You have permission to edit this article.

Woods and waters with Joe Martino

Young wild animals are best left alone, and are best cared for by their parents

  • Comments
  • 2 min to read
baby rabbit

LEAVE WILDLIFE ALONE — Even though you may think a baby wild animal appears orphaned, it is highly unlikely. Leave it alone, its mother is nearby. Rarely, if ever, do we do any good by removing them from their natural environment.

Thinking back to a month or more ago to when I found a robin egg that had fallen from its nest reminded me of the perfect idea for this week’s column. Lots of people have been seeing newborn fawns, birds and various other infant wildlife recently which means that there are now lots of Mother Nature’s new young ones out there.

You may find yourself stumbling upon what appears to be an injured or abandoned baby animal this summer, but “Most baby animals are not abandoned,” said Michelle Cain, wildlife information specialist with the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife. “Many animals leave their young alone when searching for food and come back to them throughout the day. They also use this as a way to deter predators, as a predator may follow the mother back to its young.”

Also, the old adage that once you touch a baby bird, for instance, that the mother will abandon it and no longer take care of it is nothing more than a wives tale. In fact, if a bird has fallen out of a nest, it is okay to gently return it to the nest. Wild animals are pretty darn good at raising their young and they are not about to abandon one of them.

However, Picking up a baby animal that is not orphaned or abandoned can harm the animal and take it out of its natural environment where it is meant to be. And what you may not have known is that it’s also illegal.

If you believe the animal is truly abandoned, or you know that the mother is no longer alive, call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators are educated to properly care for wild animals. In the hands of an untrained person, an animal is unlikely to survive if it is returned to the wild. Cain advises that the best way to make sure an animal is truly orphaned is to wait and check it periodically. If you are unsure, place some strings or sticks across the nest. Place some grass across the top of a rabbit nest that is found with young in it. If such items are later disturbed, the mother has probably returned. In such a situation, leave the young animal alone.

Cain also reminds us that wild animals also pose safety and health risks for humans. They may look helpless, cute and cuddly, but they can bite or scratch people who attempt to handle them. Some wild animals carry parasites and infectious diseases, some of which can be transmitted to humans.

Support Local Journalism

Now, more than ever, the world needs trustworthy reporting—but good journalism isn’t free. Please support us by making a contribution.

In the spring, ducks or geese often nest in landscaping or gardens. The best thing to do is leave the nest alone and try to keep any pets away. However, be aware that the bird may return next year. If the bird becomes a nuisance you can call a nuisance waterfowl control operator.

Remember, state laws prohibit keeping wild animals without a permit. Federal laws also prohibit possession of migratory birds, including songbirds, raptors and waterfowl. It is even illegal to treat wild animals for sickness or injury without a permit.

In addition to calling a licensed wildlife rehabilitator (go to and click on “wildlife rehabilitator” for a list), Cain reminds people that they can also find assistance by:

–Calling the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife in Indianapolis at (317) 232-4080.

–Calling DNR Law Enforcement 24 hours a day at (812) 837-9536.

–Calling a licensed veterinarian.