Many members of the public find an orphaned or injured wild baby, and wildlife rescue organizations such as Sierra Wildlife Rescue could not carry out its work without their assistance.
Sometimes, however, a rescuer may mistakenly assume that a baby has been abandoned when the mother is actually nearby. She may be foraging for food, keeping predators from her young, or simply taking a break from her maternal duties. Since no human can raise a wildlife baby as well as its mother, those who try to rescue wild babies must ensure that the baby really needs rescuing and is not actually being “kidnapped.”
Unless a baby animal is obviously injured or in immediate danger from another animal, vehicle or some other situation, it is usually best to wait and observe it for awhile to determine whether it truly needs help.
Fawns are probably the wild babies most often subject to kidnapping, since the doe sometimes leaves them for as long as four hours to forage. They are often well-hidden in tall grass or a hollow, but you may stumble upon one and become concerned. If you do find a fawn (or fawns — there are often twins), unless you are certain that the mother has been killed or mortally injured it is best to observe it quietly for as long as possible, keeping other animals and people away. If the mother does not return for some time, ensure that the fawn is well-protected where it lies, and then contact Sierra Wildlife, where an experienced fawn rehabber will advise you and will come to assist you if the fawn needs rescuing.
Unless absolutely necessary to protect it from danger, do not try to move or handle a fawn, since they are extremely delicate and sensitive to stress. If you do contact a rehabber, and the mother returns, it is often possible to reunite mother and fawn by returning the fawn immediately to where it was found. Do not attempt this without the help of an experienced fawn rehabber, as an adult deer can be extremely dangerous.
Rabbits and hares (jackrabbits) are independent when they are so young that they may appear to a concerned observer to be in need of rescuing. Rabbits grow up rapidly, wean at about 3 to 4 weeks, and are usually on their own by 6 to 8 weeks of age. If you observe a young rabbit, and it appears to be uninjured, it is best to watch it for awhile to ensure it does not have any difficulty moving and is eating on its own. If so, it is probably all right.
Baby squirrels often fall from their nests, either because the tree or branch has been cut down, or their mother has been killed and they are squirming around, hungry. Baby squirrels with their eyes closed that have fallen need to be rescued immediately. Older squirrel babies, about 6 weeks and fully furred, with eyes open, are often out of the nest with their mothers, though still nursing, but may become separated from her, caught by a cat or dog, or be otherwise in distress. Unless caught by an animal or otherwise injured, watch for about an hour to see if the mother returns. If not, the baby needs to be rescued.
Skunk babies whose mothers have been killed are often out during the day, looking for her and for food; if you see (usually several) small skunk babies wandering around on your property, they are probably orphaned and need to be rescued.
Unfeathered baby birds (nestlings) may fall from nests, and fledglings (learning to fly) may also be unable to return. It is a myth that birds will abandon their babies if they have been touched by a human. Place nestlings back in the nest and watch closely to see if the parents return quickly to care for them. If you cannot find the nest, you can fashion one out of a plastic butter tub, packed with soft cloth, and secure it to a branch of the tree from which it fell, as high up as possible; the parents may be willing to continue to feed the babies in the makeshift nest.
Baby birds need to be fed frequently; if the parents do not return in one-half hour, you should remove the babies from the tree and contact SWR. If found on the ground, fledglings (fully-feathered babies) may just be having a “flying lesson” and should be left alone and observed for awhile to see if the parents return. If they do not, and the bird cannot fly (or only for short distances), you need to rescue it.
If you determine that a wild baby does need rescuing, be careful to avoid harming or causing additional stress to the young animal by moving slowly and quietly, and keeping pets and children away. The first thing to do is to ensure the animal is safe. Most small, wild animals, particularly if injured, can be gently picked up, using heavy gloves, and placed in a box padded with soft cloths, with air holes. Then contact SWR for advice and assistance.
A wild creature should never be taken and raised with the intention of its becoming a pet. Wild babies are adorable, and may seem to be easily handled, but as they mature, their wild nature will assert itself; they will be miserable in captivity, and some adult animals can also be extremely dangerous to humans and pets. Further, wild babies require special handling and feeding that only a trained wildlife rehabber is capable of. If you keep a wild baby it will, in all likelihood, die, or be unhealthy if luckily raised to adulthood.
It is also illegal, in California, to keep any wild animal unless you are a qualified wildlife rehabber, licensed by the California Department of Fish and Game.
Much of the natural habitat of California’s wildlife has been reduced by development, resulting in more frequent encounters between humans and wild animals. If you find a wild baby in El Dorado County and decide it needs rescuing contact Sierra Wildlife Rescue at (530) 621-4661, and you will be directed to an appropriate rehabber for the species. In Amador County contact Tri County Wildlife Care, at (209) 267-5867.