So much misinformation circulates through our lives about wildlife. How many of our mothers told us that if you touch a fallen baby bird, the individual smell will drive away the parents and they’ll no longer care for this? How many people have found a nest of baby bunnies in a field, no parent in sight, presumed they were abandoned, and took them home and tried to raise them? How many”left” baby birds have been”rescued” simply because they were found on the ground and could not quite fly yet? . .how many animal lovers have raised a baby raccoon for a pet, only to be badly bitten when that adorable baby become an unmanageable adolescent?
How many folks realize that taking in wildlife without a special license to care for them is not even legal in most countries? Most don’t, and generations of people have educated their children these myths, presuming they were fact simply because good grandpa told grandma, who told dad, who passed the wisdom (or lack thereof) along.
If a baby bird falls from the nest, the best thing you can do for it is to try to get it back into the nest. If you cannot get it into that nest, create a makeshift nest (a strawberry basket or margarine tub lined with paper towels will do) and tuck it into a safe place near where you found the bird. The parents do not care if you handled it, and will, indeed, almost definitely return to feed it till it can fledge (leave the nest). If it’s an older infant, fully feathered, hopping about on the floor, leave it alone!
“Falling out of the nest” is a very normal part of how old babies learn to fly. Its parents are nearby, watching, encouraging it to use those small wings. Unless you’re absolutely certain that the parents are dead, don’t interfere.
Wild rabbits, the greatest prey species, only return to their nests a couple of times a day to nurse their young. Those infants”abandoned” in the field aren’t abandoned in any respect. They’ve been left there by their mothers, to prevent leading predators to the nest. Leave them alone, or momma-bunny will return at dusk to discover that her babies have been abducted!
And raccoons? Even experienced wildlife rehabilitators can’t legally raise raccoons without a special permit for rabies vector species. Raccoons are considered among the most dangerous creatures to rehabilitate, and not simply because they are among the primary animals to spread rabies. They also carry a kind of roundworm that is often deadly to other animal species. . .including humans.
So, if you find a wild animal or bird that’s actually in need of rescue (you are sure beyond doubt that the parents are dead, or it’s been hurt in some way that requires medical attention), what do you do? Many vets have a list of rehabbers local to them, or you can Google”wildlife rehabilitators” for your region.
And what do you educate the kids?
As soon as you find your local rehab center, stick together. They get no government funds, and every effort they make comes from their own pockets. They’re sometimes on call at insane hours, and the task of caring for orphaned and injured creatures is one that often receives no thanks, and gets no downtime. Once”baby season” starts, many rehabilitators get very little break, and they’re all unpaid volunteers.
Learn their schedule and show up to support them at these talks.
Ask whether the center gives tours (they will not be able to show you animals who are to be released, but many have educational animals as permanent residents), and make an appointment to bring the kids. Though you won’t be working with the wild animals, there are quite a few other chores that have to be performed, and lots of centers accept volunteer supplies happily. Encourage your kids to listen and learn, and to genuinely care.
By becoming a household that supports your local wildlife rehabbers, you haven’t just helped to protect this generation of crazy creatures. You have set forth on the adventure of raising a new generation of educated humans who will teach their own kids safety, wisdom and respect for all life.