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Guidelines for helping orphaned, injured animals this spring in CT

May 7, 2019

With spring in full swing, Connecticut residents can expect to start seeing newborn wildlife across the state in the coming months.

But what should you do if you see a young bird or mammal the seems to be injured or orphaned?

In many cases, human intervention can cause more harm than good, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“It is normal for many animals to leave their young alone for long periods of time, so your help may not be needed,” DEEP said. “In all likelihood, the adult is nearby watching and waiting to return.”

But encountering an animal showing clear signs of distress is a different situation. Then, DEEP suggests calling DEEP or a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator — of which there are currently about 300 in Connecticut.

Howard Kilpatrick, a supervising wildlife biologist fof DEEP’s Wildlife Division said a female deer will only be found with a fawn is during feeding times, which happen three to four times per day for about 15 minutes each feeding. In between those feedings, newborn fawns are often left alone and will instinctively freeze and sit motionless when approached by humans.

“If you come across a fawn, it is best to leave it alone for at least 48 hours to determine whether the adult is returning for feedings,” Kilpatrick said. “While waiting for the doe to return, it is important that both people and dogs stay away from the fawn. A truly orphaned fawn may show signs of distress by walking around aimlessly and calling out for several hours.”

Connecticut residents might also encounter fox kits, especially if a fox has created a den near residential property.

The den is no cause for alarm, DEEP said. Foxes only use the den for a short period of time and it’s not unusual for them to be out and about during the day.

“As cute as fox kits are, it is critical to not feed them or initiate contact so they do not lose their fear of humans,” DEEP said. “Instead, they should be left alone.”

Since both parents raise the young, kits have both parents able to look out for them, making it less likely for them to be orphaned. However, any sick or injured foxes should be reported to local animal control and police or the DEEP Environmental Conservation Police at 860-424-3333.

Another animal residents might see hopping around are baby rabbits. Although these are one of the wild animals rescued most often, DEEP said, they often don’t need human help.

Mother rabbits will only be found at the nest to feed their young twice a day for about five minutes each feeding. Typically these feedings will happen at dawn and dusk. Often rabbits will nest in the middle of a backyard or open area to keep an eye out for predators.

Baby rabbits are typically in the nest for two to three weeks before they become independent.

If a nest is disturbed, residents should return the babies to the nest and re-cover them unless they are injured or seem to show signs of distress, like being cold. A small rabbit that looks alert likely does not need help, according to DEEP. But any rabbit bitten or scratched by a cat should be taken to a wildlife rehabilitator.

Then, of course, there are baby birds.

Young birds typically start fluttering around in June and July. By that point, most birds are old enough to leave the nest and just aren’t fully-developed, efficient fliers yet.

If a resident finds a fully-feathered, young bird with a short tail unable to fly, DEEP said it’s best to leave the bird where it was found since the adult birds are likely still caring for it. DEEP asks people to ensure their pets are kept away from birds.

If a young bird is seen on the ground without feathers, DEEP said, residents should look around for a nest. If the nest is nearby and the bird feels warm to the touch, safely put the bird back into its nest. If the next is fallen to the ground, residents can make a new one out of a wicker basket and some dry grass.

Most birds have a poor sense of smell and will not be scared off by the scent of humans. But residents should keep an eye on the nest for at least an hour to ensure an adult bird returns to feed the baby.

Finding animals

Anyone who spots an injured or definitely orphaned animal should avoid direct contact with the animal and keep pets and children at a distance. DEEP said it’s best to put on heavy gloves to pick the animal up and put it in a cardboard box or escape-proof container.

The animal should be kept in a warm, quiet place while residents contact an authorized wildlife rehabilitator who can take in the animal.

“Connecticut’s authorized wildlife rehabilitators care for more than 11,000 animals each year,” said DEEP Wildlife Division biologist Laurie Fortin. “Most of these are young wild animals that were brought in by well-intentioned individuals. However, many did not need to be rescued.”

Keeping wild animals as pets is strongly discouraged by DEEP. In some cases, it may be illegal; and when it is legal, the owner is subject to state and federal regulations.

Raising wild birds and mammals for successful return to the wild requires knowledge of correct feeding formulas, countless hours of care and appropriate outdoor caging areas as needed — all knowledge that rehabilitators possess that the average resident might not.

“Although it may be natural to want to assist young animals, caring for them may actually do more harm than good,” Fortin said.

Any improper care to wild animals can result in undernourished and underweight animals, or animals that can no longer be released back into the wild because they’ve grown too accustomed to people.

“It may be dangerous too, as direct contact may result in exposure to rabies or other diseases carried by wildlife,” Fortin said. “Be aware that even young mammals can carry and transfer the rabies virus in their saliva. Handling a potential rabies carrier, such as a baby raccoon, without proper precautions may require that the animal be euthanized for rabies testing.”

Connecticut has about 300 authorized volunteer wildlife rehabilitators with the skills and required training to care for sick, injured and orphaned wildlife.

To look up rehabilitators in the area, go to www.ct.gov/deep/wildlifeproblems and choose “dealing with distressed wildlife.”

To get in touch with the DEEP Wildlife Division, call 860-424-3011 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The DEEP emergency dispatch center can be reached after-hours and on weekends at 860-424-3333.

Anyone interested in becoming a wildlife rehabilitators can visit the DEEP website at www.ct.gov/deep/wildlifeproblems and select “how to become a wildlife rehabilitator.”

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