Spring seems to have arrived early this year with many warmer than normal days.
This may have speeded up wildlife match-making. In my own backyard squirrels have been chasing potential love mates up and down my big old pine and hickory trees for several weeks.
The resident woodpeckers began early their hammering hard on a dead tree covered with holes from previous nest building. Tree leaves seemed to have suddenly appeared along with blooming spring flowers. In fact, one of my friends has aptly termed spring as “a season of celebration of new life.”
It is also a time when baby birds and wildlife often encounter mishaps. Baby birds get toppled from nests when a strong wind blows. A baby squirrel or bunny or fawn or possum may be found wandering alone with their mama nowhere in sight.
In too many cases, well-meaning people will see a little wildlife wanderer and immediately assume the baby has been orphaned. They will then “rescue” the baby. This act, thought well-meaning, can be harmful since the mother will never have a chance to reclaim her baby.
“In almost all cases, unless the animal is injured and in immediate need, the process for determining whether the baby is orphaned starts with giving one or both parents a chance to reclaim her youngsters,” proclaims Laura Simon of the Humane Society of the United States.
Baby songbirds are fed by both parents. When they are learning to fly and spotted on the ground they may appear to be orphaned. In many cases one or both parents will be looking for their little one within 60 minutes, according to Simon.
If a baby bird seems to have fallen from a nest and if you can reach the nest, simply return the baby to it. If not, she advises hanging a little wicker basket that can drain, put a few sticks in it if it is too deep and hang it on a nearby tree.
Then watch the basket with baby bird inside it from a distance to make sure the parents do return.
A few years ago when I let our dogs out in our backyard they all ran to one spot barking.
I ran to them and one of the dogs had a baby crow that had fallen from a nest in his mouth.
I begged him to give me the little crow. Amazingly, he did. Meanwhile a flock of crows were flying over our heads, obviously greatly concerned. I released the baby outside the fence and he was quickly surrounded by adult crows and herded to a safer area where they continued feeding him on the ground for days.
If a baby squirrel has fallen to the ground from a nest but is not hurt, wait until sundown for the mama to rescue him. Stay out of the area and keep pets away. If the mama doesn’t return put him in an open shoe box at the base of a tree, Simon says. But use caution in picking him up.
I picked one up several years ago and got a severely bitten finger requiring a trip to an emergency room.
If you see a fawn lying alone in tall brush, as we often did when we lived in the Charleston hills, don’t be worried. Mother deer often hide their babies for hours while they are out finding nourishment.
However, if you know the mother is dead or see a fawn alone in poor condition, contact a wildlife rehabilitator.
Mother raccoons are always determined to keep their babies close to them, notes the expert. If you see babies alone for more than a few hours she advises placing “an upside-down laundry basket over the babies. Monitor them overnight. If the mama doesn’t come back, call a wildlife rehabilitator.”
Since skunks have poor eyesight, Simon explains that babies usually follow their mother “nose-to-tail.” If spotted alone something may have scared their mama. Slowly move toward the babies, place “a lightweight laundry basket over them and monitor from a distance.”
The babies will grunt, according to Simon, and the mama will hear them and flip the basket with her nose when she finds them to keep them again safely close to her.
Baby opossums are born as embryos and stay inside their mama’s pouch nursing for about eight weeks. Then they ride on mama’s back when they are about 3 or 4 inches long.
If a mother opossum is injured or killed, Simon urges: “Put on gloves, check the pouch to see if her babies have survived, then call a wildlife rehabilitator.”
Whenever I have a wildlife question, the expert I immediately contact is: Arlene Faires, a veterinary technician at Animal Medical Center on Henderson Avenue
Arlene was a certified Tennessee wildlife rehabilitator for many years. She can explain to us what to do and provide the contact number for the nearest wildlife rehabilitator.
Paws up this week to: Eda Scott; Tripp Hathcock; Michael McNulty; Jennifer Hultman; Vicky Branson; Angie Faulkner; Pat Lee; and all who adopted a Cleveland Animal Shelter pet and saved a precious life
To reach the municipal shelter, 479-2122. Call me with your pet and wildlife stories, 728-5414 or mail to: P.O. Box 4864, Cleveland TN 37320.