I took last month off from writing, but of course the world didn’t stand still. Spring happened.
At some point a pair of robins decided the front bumper of our old International tractor would be a swell place to build a nest. There nestled behind the brush guard was a small, bowl-shaped nest containing four baby-blue eggs. Fortunately for the robins I don’t need the tractor right away, so I can be patient.
From four eggs we are now down to a single fledgling, and there is a good chance that some predator will eventually get that, but I am refusing to get involved. I am letting nature take its course.
Every spring brings calls about “orphaned” animals, and I put the word orphaned in quotation marks because in many if not most cases, the baby animal isn’t orphaned at all – its mother is simply hiding, not wanting to be seen.
It happens every year, humans feel they have to interfere with wildlife raising their young; sometimes they have good intentions and genuinely care about the animals, other times they are overcome with the cuteness of the baby animal, or they think it would be neat to have a pet deer, raccoon, coyote, or other wild animal until they discover that it’s not much fun.
I always encourage people to let nature take its course, even if it seems like a cruel thing to do. Here are a few reasons to let nature take its course:
First. It is illegal to possess a wild animal.
In Ohio it is illegal to possess a wild animal without a permit from the Ohio Division of Wildlife. People possessing wildlife without a permit may be subject to fines, imprisonment, and/or restitution. These rules are put into place to protect both wildlife and humans – that cute fawn or coyote pup is eventually going to turn into an adult, and it is still a wild animal that can harm you or someone else.
Second. You probably don’t know how.
Raising a wild animal isn’t like raising a puppy or a kitten; those animals have been domesticated for so long that humans are practically programmed how to care for them.
Wildlife babies require special care, feeding, and warming – that can cost hundreds of dollars. Oftentimes it is only after people have attempted (and failed) to care for the baby animals that they call to report an orphaned animal baby – by this point the animal is probably so sick and weak that it must be put down.
Finally. Sad endings.
Usually there are no happy endings with so-called orphaned animals. Even those lucky few that make it to a licensed rehabilitator (there are very few rehabilitators in our part of the state) may face a lifetime of confinement, hardly suitable to an animal meant to be free. If the baby animal is sick or injured, its odds are even lower. Taking a baby animal out of the wild is probably the closest thing to a death sentence, so you shouldn’t do it.
What should you do if you find a genuinely orphaned animal? Usually the best course of action is to do nothing. Don’t take animal babies from the wild, if you do, put it back – it is hard to resist inferring but it is best not to. If you think human interaction is warranted, keep it limited. If the animal is stuck somewhere, free it. Move it to some nearby cover, not too far away, so its mother can find it. There is also the chance that another animal mother may adopt it. Just know that there are no guarantees, but even at the very worst, the death of one animal means others will get to live.
Similarly, this is also the time of year that I get calls about sick raccoons in daylight. It is a commonly held belief that any raccoon out in daylight must be sick – that’s wrong, and here is why: After giving birth, a mother raccoon will stay with its young to protect them from male raccoons, who want to kill her babies, so the mother will go back into heat and can breed again. From a human perspective, she’s being a good mother and defending her young.
She won’t eat for days, but eventually she is going to get hungry and need food, so she will go out when the male raccoons are sleeping – which just happens to be during daylight. Most raccoons you see out in the daytime this time of year are sow raccoons (remember, she’s not sick, just hungry), and disobedient young raccoons who don’t stay at home when they are supposed to.
So what should you do? Nothing! Just leave her alone, shut up your dogs, and give her space and a chance to find some food and go back to her den. If you kill the sow, you sentence the young to death, or soon find young raccoons roaming around your place.
Jim Freeman is the wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at firstname.lastname@example.org