FRANKFORT – It is a demonstration of the best traits of the human race, but can end in error.
At this time of year, people see young wildlife seemingly abandoned by their parents. Deer fawns left alone in a grassy field. Baby birds that fall from their nests, seemingly helpless in your backyard.
These events bring out the compassion that marks some of the better angels of human nature. People want to help the animals they feel are in danger. Their help is often a curse instead of a blessing. Humans are no substitute for natural parents.
“Baby birds, when they leave the nest, they look young and defenseless,” said Kate Heyden, avian biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “They really are not abandoned. They are still being cared for by their parents. They look awkward, but they spend some time on the ground before they can fly.”
Heyden said if a landowner finds a bird fallen from a nest that lacks feathers and seems naked, you may want to call a wildlife rehabilitator, as this bird likely fell out of the nest prematurely. Birds that leave the nest at the proper time do have feathers. Most songbirds are protected by federal law.
“It is illegal to keep a baby bird and raise it in your home,” Heyden said. “It is also not a good idea.”
To find a list of wildlife rehabilitators, go to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s webpage at fw.ky.gov and click on the “Wildlife” tab, then “Injured and Orphaned Wildlife.”
Robins often make nests in unusual places at this time of year. They may nest on top of porch lights, the crook where the gutter downspout meets the house or on or in a child’s play set in the backyard. This alarms homeowners.
“Just leave them alone and the nest won’t hurt anything,” Heyden said. “For most songbirds, you are talking about a month for the whole breeding cycle.”
Observe nests from a distance and don’t touch nests or eggs. This may cause the parents to abandon the nest.
Landowners often find white-tailed deer fawns in the coming weeks while mowing fields or people see them at the edge of the woods by themselves. The mother is nowhere to be found.
“Leave the fawn alone, they’ve not been orphaned or abandoned,” said Gabe Jenkins, deer biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “The mother is close by.”
If a threatening presence comes close to the fawns, the mother will run off to draw the danger toward her and away from her fawns. Newborn deer stay bedded in tall weeds or grass for the first few weeks of life until strong enough to keep up with their mother.
“If you are forced to move a fawn while mowing a field, set the fawn off in the tall weeds where it can hide,” Jenkins recommended. “The mother will return in the evening. Fawns are almost scentless and their spots help them hide in the weeds.”
People often find rabbit nests in overgrown areas of their yards at this time of year. Again, the best advice is to leave the nest and the young alone. Similar to white-tailed deer, the mother is close by and only visits the nest in the low light periods of early morning and dusk to feed the young. This avoids drawing predators to the nest.
The newborn rabbits stay in the nest from two to three weeks before they start eating green plants and leave. Keep away from the nest and don’t take the young rabbits as pets.
If you find young wildlife over the next several weeks, leave them alone and let nature take its course. Wildlife for millennia successfully reared and raised young without human intervention.
Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a lifelong hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.