You see a baby bunny in the yard. It looks at you with wide eyes and freezes as you approach.
Oh no, an orphan bunny! You think, kindheartedly.
The truth is, though, that bunny is fine on its own. In fact, most baby animals that humans stumble across and try to “help” often don’t need help at all.
But how do you know? How can you tell when to step in and when to leave wildlife wild? Here are some quick tips about Iowa baby animals and when they do or don’t need our help.
1. Baby bunnies
Rabbit mothers nurse their babies about five minutes per day, but they do not stay in the nest during the day to keep their babies warm. Instead, they build up the nest with fur and grasses to keep the babies warm. If you come across a nest of wild bunnies and don’t see the mother, please do not disturb them.
Very young bunnies with eyes closed and ears back rarely survive in captivity, even with expert care. However, if you see baby bunnies with their eyes closed and signs of dehydration — cold skin, the loose skin at the back of the neck does not return to position if gently pinched, brown and gritty urine — then call us at 712-336-6352 and we can refer you to a local wildlife rehabilitator. A dehydrated bunny means its mom is not around. If you see a baby bunny that has its eyes open and is not in its nest, it is most likely exploring. It may need help if it appears dehydrated or is visibly injured. Otherwise, simply enjoy seeing the cute bunny and leave it alone to explore its new world.
Find a great rabbit resource here.
2. Baby birds
Because wild robins know that their baby has a better chance of survival if it is not seen, parents will fly away from the nest when people approach. If you spot a baby that does not yet have full feathers underneath its nest, you can gently pick it up and return it to its nest. Its parent will be back and will recognize it; it won’t mind your scent on the chick. If the robin, or other bird, has feathers — sometimes crazy looking feathers that are not smooth — then it is a fledgling. It is old enough to hop from the nest and explore the world and its wings. The parent will still hover around and feed the fledgling.
Remember, it is illegal to possess any wild, native American bird in captivity, so don’t try to rehabilitate a bird yourself. It must go to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Find more detailed information and questions here.
3. Baby turtles
Whether it be a painted turtle or a snapping turtle, a female will bury her eggs in soft, sandy soil with good exposure to the sun. Once the eggs are laid, she will cover the hole and leave. The young will hatch and dig out of the nest on their own and are immediately independent. If you see one crossing the road, stop safely, watching for traffic, and put it in the ditch the direction it was already going.
A fawn, baby deer, that is found alone does not mean it is an orphan. If the fawn is lying down calmly and quietly, its mother is nearby and it is OK. The mother will nurse the fawn several times a day, but the baby will be left alone in between so as to not attract predators. Unless you know for sure the mother is dead, leave the fawn alone.
If a fawn is lying on its side, wandering, crying incessantly all day or is visibly injured, it may need help and should be taken to a wildlife rehabilitator.
5. Baby squirrel
A juvenile squirrel with a full coat and fluffy tail that is able to climb and jump is independent. If you spot a baby squirrel that has fallen from its nest or a nest that has fallen from a tree, give the mother a chance to find it and relocate it to a new nest. If the baby is uninjured, leave it be. If the baby is not retrieved by night, or if a juvenile is constantly following people and looking for attention and food, then the mother is probably gone. Call a wildlife rehabilitator.
6. Baby raccoons
Mother raccoons keep a close eye on their young and stay with them more than with some other species. If you see a baby raccoon left alone for more than a few hours, it may be an orphan. You can see if the mother returns by putting a laundry basket over the baby, and the mother can flip it over to get her baby. If the baby is still alone well into the night — since raccoons are nocturnal and the mother might not notice the missing baby until she is active at night — then call a wildlife rehabilitator.
7. Baby skunks
Mother skunks also stay close to their babies. Normally, baby skunks will not leave the nest until completely covered in fur and capable of foraging for bugs with their mother. If you see a baby skunk wandering alone and you slowly approach and the mother does not appear, there may be a problem. If it is after dark, watch the skunks for an hour or two, and if you do not see the mother, call a wildlife rehabilitator for more information. Be wary approaching a skunk of any size. If the skunk is old enough to have left the nest, then it is old enough to both bite and spray.
A general rule, if any baby animal is visibly injured or you know for certain its mother is dead, call a wildlife rehabilitator. If not, its mother is most likely close by or it is old enough to be on its own. People have such kind hearts and want to help, but we have to sometimes let wild be wild.