Baby Wildlife: Look but don’t touch

Young animals may look in need of help, but leaving them alone is the best course of action.

If you stumble upon a young animal outdoors, your instinct may be to save it. But by placing your hands on it or especially by removing it from its natural environment, you are likely causing more harm than good. Babies are often left unattended while their mother feeds. Even if they have strayed, she’s likely to find them. It’s best to leave young wildlife alone.

Young wildlife is rarely abandoned. The mother is most likely nearby. It can take a day or more for her to return, but chances are she will. Now, of course, there are situations where she won’t. Perhaps the mother has been injured or killed and you are aware of it. Like a vehicle collision. The best thing you can do in this situation is call your local game warden or conservation agent.

My mother’s father was a conservation agent in Northwest Indiana back in the 1960s. I have a number of old photos of my mother and aunt playing with raccoons, possums and other critters. She said her father would be called to collect and remove the animals from perilous situations. But they never stayed more than a day, as he would take them to a natural area and release them back into the wild. Mom says she would cry, begging her dad to let her keep one, but he’d tell her those animals belong outdoors, in the woods where they can be wild.

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Disney and other productions have humanized wildlife over the years, making many believe wild animals are all tame little, cuddly creatures. That’s not usually the case. Most have teeth and claws, and food doesn’t come easy. They need to be left to develop the necessary skills to feed and fend for themselves.

Here are some rules of thumb from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission regarding wildlife babies:

BIRDS: Young non-feathered birds and nests with eggs discovered on the ground should be placed back in the tree. Baby birds covered in feathers found on the ground are being tended to by their parents; leave them alone.

DEER: A lone fawn may appear to be abandoned or injured, but the mother frequently is off feeding or drinking. Do not move it. The longer the fawn is separated from its mother, the slimmer the chance it will be reunited with her. Know it is normal for a doe to leave its fawn to keep it from being detected by predators. Predators can see the doe as it feeds, so she leaves the fawn hidden and leaves the area to draw attention away from the fawn’s location.

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RABBITS: Baby rabbits are left unattended through much of the day and night. Mother cottontails do this to prevent drawing predators to the nest. If you see the rabbits, leave them alone.

Wildlife should not be raised as pets. These wild creatures belong in nature where they can act and behave the way they were intended to. Keeping them to raise in captivity is a bad plan. They will mature and behave like wild animals. If you then return them to the wild, they likely won’t survive. If that’s not enough to convince you to leave wildlife in the wild, then remember, most wildlife is protected by state or federal law so it is illegal to possess them.

See you down the trail…

For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on or anywhere podcasts are streamed.

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Brandon Butler is a syndicated outdoor newspaper columnist and freelance magazine writer. His column, Driftwood Outdoors, has appeared in over 50 different newspapers and magazines, and currently runs in over 30 publications. He has won many awards for his outdoor communication work.

Butler has established himself as a conservation and outdoor media leader of his generation. He is currently Director of Communications for Roeslein Alternative Energy, a renewable natural gas company dedicated to conservation. He spent five years as the executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. He created and taught Conservation Communications at the University of Missouri.

Butler is actively involved in conservation organizations. He is a life member of CFM, NRA, Boone & Crockett Club, Trout Unlimited, Fly Fishers International and Missouri Hunting Heritage Federation. He holds a B.S. in Organizational Leadership from Purdue University, a M.A. in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University and is currently completing an Executive M.B.A. at the University of Missouri.

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Brandon Butler
Long-time outdoor writer and native Hoosier Brandon Butler lives in Missouri and serves as the Executive Director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. Previously, he worked with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources as Governor Mitch Daniels’ liaison to the department, Director of Sales and Marketing for Dominator365 and as the Marketing Manager Battenfeld Technologies, Inc.


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