This summer I had the privilege to experience interning at the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary for their rehabilitation program. Over the course of the summer I learned a lot of new information regarding wildlife animals, specifically when it came to babies. Although I highly enjoyed spending most of my days working with the cute baby animals, I couldn’t help myself but get overwhelmed some weeks. When there were 50 cottontails to be tubed, fawns coming in left and right, an incubator full of birds needing to be fed every half hour, and a number of raccoons that needed attention it could get stressful. On stressful days like these, my mind would start to wonder about how many of these “orphans” were unnecessary. All these animals are brought in by well meaning individuals who believed they have been orphaned. This is not always the case.
Cottontails are the number one animal brought into the sanctuary. Often people find a rabbit’s nest in their yard and assume it has been abandoned as there is no parent around. Although many people wait for the parents to return, it is often during the wrong time of the day. The mother spends most of her days roaming and only returns to the litter at dawn and dusk for feedings. Cottontails also often come into the sanctuary by people trying to relocate them. Although I understand why someone would want to relocate cottontails in different situations, the best thing to do for them is leave them alone, and try to keep any danger away from them. Cottontails are fast growing animals and the whole litter should be gone with in 2 to 3 weeks.
Fledglings, young birds just learning to fly, were also brought into the sanctuary with good intentions. At this stage of development, the young bird will be hopping around on the ground, learning to search for food and attempting to fly. Since they are trying to fly, but are not quite successful yet, they may appear to have an injured wing. This is common in young birds, but unless there is a very obvious break, the wings are most likely fine. At this age, it is likely that the parents won’t be around all the time either. Watch for a couple of hours before making the decision to bring the fledgling bird into the sanctuary. The parents are watching and should return every couple of hours to feed the young.
The sanctuary receives a wide variety of unnecessary orphans outside of cottontails and birds. Every species of animal takes care of their young in different ways. So if the animal does not seem to be injured, just alone, watch for a couple more hours. The best thing for the babies is to leave them with their parents. If you are unsure what time of the day you should be watching for the parents, give the sanctuary a call and the staff would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.
Rachel Lambert, Wildlife Rehabilitation Intern