. Many species are raised by only one parent (the mother) and she cannot be in two places at once. This means that baby wildlife must be left alone several times during the day or even the majority of the time while the mother ventures off to find food for herself and her young.

The best thing to do is to keep your distance and keep children and pets away from the young animal. This is to protect both humans and wildlife. Wild animals can carry parasites or diseases that can be harmful to humans and pets. Wild animals also defend themselves by scratching or biting.

What do I do if an animal is truly abandoned or injured?

If you see open wounds or other injuries, or you know in fact that a young wild animal has lost its parent, consult your nearest Wildlife District Office or local wildlife rehabilitator (download a complete list of licensed rehabilitators in Ohio at the right). Do not attempt to capture or feed wildlife until proper, expert guidance is provided to you. Also, limit contact with the animal to reduce stress and the possibility of it becoming habituated. Taming a young animal will make it unreleasable in the wild. It is illegal to keep wildlife without a rehabilitators permit. Rehabilitators go through extensive training on how to raise and treat young and injured wildlife. Leave it to the professionals and you’ll greatly increase the animal’s chance of survival.

The following are tips for determining whether these common animals are truly orphaned.

White-tailed Deer (Fawns) 

A little about deer: 

  • The white-tailed deer, commonly referred to as the whitetail, is perhaps Ohio’s best-known wildlife species. It is seen in the state’s wildlife areas, parks and nature preserves as well as in the backyards of rural and suburban residents.
  • Deer typically have their babies (fawns) in May, June, or July. The first time a female deer (doe) breeds, they typically produce one fawn; each year after does can produce 2 or 3 fawns in a litter.
  • Fawns are born nearly scentless (so predators cannot find them easily). They also have spots that serve as camouflage and are able to stand soon after being born, but as a protective tactic will remain hidden.
  • It is common for female deer in urban areas to place fawns around homes, backyards, or flower beds. The mother placed it there because she felt it would be safe (often intentionally near humans).
  • To protect her fawn, the mother will spend very little time with it. This is to prevent attracting predators to the fawn’s location. She will leave her fawn in various hiding places for long periods of time, returning several times a day to nurse it. By staying away, the mother is protecting it.
  • Fawns will begin following their mothers at four weeks old. When they are two months old, fawns are able to forage for themselves and are completely weaned from their mother.
  • It is normal as fawns get older to “play” and be seen without their mother.

 

I found a baby deer (fawn), what do I do? 

Leave it alone if:

  • It is seemingly healthy. The mother is likely nearby. Leave the area. Do not repeatedly check on the fawn. The more time you spend in the area the more likely you are to attract predators to the location. Also, the doe will not return while you are present.
  • If the fawn is in a dangerous location, move it to a safer location. Although you should limit touching the animal, it is a myth that the doe will reject a fawn with human scent on it. When moving a fawn, the young deer may try to follow you as you leave. To prevent the fawn from following you, face it away from the direction in which you plan to leave so it cannot watch you. Tap the fawn once or twice firmly between the shoulder blades (this mimics how the mother taps the fawn with her nose to communicate “stay here and wait until I come back”). Quickly leave the area. Do not linger. The baby may move around somewhat. Keep going and it should lie back down. If possible, you can monitor from afar with binoculars.


Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator if:

  • If you find a female deer that is struck by car and a fawn is waiting beside her
  • The fawn appears to be sick, cold, weak, injured, or covered in parasites
  • If the fawn is bleating without ceasing for several hours, and you observe that the mother has not returned in 24 hours.
  • Never keep a fawn as a pet!
  • Fawns are wild animals that belong in the wild. Once they grow, they are active and independent, which could easily make them dangerous and destructive.
  • Take a moment to understand that your good intentions in picking up a fawn could actually cause harm to you AND the animal. Understand that wild animals are born to live their lives in the wild.
  • Raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal unless you have a state permit.
  • How can I help prevent orphaned fawns?
  • Always keep your pets under control and watch them when they are outdoors, especially in the spring and summer when they could easily find baby wildlife.

Raccoons 

A little about raccoons: 

  • Raccoons are found in all parts of Ohio and are very common in suburbs and cities. They can live almost any place where there is food for them to eat and a den to serve as shelter.
  • Litter sizes consist of 3 to 7 young (also called kits). Newborn raccoons have fur and their eyes open after 19 days. After 6 or 7 weeks, the young are weaned and weigh about 1.5 pounds.
  • Young raccoons will stay with the mother through the fall with some staying with her during the winter as well.
  • Raccoons are usually nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night. However, mother raccoons will use every opportunity to forage for food when she has a litter, so she may be active during the daytime in the spring and summer. It is not uncommon to see baby raccoons alone while the mother is away. She will always reunite with them, especially at night when humans are scarce.


