As the weather continues to get warmer and more people are enjoying the outdoors, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is reminding everyone to follow this motto when encountering wildlife, especially young animals: If you care, leave them there.
Wildlife is active during this time of the year and it isn’t unusual for people to come across baby fawns, moose calves, robins, raccoons and other young wildlife in woodlands or in their backyards, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for people to intervene.
“Well-meaning people sometimes take in young wildlife in the mistaken belief that they have been abandoned,” said MDIFW Wildlife Division Director Nate Webb. “That puts the young animal at more risk. A wild animal or bird’s best chance for survival is if you leave them there. Wild animals are not pets, and it’s against the law to possess them without the proper state and federal permits.”
A deer may leave its fawn hidden in the leaves on the forest floor if it’s too young to come along to forage for food. The mother-young bond is very strong in mammals and birds and deer will return to its fawn as long as humans don’t interfere.
“Too often people see a young animal alone and assume it has been abandoned by its mother, when in fact the mother has likely just left temporarily to search for food,” said Webb. “In most cases, it’s best to leave the animal alone because wildlife has a much better chance at survival when they aren’t disrupted by humans.”
If you come across a healthy young animal or bird, leave it alone. If you have pets, put them inside your home or on a leash so they don’t disturb the young wildlings.
If you do think an animal may be orphaned, please call an IFW regional biologist or game warden to alert them to it.
Here are other tips on what to do if you see young wildlife:
Fawns: It is always best to leave fawns alone. The nutrient profile of a mother’s milk enables fawns to be left for many hours as mothers feed on their own to help maintain the high energy demands of nursing the fawn. Adult does will return two or three times a day to nurse fawns but otherwise leave them in a safe place and rely on the fawn’s camouflage and lack of scent to protect them from predators. As soon as a fawn is able to keep up with its mother, it will travel more with the mother.
Repeated visits to a fawn can draw the attention of predators and could discourage its mother from returning. Under no circumstances should anyone attempt to feed a fawn.
Moose calves: Treat moose calves similar to fawns, but also be aware that approaching or handling a moose calf is likely to elicit a defensive response from a mother moose if it is nearby.
Squirrels or Raccoons: If a nest of squirrels or raccoons must be disturbed, (for example if a tree has been cut down or fallen) leave the young in the den part of the tree and move the den nearby to a protected place. The mother will likely come back and transport them to a new location.
Birds: The same is true for a bird’s nest. Put the nest and nestlings into a nearby tree, supported in a basket or other container that has drainage. The mother robin or blue jay is probably right around the corner, and will return to feed the young and care for them until they can fly on their own.
Be aware that direct contact with wildlife can expose you to a variety of diseases. Human contact with wildlife may lead to an animal being euthanized in order to test for rabies.