The Focus on Pets column for April 21 focused on wildlife, particularly babies, which are abundant right now. My column stated that many wildlife babies are fairly self-sufficient and generally, we should leave them alone.
I received a response from Laura Simon, Field Director, Urban Wildlife, with the Humane Society of the United States. She runs the wildlife hotline for the HSUS and says the phone rings non-stop this time of year with calls about orphan animals. She wanted to make it clear that many wildlife babies are not independent and may need our help.
In a fact sheet written by Simon, she states, "Whether or not an animal is orphaned depends on the animal's age and species, and how their natural behaviors are perceived."
She continued that while deer and rabbits leave their young alone for long periods of time to avoid attracting predators due to the scent of the mother, other species, like raccoons and squirrels, rarely leave their young. Seeing these young alone most likely means something is wrong.
I do not think we have opossums, here but their story is interesting. They are born as embryos, barely larger than a bee. They crawl up to their mother's pouch where they spend about two months attached to one of her 13 nipples.
When they are 3 to 4 inches long, they ride around on her back. They can fall off and the mother might not know it. If a baby is found that is less than 7 inches long, not including the tail, it is an orphan. Over 7 inches, he is old enough to be on his own.
It is a myth that birds abandon their chicks if a person touches them. Unlike other animals, birds are not sensitive to the human scent. Gently put the baby birds back in their nest. If the nest is destroyed or is too high to reach, hang a wicker or woven stick basket close to where the nest was. The nest must allow rain to flow through to prevent the babies from drowning. Watch the new nest for a while and if the mom does not return, contact a local wildlife rehabilitator.
Fledgling birds are those that have left the nest but are not yet ready to fly. This is normal as birds learn to fly from the ground up, according to Simon. Stand back and watch the parents fly by and feed these babies. Parents will also be teaching these fledglings how to hunt for food. Leave them alone if parents are around. Do keep your pets inside.
We have lots of skunks around these parts. If you see a baby skunk, watch to see if he is returning to his den. Generally, they do not leave home without mama. If you constantly see the baby outside and feel it is orphaned, call a wildlife rehabilitator.
Free roaming cats are one of the main causes of orphaning in rabbits and birds. Especially in the spring, Simon urges owners to keep cats inside. If you will not keep your cat inside, have him wear a breakaway collar with multiple bells as a warning to animals and birds. Cats have toxic bacteria in their saliva that becomes lethal unless the victim is put on antibiotics immediately.
Simon also pointed out that this is the time when "nuisance" wildlife are trapped. People do not realize that the only reason wild animals are in or under houses is because they are denning there with young. Orphaned babies might be found days later. It is spring. Give them a break.
For updated information about wildlife, check out "Is the Animal Really an Orphan?" written by Laura Simon at email@example.com.
By the way
If you have a little time and can help, please read on. Megan of Tara's Babies, where all those Katrina Dogs were cared for, has sent an SOS. Volunteer help is urgently needed at the Buddhist Camp to help care for 15 semi-feral dogs they just received and the 10 remaining Katrina dogs. If you can help in any way, please call Megan at (928) 203-1700.
Christy Powers can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.