I found a baby raccoon, what do I do? 

Leave it alone if:

  • It is seemingly healthy, with its eyes open. If it is away from its den, but not in immediate danger, watch from a distance to see if it goes back to its den or if the mother retrieves it. Unless the kit is still there after a few hours or overnight, it should be left alone.
  • If it is seemingly healthy, with its eyes closed. If it is away from its den, but not in immediate danger, wait to see if the mother retrieves it at night.
  • Put an upside-down laundry basket over the kit with a towel or heated sock filled with dry rice to keep it warm (and a lightweight on top of the basket so it cannot push its way out). Monitor it until well into the nighttime hours. The mother will overturn the basket to take the kit.
  • You can also put the kit in a cardboard box with a towel or heated sock filled with dry rice to keep it warm. Tape the top of the box closed with newspaper. The mother will tear through the paper to get to her kit.
  • Even if you have touched the kits, the mother will return for them! Female raccoons are very dedicated parents.
  • If raccoons have taken up residence on your patio, or in your attic, eaves, or chimney, they can usually be forced to relocate by making the area less appealing to them. The mother will likely relocate the kits to another den site, carrying one kit at a time. This process may take multiple nights.

Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator if:

  • A raccoon kit is far from its den and it appears to be sick, cold, weak, injured, covered in parasites, or still has its eyes closed.
  • If you know the mother raccoon is dead or has not returned for more than one day.
  • Predation of the nest has occurred and a kit has been left behind for more than one day.
  • The family pet brings a kit home and you cannot return it to the den.

Never keep a raccoon as a pet!

  • Raccoons are wild animals that belong in the wild. Once they grow, they are active and independent, which could easily make them dangerous and destructive.
  • Take a moment to understand that your good intentions in picking up a baby raccoon could actually cause harm to you AND the animal. Understand that wild animals are born to live their lives in the wild.

How can I prevent raccoons from creating dens in my home/yard?

  • Raccoons may create a den in your yard or anywhere that seems like a safe place for a den. Use preventive measures to ensure that raccoons will not occupy certain spaces.
  • Be sure to securely close any possible points of entry (i.e. under patios, chimneys, etc.)
  • Do not leave outside containers that raccoons could climb into (large buckets, planters, trash cans, etc.). They might find these things to be a suitable den for their babies.
  • Raccoons are attracted to accessible food, so do not leave pet food or bags of garbage outside.

How can I help prevent orphaned raccoons?

  • In spring and summer, people often set traps to resolve garbage and other “nuisance” issues. Unfortunately, this approach can lead to trapped and killed mothers who leave their starving young behind. Consider using methods to deter them from wanting to stay in the area instead (see above).
  • Always keep your pets under control and watch them when they are outdoors, especially in the spring and summer when they could easily find baby wildlife.

Rabbits 

A little about rabbits: 

  • The Eastern cottontail rabbit is one of the most common wildlife species in the state of Ohio. As with several other species of wildlife, the Eastern cottontail was a beneficiary of human settlement; the clearing of woodlands and the establishment of more open areas along wooded borders provided an ideal environment.
  • Rabbits can have their litters any time from early March to late September, but most litters are born in April and May. Litter sizes can range from 2-7 young (5 on average), but rabbits can have 2-5 litters each year.
  • Rabbit nests are shallow areas scraped out in soil, lined with fur and grass. They can be found in the middle of yards, flower beds, playgrounds and gardens.
  • Baby rabbits (called kits) are born without fur. Their eyes are closed and their ears lay back on their head. They open their eyes at one week old and are dependent on their mother for food for about two weeks.
  • To avoid attracting predators, mother rabbits do not stay with their kits. They only visit the nest (usually around dawn and dusk) for quick feedings.
  • Kits leave their mother about three weeks after they are born. By this time, they are 4-5 inches long, with eyes open and ears standing up. They are capable of being on their own and will begin exploring and feeding on grass.

 

I found a baby rabbit, what do I do? 

Leave it alone if:

  • The kits are seemingly healthy. The mother is likely nearby.
  • If a nest is disturbed, rebuild nest and replace young and cover it up. The female will likely return, it is not uncommon for the female to move the young to another location if the nest is disturbed. Do not keep visiting the nest; your scent can attract predators to the location.


Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator if:

  • A kit is far from its den and it appears to be sick, cold, weak, injured, covered in parasites, or still has its eyes closed.
  • If you know the mother rabbit is dead or has not returned for more than one day. Test this by placing grass in a tic-tack-toe pattern over the nest and leaving it overnight (do not use string or yarn). If pattern is not disturbed and is exactly as you left it the next morning, contact a rehabilitator.
  • Predation of the nest has occurred and there is blood or injury, or if an unharmed kit has been left behind for more than one day.
  • The family pet brings a kit home and you cannot return it to the den.


Never keep a wild rabbit as a pet!

  • Wild rabbits belong in the wild. Once they grow, they are active and independent, which could easily make them dangerous and destructive.
  • Take a moment to understand that your good intentions in picking up a rabbit kit could actually cause harm to you AND the animal. Understand that wild animals are born to live their lives in the wild.
  • Raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal unless you have a state permit.


How can I help prevent orphaned rabbits?

  • Check your yard for nests before mowing. You can place a light basket over the nest or mark it with flags to prevent from mowing over it. Remove the basket before evening.
  • Always keep your pets under control and watch them when they are outdoors, especially in the spring and summer when they could easily find baby wildlife.
  • When placing fencing around a garden to keep wildlife out, make sure fence holes are small enough that rabbits cannot get stuck in them.

Squirrels

A little about squirrels:

  • Squirrels are very common in the cities and suburbs of Ohio.
  • Squirrels typically have their litters February-March and again July-August. Each litter consists of 2-3 young.
  • Young squirrels are reared in leaf nests, dens and occasionally birdhouses in trees. When they are born, the young have no teeth or fur and their eyes and ears are tightly shut. Young squirrels are slow maturing -- their eyes won't open for about 36 days, it will be nearly seven weeks before they begin to sample solid foods like greens and bark and approximately 10 weeks before they venture out of the nest onto the ground.
  • At between 14 and 15 weeks, gray squirrels are mature enough to venture out and live independently; however, it is not unusual for litters to stay together for close to nine months.
  • Mother squirrels are very loyal to their infants and will usually retrieve young that have fallen from their nest site. The mother will pick the infant up in her mouth and carry it back to the nest.


I found a baby squirrel, what do I do? 

Leave it alone if:

  • The baby seemingly healthy. The mother is likely nearby.
  • If a baby squirrel falls from a tree, scan it for signs of injury. They often fall without sustaining any injuries. If uninjured, leave the squirrel at the base of the tree and give the mother a chance to retrieve it. Make sure that all pets are kept indoors during this time.
  • If the mother doesn’t immediately return, place the squirrel in an open shallow box at the base of the tree, or secure the box to the tree trunk. Baby squirrels will need a supplemental heat source (depending on ambient temperature) in half of the box. Heat sources may be:
    • Old sock filled with dry rice—tie knot at end of sock and microwave for ~ 1 min.
    • Zip-lock bag filled with hot water placed in a second bag to prevent leaking
    • Empty cola bottle filled with hot water wrapped in a t-shirt or cloth
    • Hot water bottle wrapped in t-shirt or cloth
  • If you find a squirrel in your yard not directly under a tree, look for any trees (or gutters of your house) with leaf nests or cavities and attempt to reunite as described above.


Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator if:

  • If the mother has not retrieved a fallen baby from the box after one full day. Bring the baby indoors after dark in a covered box (except flying squirrels).
  • A kit is far from its den and it appears to be sick, cold, weak, injured, covered in parasites, or still has its eyes closed.
  • If you know the mother squirrel is dead or has not returned for more than one day.
  • The family pet brings a baby home and you cannot return it to the nest or den. Suspect a possible cat attack if the baby was found near the front or back door (unless there is a gutter immediately above door with a nest in it).


Never keep a squirrel as a pet!

  • Squirrels are wild animals and they belong in the wild. Once they grow, they are active and independent, which could easily make them dangerous and destructive.
  • Take a moment to understand that your good intentions in picking up a baby squirrel could actually cause harm to you AND the animal. Understand that wild animals are born to live their lives in the wild.
  • Raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal unless you have a state permit.


How can I help prevent orphaned squirrels?

  • Check for nests before cutting down trees or clearing brush. Autumn and winter is the best time for such outdoor maintenance.
  • Cap chimneys, vents and window wells to prevent animals from nesting there or getting trapped.
  • Always keep your pets under control and watch them when they are outdoors, especially in the spring and summer when they could easily find baby wildlife.

