I Found a Baby Animal, What Should I Do?

I Found a Baby Animal, What Should I do?

I Found a Baby Animal, What Should I do?

Spring is here and the babies are on their way!

You may have already seen them. It’s difficult to resist a baby rabbit or tiny bird. BUT what if they are hurt, OR if they are hungry? What should you do when you find a baby?

The short answer is: do nothing.

But because of the cuteness factor, it is difficult to just walk away. Let’s look at the different babies you may see, and what you can (legally) do to help them.

Baby Birds

Young birds come in two types: nestling or fledglings. They are easy to tell apart.

Nestlings are naked little things. Their eyes may be closed and they don’t do much. They lay still and wait for a sign that mommy has returned, and then they all pop their heads up! Nestlings have few feathers. They are bald except for some feather tufts. They depend on their parents, siblings and the build of the nest to stay warm and dry.

This Fledgling Songbird is not amused at having its picture taken.

This Fledgling Songbird is not amused at having its picture taken.

Fledglings are the opposite of nestlings. These balls of energy look like mini birds. They are fully feathered, with shortened tails and wing tips. They are alert. Most songbird chicks cannot fly when they first leave the nest, but can flutter along the ground. Fledglings can regulate their own body heat, find shelter and forage for food under the guidance of their parents. They keep in contact with their parents by calling to them.

Nestlings on the ground most likely will die. If you find one, try to locate the nest. It may be high in a tree, or in low shrubs. Listen for the parents. They may be a bit angry, some will even dive bomb you. If you can find the nest, put on gloves (birds can carry fleas, lice and some disease) and place the baby back in the nest.

That’s it, do nothing else.

Fledglings on the other hand don’t need your help. The best thing you can do for them is secure the area of any loose cats or dogs. Put your pets in the house for the day, the fledgling will most likely move on soon. As with the nestling, the parents will be in the area and most likely will express their displeasure at your presence.

If the fledgling happens to be near a window, consider this a great opportunity to watch the interaction with its parents. Once you are behind the glass, the parents will return and you can watch the feeding.

Note about water birds: DO NOT feed baby waterbirds bread. Baby ducks and geese need specific amounts of calories or their growth can accelerate. Bread is a high calorie food compared to their normal forage. This will cause parts of the wing to grow too fast and curl out. This condition, called Angel Wing, cannot be reversed and prevents the bird from ever flying. Bread essentially kills waterbirds.

DO NOT feed baby waterbirds bread. Click To Tweet

Baby Mammals

Baby mammals may be harder to resist than birds. Large eyes and small features make us want to rescue them. It is important that we don’t. Like birds, baby mammals parents almost always nearby, just hiding from our presence.

Baby Rabbits

Baby rabbits in a nest are like nestling birds. Their eyes may be closed and they may only have a fine fur covering. Their nestmates and fur from the mother line the nest for warmth. To prevent predators from finding the nest, the mother only visits at night to feed them.

Baby rabbits outside the nest are similar to fledglings. They dart around, they are alert. They will be covered in brown fur. If you are quick enough to catch one, be ready for a loud scream. These little ones are learning to be rabbits and are still under mother’s care.

If found, the best way to help both types of baby rabbit is to leave them alone. Rabbits are one of the most difficult babies to hand raise. Even the most experienced rehabbers may be unable to keep these babies alive. So, if you see young rabbits, follow the advice above and keep dogs and cats inside until they move on. Watch them from a window, you may see the mother come to care for them in the evening.

Dogs are notorious for finding rabbit nests. If the nest is destroyed, don some gloves and remake it in the same place. The gloves are for your protection, the mother will not be scared away by your scent. Wash your hands afterwards. Keep the dog away from the nest until the babies are grown. Leash your dog during potty time to prevent them from returning to the nest. Your small inconvenience will save these little ones.


Baby squirrels follow the trend of helpless nestling. Sometimes these little ones get knocked out of their nest. If you see only one baby, look for others and try to determine which tree they came from. When you find the tree, grab the gloves again (for your protection) and place the babies in lined open box at the base of the tree. The mom will come and pick them up.


Deer fawns differ from the mentioned mammals above as they are born able to walk, even if it is done very poorly. Because a new fawn can’t gracefully dash into the woods like its mother, it will stay hidden in brush while the mother eats. Like a mother rabbit, the doe only visits her fawn occasionally to prevent predators from finding it. Fawns will curl up and lay motionless for hours waiting for their mother’s return.

Fawn in Yosemite National Park

Fawn in Yosemite National Park

If you find a lone fawn, leave it alone and do not handle it. Its mother knows where her baby is and will return. Do not scare the fawn causing it to run to a new hiding place.  The mother may not be able to find its baby. Keep dogs away from the hiding space, and do not tell others where the fawn is as they may try to pet it.

If you think the mother may be dead, or the fawn has been moved by humans, you still should wait at a distance. If mother does not come back in 8 hours, call a wildlife rehabber. Do not try to give the fawn food or water.

Note: Many diseases carried by baby mammals can be given to humans. It is important to avoid handling babies for this reason. Some species such as: foxes, raccoons and skunks, have a chance of carrying rabies. Rabies is fatal to humans. In many states, wildlife rehabbers must take a special class to work with these animals. Be safe and do not touch these babies.

If you find a lone fawn, leave it alone and do not handle it. Click To Tweet

But I’m sure it is orphaned!

For all of the above babies, the best thing to do is to leave them to their parents. But sometimes it is difficult to do nothing.

It is illegal in all of the country to possess a songbird or migratory bird. This is Federal Law. It is also illegal in most states to possess a native fur bearing animal. These animals vary by state but apply to most of the following: deer, fox, raccoon, skunk, squirrel, rabbit. These laws are even more strict on species known to carry rabies. Only highly trained individuals can care for these animals.

Do not feed or give water to a baby as you may accidentally kill it with your kindness.

Call a local wildlife rehabber if you find an orphaned native bird or mammal. Most places will not take invasive birds such as: starlings, pigeons, or house sparrows. Some will not take rabbits due to the difficulty of raising them.

Most wildlife rehabbers can be easily found with a quick Google search. Try searching for the name of your city or county and add the term ‘wildlife rescue’ or ‘wildlife rehab.’ I suggest taking a picture of the animal so that it can be easily identified by the wildlife expert.

The Circle of Life

Keep in mind that during spring wildlife rehabbers may be overwhelmed with the number of babies that need help. If this occurs they may determine that nature should take its course. Even without human intervention, baby animals have a very high mortality rate. Very few make it to adulthood. Death of a young animal is a natural process.

Don’t feel bad if death occurs. Even in death, an animal helps the backyard wildlife garden by becoming a meal for something else in the food web, or returning to the earth to enrich the soil.

In death, an animal helps other wildlife by becoming a meal or returning to the earth. In death, an animal helps other wildlife by becoming a meal or returning to the earth. Click To Tweet

Next time you see a baby animal, consider yourself lucky that you were able to witness it! Bring your pets inside to protect the baby and be on the lookout for stray cats. Take lots of pictures from a hidden location and allow nature to take its course.

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