“Oh my gosh! I just found an ‘orphaned’ baby bird sitting on the front porch. What do I do?”
“There’s an ‘abandoned’ fawn in my hostas! What do I do?”
“Oh, the poor baby bunnies, they have no mom. What do I do?”
We get these type comments all the time at Winding Pathways. The short answer is: Do Nothing!
This summer millions of Americans will discover baby birds, fawns, bunnies, and a host of other seemingly helpless newborn animals in their yards and face the dilemma of “What do I do?”. Usually the baby is all alone with no mother in sight. It’s easy to assume the poor baby’s mother suffered a tragic fate and that the baby is doomed to an early death unless people “help” it.
We’ve often found baby bunnies and birds at Winding Pathways and we know the best way to help it is to leave them alone. A cottontail nest we found last spring is a good example.
Cottontail mothers bear their young in a small hole they dig in the ground, frequently at the edge of a lawn or near a shrub. Mom knows that predators ranging from house cats to owls would love to dine on her babies, so she’s developed a sensible strategy to protect them. She stays away except for twice-a-day feedings.
If you see a cottontail sitting quietly on a spring or summer lawn there are good odds she’s above her nestlings and they’re enjoying breakfast or dinner of her rich milk. Stay away and keep your pets inside so she can complete her job. Other than at feeding time she stays away so predators don’t spot her and find the nest.
There’s a common misconception that if a human touches a baby fawn or bird it will be rejected by its mother. Not true! Maternal instinct is stronger than fear of people and many videos have shown fawns touched by people quickly reunited with their mothers. Birds have little or no sense of smell so can’t detect human scent. Still it’s not a good idea to touch a baby. The baby is likely a fledgling and learning to fly.
Many baby birds go through a growth phase we call “branchers”. Babies quickly outgrow space in the nest. When it’s too crowded they hop out and sit on a nearby branch, or a front porch, or a driveway. With the parent not visible it’s easy to assume the baby is orphaned or abandoned, but that’s hardly ever the case. It’s normal for parent birds to feed their young after they’ve left the nest, so mom and dad are probably out foraging and will return soon. The babies need energy and may be resting and waiting for a snack, so, again, keep pets and kids inside and stay away. Occasionally, placing the baby on a low branch may be appropriate in areas where there are lots of activity and the baby would be at risk of getting stepped on. Otherwise, leave the babies alone.
The best way to help wildlife babies is to stay away and quietly enjoy watching them from a distance. It’s likely you’ll soon see the parent or parents caring for its young.