Baby Birds 

A little about birds: 

  • It’s not uncommon in the springtime to come upon a baby bird out of its nest. This can happen while you are in your yard, at a park, or anywhere.


I found a baby bird, what do I do? 

Leave it alone if:

  • If the baby bird is not covered in feathers, then it was likely pushed out or blown out of its nest. It’s important at this stage that they be put back in the nest as quickly as possible. Locate the nest, gently pick up the baby bird and put them back, if you can do so safely. Do not worry about your scent scaring off the parent birds. Most birds have little to no sense of smell so it doesn’t matter that you’ve touched the baby bird. If you cannot reach the nest and you can see the mother bird is still around, try to place the baby into a makeshift nest such as in a basket with some nesting materials and possibly nail or attach the basket to tree, off of the ground.
  • If the baby bird is covered in feathers, then the young bird has likely fledged, meaning it left its nest on purpose. Young birds leave their nests when they are trying to learn how to fly. But, since they’re young, they’re not very good at it. So they hop around on nearby branches or on the ground for quite a while trying to get the hang of it. This can make you think that they’re lost or injured when, in fact, they’re just learning their way around the world. Their parents will often continue to bring them food at this stage as well, although you might not always see that happening.
    • Don’t continue to stand and watch. Your presence may scare the young bird into a dangerous situation and it may prevent the parents from returning to feed them. If you have outdoor pets, bring them inside for the day, or until you stop seeing the young bird hopping around. Keep pets supervised or even leashed when outside until you know the young bird is gone. You will greatly reduce the chance of your dog or cat injuring or killing the young bird. Don’t try to pick the bird up and don’t try to feed them. You’ll only do more harm than good. And they do not need to be taken to a rehabilitator.
    • If you feel very strongly that the young bird is in danger of predation, you can try to pick it up and place it up in a tree or bush, but then quickly leave so that it doesn’t try to fly away and so the parents can continue to feed it without fear of you being around.


Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator if:

  • If you feel strongly that it’s injured, contact a local wildlife rehabilitator and follow their instructions on what to do with it until they can pick it up or you can get it to them.


Never keep a wild bird as a pet!

  • Wild birds belong in the wild. Once they grow, they are active and independent.
  • Take a moment to understand that your good intentions in picking up a baby bird could actually cause harm to you AND the animal. Understand that wild animals are born to live their lives in the wild.
  • Raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal unless you have a state permit.


How can I help prevent orphaned birds?

  • Keep weak limbs trimmed or removed from your trees to help prevent nests from falling to the ground.
  • Provide shrubs for cover and nesting for a variety of birds. Planting fruit bearing shrubs can also provide food to birds.
  • Keep your cats indoors. Even declawed cats and those with bells on their collars can catch young birds and kill them. Cats are very instinctual predators and will catch and kill birds even without intention of eating them. They’re the number one predator of songbirds in neighborhoods and should always be kept indoors.
  • Keep an eye on your dogs too. While less likely to kill birds, some dogs see young birds as toys and will injure or kill them with only the intention of playing.
  • Provide bird feeders and a water source that are near shrubs and trees to increase cover for birds from predators.

Turtles 

A little about turtles:

  • There are 11 species of turtles in Ohio. The box turtle is Ohio's only terrestrial (land-dwelling) turtle. But all female turtles lay their eggs on land.
  • The months of May and June are peak nesting season for Ohio's turtles. The female turtle buries the eggs and leaves them to hatch on their own. After hatching, young turtles are completely independent and self-sufficient.
  • Learn more about turtles


I found a turtle, what do I do? 

Leave it alone if:

  • The turtle is healthy and uninjured. Old injuries that have healed, including a missing limb or eye or previously cracked shell, are commonly observed in wild turtles and are not a sufficient reason for rescuing a turtle.


If you move or rescue a turtle:

