Springtime in Oklahoma is when people commonly come across newborn and young wildlife. Newborn rabbits, squirrels, deer and birds easily appeal to most people’s senses of care and compassion.
But the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation reminds all Oklahomans that the best thing to do if you come across young wildlife is to keep them wild and, in most cases, leave them alone and don’t interfere.
When people try to help young wildlife, they often end up doing no favors for those animals and can actually put more stress on young wildlife.
People often imagine that any young animal they see must be lost or abandoned, but usually that is not the case.
“Chances are an adult animal is nearby and is simply waiting on you to move away so they can take care of their young,” said Mark Howery, Senior Wildlife Biologist with the Wildlife Department.
In Oklahoma, most fawns are born in May and June. And that’s when people begin seeing the young animals.
Game Warden Brayden Hicks, based in Blaine County, said Game Wardens often receive calls this time of year from the public asking them to “rescue” fawns that have been found alone. “I tell them don’t touch the fawn, and don’t try to feed it. Normally the momma is around, and she’s left her fawn on purpose so she can go feed.”
The doe must get adequate nutrition to produce milk and will often leave a fawn in a safe place, such as near a house or where people can easily see them, because those are places where predators might be less likely to visit.
The doe will also stay away from its fawn so the doe’s scent will not attract predators. “Sometimes the doe will stay away for many hours, but she will eventually come back and care for her fawn,” Hicks said.
When people interfere with young wildlife, those animals will lose their instinctual fear of people and begin to bond with and depend on people to survive. If returned to nature later, these animals will not be able to feed or be aware of what dangers to avoid. And the young animal could even die from the stress of being handled by people.
Howery said springtime storms may blow young birds and squirrels out of their nests. Even though they may appear to be alone, distressed or in need of help, the parents are often nearby and will care for them.
He said whenever a baby bird is found uninjured on the ground, it is generally much better to return it to the nest than try to care for the bird yourself. Often, young birds that have fallen from the nest (which most people assume has been abandoned) have actually not been forgotten by the natural parents. Returning these birds to their own nest or placing them off the ground in the same tree or shrub will allow the parents to resume care. A young bird will not be rejected by its parents if it has been touched by people because most birds have a poor sense of smell.
As baby birds grow in the nest, they become larger, often noisier, and produce more scent, so the nestlings become more vulnerable to predators the longer they stay in the nest. One way that parent birds adapt to that risk is by leading the chicks out of and away from the nest after they are fully feathered but before they're fully capable of flying. They attempt to scatter and hide the nestlings in places close by where there's cover. In that way, a predator may find one or two chicks but not the entire brood.
If the young bird has become injured, its chances for survival are questionable. But remember that the loss of individual animals is a normal occurrence in nature, and it's OK to let nature take its course.
In cases when an animal is injured or seriously ill, someone might choose to call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. A list of rehabilitators by county is available at www.wildlifedepartment.com/law/rehabilitator-list.