Wildlife 'rescues' can do more harm than good
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Media contact: Alan Knothe, 850-265-3676
Winter seems like a distant memory. Trees and
flowers are blossoming, birds are building nests and critters are
This is also the time of year when the Florida Fish
and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) receives calls about
"abandoned" animals that people believe may be in need of
However, these rescues may do more harm than
After giving birth, adult wildlife must forage to
provide food for themselves and their young. This means
leaving their newborns for short periods. Having some basic
knowledge of wildlife and the survival skills animals use is
important in understanding most wildlife doesn't need rescuing.
Common targets of misplaced rescues are baby deer,
temporarily left in a safe place while their mother feeds
nearby. Many people who find fawns mistakenly assume the
young deers' mothers abandoned them, when, in reality, the parents
are in the process of ensuring the infants' survival.
"In most cases, it is absolutely not in the fawn's
best interest to try to rescue it," said Alan Knothe, a wildlife
biologist who handles wildlife calls in the FWC's Panama City
Knothe says people typically discover fawns that
are waiting for their mother. Often, people find a fawn in brush or
other cover, where a doe has placed her new offspring for
protection. These settings tend to help mask the fawn's
scent, thus providing good protection from the keen nose of a
People discover these seemingly abandoned baby deer
and become concerned when the parent is nowhere in sight.
Sometimes the would-be rescuer falsely believes the young animal
will perish unless they save it or take it to a wildlife
rehabilitation center. Others take the fawns, thinking only
about making a pet of the animal.
"Unfortunately, actions of this kind usually have
the opposite effect of a rescue," Knothe said. "The stress
created by changing the animal's diet and surroundings is often
"If the rescued fawn manages to survive, its return
to the wild is practically impossible because of human imprinting
or a lack of survival skills. If it had remained wild, the
young deer would have learned the necessary survival skills from
Another way to help with the survival of the young
animals is to not feed them. Although that may sound odd,
feeding can cause problems ranging from poor nutrition to making
the animal dependent on humans for food, to loss of foraging
skills, all of which can decrease the critter's chances of
"These animals have survived for a long time
without assistance. They can continue to survive without handouts,"
The FWC recommends that if you find a fawn or other
baby animal, don't touch it, and quietly leave the area.
Touching the animal may cause the mother to reject it because
human scent contaminated it.
On the other hand, songbirds have almost no sense
of smell. People can return baby birds to their nest without much
chance of rejection. This time of year, young songbirds found
on the ground look a bit dazed or confused. The youngster may be
trying to hide in tall grass or in low bushes to avoid discovery by
predators. These young birds are going through a process
When they're ready to fledge, young birds have
grown all the adult feathers they'll need to fly, but they still
must learn to fly. During this process, the immature birds
sometimes end up on the ground, where they may spend several days
before they learn all their flight skills.
"While on the ground, the juvenile birds' parents
watch over them, feeding them and helping them learn necessary
survival skills. Help the parents by keeping any pets,
particularly cats, inside or out of the way," Knothe said.
"Please don't interfere in this crucial learning process."
Here are some important facts that can help
determine if a baby bird needs rescuing. According to
biologists, the only time people should rescue a baby songbird is
when it is on the ground and has almost no feathers, when pets
injure the bird or its tail is less than a half-inch long, and it
cannot hop around on its own.
In those circumstances Knothe recommends putting
baby birds in a lined hanging planter in a tree near the actual
nest location. He said the location should be in the shade
and hidden from the view of predators, if possible.
"Most parents will come back to care for the
fledgling. Sometimes, however, they reject the chick because
of a limited food supply, an inability to care for the young chick,
or for other reasons we may not understand," Knothe said. "If
the parents don't return, then the chick should be taken to a rehab
center. Migratory birds are protected and need to be cared
for by a licensed facility."
The FWC's Panama City Regional Office,
850-265-3676, has a list of rehabbers. Many local
veterinarians also work closely with wildlife rehabilitators and
can be a good source of advice.
The FWC asks you to remember that removing an
animal from the wild to save it may actually have the opposite
effect. Seek advice from wildlife professionals before
attempting to rescue any animal and please remember: In most cases,
it is better to leave wildlife wild.
For more information on Florida's wildlife and what
you can do to help, go to MyFWC.com/Wildlife and select "Living