  • When you rescue a turtle, document the location with as much specificity as possible. Within reason, this is the location where the turtle should be released. Turtles often use the same areas for nesting, overwintering and seeking out mates. How exactly these patterns are formed is poorly understood, but recent research is finding ever more complex turtle life histories. This fidelity to a specific area can often lead to the failure of translocated turtles to establish home ranges in unfamiliar habitats, eventually succumbing to death associated with dispersal and exhaustion. In addition, translocation of turtles has been implicated in the spread diseases. Not all infected turtles will show symptoms and new diseases are constantly being identified.
  • Do not move the turtle to a "better spot" or different location. Removing turtles from areas that you deem “unsuitable” will eventually result in the loss of populations. Turtles can and do survive in suburban and even urban areas, but not if they are constantly rescued and relocated.
  • Release turtles as soon as possible. The longer a turtle spends in captivity, the greater the chance it has to be exposed to diseases. Living in captivity may also interrupt natural cycles such as overwintering, breeding and nesting.
  • Be on the lookout for turtles on the roadway, especially during the months of May and June when turtles are looking for nesting sites. If it is safe to do so, you can help a turtle cross the road. Be very mindful of your safety and the safety of other drivers and do not attempt to stop traffic. Move it in the direction in which it is traveling. If you turn it around in the opposite direction the turtle will likely make another attempt to cross the road.
  • Take extra caution with snapping turtles. Snapping turtles can be large, heavy, have a very long mobile neck and can bite very hard. Use a shovel or board to scoop up and carry the turtle, or use a sturdy stick to push and scoot a snapping turtle, across the road.


Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator if:

  • If you find an injured turtle, call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. Do not put the injured turtle in water. The turtle may not be able to keep its head out of the water and could drown.


How can I help prevent harm to turtles?

  • Be on the lookout for turtles on the roadway, especially during the months of May and June when turtles are looking for nesting sites. If it is safe to do so, you can help a turtle cross the road. Be very mindful of your safety and the safety of other drivers, and do not attempt to stop traffic. Move it in the direction in which it is traveling. If you turn it around in the opposite direction the turtle will likely make another attempt to cross the road.
  • Always keep your pets under control and watch them when they are outdoors, especially in the spring and summer when they could easily find baby wildlife.
  • Do not make a wild turtle your pet! Understand that wild animals are born to live their lives in the wild – not in a house or cage. Also, raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal unless you have a state permit.

Other Important Tips and Information 

  • Never chase a baby animal to capture it. The stress of being chased can be dangerous to a young animal. Baby animals can be prone to a condition called capture myopathy, which is caused by chase and stress. Capture myopathy can lead to damage to internal organs and even death.
  • Never give food or water to injured or orphaned wildlife. Inappropriate food or feeding technique can lead to sickness or death. Fawns in particular have very sensitive stomachs and require a special diet. Cow’s milk will make them sick.
  • If you need to transport a wild baby animal to a wildlife rehabilitator, put it in a box or closed container with a gentle, external heat source. This could be a heating pad set on LOW, A warm water bottle, homemade rice sacks, or hand/foot warmers. Cover the container with a blanket or towel and keep noise to a minimum to avoid stress.
  • Each animal's nutritional, housing and handling requirements are very specific and must be met if they have any chance of survival. Raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal unless you have a state permit.

 

Why should we keep wildlife wild? 

  • A baby wild animal’s best chance for survival is with its mother.
  • Wild animals are born to live their lives in the wild, not in a house or a cage.
  • The best option for a wild animal is to learn normal behaviors from their own species in their natural environment. An animal that has become habituated to humans cannot be returned to the wild.
  • Once they grow, wild animals are active and independent, which can make them dangerous and destructive.
  • Wild animals can be highly stressed by sights, sounds and smells from people and pets, especially when in close proximity. Stress can cause health problems and even death.
  • Wild animals can carry diseases and parasites, some of which are transmissible to people or pets. Some diseases, like rabies, can cause serious health problems.
  • Wild animals have complex nutritional needs not easily met in captivity. Nutritional deficiencies can leave an animal deformed for life.
  • Feeding wildlife (such as ducks, geese, raccoons, etc.) can cause them to lose their fear of people and even expect food from humans and become aggressive. Adult wildlife also teach their behavior to their offspring, and young animals may not develop the basic skills to find sustenance on their own.
  • Feeding wildlife can also unnaturally gather them to one location, which then causes diseases and parasites to spread more quickly, as well as concentrates waste material.

Please Note:

  • It is illegal to possess, own, control, restrain, or keep any wild animal.
  • The purpose of the law is to protect wild animal populations and to protect people from disease and injury.

What can I do to prevent wildlife orphans? 

  • Check for nests before cutting down trees or clearing brush. Autumn and winter is the best time for such outdoor maintenance to avoid the breeding season.
  • Cap chimneys, vents and window wells to prevent animals from nesting there or getting trapped. See the Nuisance Wildlife page for more information.
  • Keep pets under control so wildlife is not unnecessarily injured.
  • Educate friends and family members about the importance of respecting wild animals. They are not pets and will not behave as pets even if tamed.