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Leave young wildlife alone

Newborn animals appear across the state in springtime

FRANKFORT, Ky. (April 20, 2023) — From forests and farms, to neighborhoods and even downtown in our cities, spring brings with it a surge in newborn wildlife across Kentucky.

It also brings the potential for well-meaning people to jeopardize the health and safety of these vulnerable animals.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources cautions the public to leave young animals undisturbed, even when they appear to be alone, and reminds property owners to watch for vulnerable wildlife when working on their properties.

“Every year, wildlife rehabilitators receive numerous reports of abandoned or injured wildlife,” said Dr. Christine Casey, wildlife veterinarian with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “Often, young animals are incorrectly identified as orphaned and ‘rescued’ by well-meaning individuals. Unfortunately, this puts additional and unnecessary strain on wildlife rehabilitators and veterinarians with limited resources.”

Simple changes to the public’s interaction with wildlife can help prevent most of these cases and free up valuable resources for animals most in need of help.

Songbirds, most mammals, and some reptiles and amphibians, raise young during the springtime. As wildlife has adapted to live in a variety of environments, birds, rabbits, raccoons, deer and other animals will sometimes do so near people.

Depending on the species, wildlife parents may leave a nest or leave their young in a secluded spot for extended periods to hunt or forage for food, and to help keep predators away. In nearly all cases, a parent remains out of sight nearby and returns as needed to feed and care for their young. Often and as intended by wildlife, these visits are undetected by human observers (and potential predators).

“Don’t assume young animals are abandoned, even if they are found in unlikely locations,” Casey said. “Young wildlife can sometimes show up in the most surprising places. Parents may nest or place their young in backyards or amidst landscaping features, office parks, overgrown lots and open fields, so keep an eye out for the nests and young that may be hanging out waiting for mom.”

Be patient and observe an animal from afar, checking back at later times to determine the animal’s status. Unless the parent is observed to have been injured or killed, or the baby has been injured, it should be left alone to minimize stress on the animal and likelihood of predation, and to prevent exposing the would-be rescuer to any diseases that wildlife can transmit to people.

“Reporting sick or injured animals to the department or local wildlife rehabilitators, and avoiding contact with wildlife, especially rabies-vector species like racoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes, is the best way to minimize risk of disease transmission,” Casey said.

Only remove wildlife if it is in obvious need of medical care for immediate transfer to a permitted wildlife rehabilitator. It is illegal to handle or keep wildlife as pets. A licensed rehabilitator can evaluate and treat an animal to release back into a natural habitat.

“If it becomes necessary to remove an animal, remember that only permitted wildlife rehabilitators may care for orphaned or injured wildlife in Kentucky,” Casey said. “It’s important to keep in mind that an approved rehabilitator may be overwhelmed with intake, particularly later in the season, and be unable to accept additional animals.”

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife does not accept orphaned or injured animals. A list of approved wildlife rehabilitators is available on the department’s website, searchable by county and types of animal.

People can help wildlife thrive by being patient and taking simple precautions around their homes and properties. Keep children and pets away to avoid injury or creating a scent trail that may attract a predator, and spot check a site before mowing or commencing an outdoor project to look for young animals, keeping in mind they may be hiding in plain sight.

“Whenever possible, nest sites should be left undisturbed to give young birds time to grow,” said Kate Slankard, wildlife biologist. “Most songbirds only take three to four weeks to hatch eggs and fledge young, so the nest isn’t occupied for long. After the young leave the nest, it can be removed, if needed.”

Rabbits can nest in burrows under the grass in a yard, so delayed mowing or avoiding the site will give rabbit kits a chance to be weaned and leave the nest. Mowing fields as late as possible, preferably early July or later, also can provide young fawns time to become mobile and ground nesting birds time to fledge their young.

For more information about young wildlife, visit the department’s website (fw.ky.gov) or call 1-800-858-1549, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (Eastern) weekdays, excluding holidays.



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