WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
This is the season of newborn fawns curled up in tall grasses, nests of cottontail rabbit babies hidden in freshly tilled soil and red fox kits and coyote pups sunning near their dens. Encounters with baby wildlife are soaring. Baby animals are cute and their vulnerability entices humans to pick them up and sometimes try to make them pets.
We know you may be trying to help, but unless you are the mother of the species, please leave wildlife in the wild. Wildlife is off-limits as pets; the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Oakland County Parks remind us that it is illegal to take wildlife out of the wild. As for the common, well-meaning action of rescuing a fawn that was left all alone, in reality, it was not left alone. Many species of wildlife leave their young alone while they forage for food or to divert attention from potential predators. Killdeer are masters of diversions to lure cats, dogs and humans away from their ground-nesting chicks. Does protect their nearly scentless, camouflaged fawn by leaving it in a secluded spot in the woods, a tall grass meadow and sometimes even at the edge of a lawn or in a flowerbed. The doe only returns a few times each day to nurse. That is the way life begins for all white-tailed deer. Remember, don’t try to rescue baby animals because you’ll actually be kidnapping them and taking them away from their mothers.
While we’re on this topic, a bit of myth-busting is in order. Although we should never handle wildlife, it is not true that human scent makes the mother abandon her baby. However, if a human or dog loiters near or frequently returns to check on the “abandoned” baby, the mother will stay away. If a baby bird should fall out of a nest or if you “accidentally ”pick up a bunny or other young creature, just put it back and walk away. That is the kindest thing to do. Equally important during nesting season, and for the rest of the year for that matter, is keeping pets under control and leashed.
Some species of wildlife will remind you in the most unpleasant way to keep away. Try rescuing a fluffy yellow gosling or interfering with the nest of a swan and the response from the adults will be fast and furious. Even red-winged blackbirds will sometimes attack if one gets too close to their nest.
According to DNR wildlife technician Katie Keen, “Please resist the urge to try to help seemingly abandoned fawns or other baby animals this spring. Some people truly are trying to be helpful, while others think wild animals would make good pets, but in most cases neither of those situations ends well for the wildlife.”
“Spring is the time for fawns,” DNR wildlife technician Holly Vaughn said. “Remember a fawn’s best chance for survival is with its mother. Fawns rely on their camouflage coat to protect them from predators, while their mother stays off in the distance. The mother will not return if people or dogs are present. If you find a fawn alone, do not touch it, just quickly leave it alone. After dark the mother deer will return for her fawn.”
It is illegal to possess a live wild animal, including deer, in Michigan. Every day an animal spends with humans makes it less likely to be able to survive in the wild.
Many baby animals will die if removed from their natural environment, and some have diseases or parasites that can be passed on to humans or pets.
Some “rescued” animals that do survive become habituated to people and are unable to revert back to life in the wild.
Eventually, habituated animals pose additional problems as they mature and develop adult animal behaviors. Habituated deer, especially bucks, can become aggressive as they mature, and raccoons are well-known for this too.
“If you find any baby animal, it should be left in the wild,” Vaughn said. “The only time a baby animal should be removed from the wild is when you know the parent is dead or the animal is injured. Please contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator before removing the animal.”
For a list of licensed rehabilitators visit www.michigandnr.com/dlr or call your local DNR office.
Text and photos by Nature Education Writer, Jonathan Schechter. Originally published April 24, 2015, updated on April 8, 2016.
Visit www.oakgov.com/parks for detailed information on all 13 Oakland County Parks.