Wildlife Babies -Part Two
April 30, 2016
Hopefully you saw Spring Wildlife Babies, Part One, last month, but if you missed it you can read it lower in the blog. This month’s article will focus on wildlife babies that arrive a little later in the spring as well as what is normal behavior for wildlife in general this time of the year.
By May, most of the baby squirrels are already on their own. Squirrels are generally done with breeding until around August when they may have a second litter.
Baby opossums begin venturing out of their mother’s pouch when they are about two months old; at this age they are the size of a mouse. They are still dependent on their mother’s milk at this age, but they begin to learn how to forage and eat natural foods as they travel with their mother. However, they have to hang on to her back or travel in her pouch. If they fall off or cannot keep up with mom they are left behind. If you should happen to find any baby opossums at this size and there is no mom around, they do need help. Unfortunately, mother opossums seldom come back to look for lost babies as they don’t even realize one or more may have gone missing. Baby opossums often make what sounds like a sneezing noise; this is their distress call. Once baby opossums are about the size of your hand (not including their tail) and their ears are mostly black with just a little white crescent on them, they are old enough to be independent (about the size of a pet rat) and they should be left alone.
By late spring, most raccoon kits are eight weeks old or older and have begun exploring outside of their dens with their mothers. They typically remain together as a family group for months, sometimes even until the next spring. However, juveniles do not become fully nocturnal until they are seven to eight months old, so it is not unusual to see them out during daylight hours, exploring while their mom is sleeping somewhere nearby. Nursing mothers will also sometimes venture out during the day in order to find enough food. Simply seeing a raccoon out during the day does not mean they are sick or diseased. As long as they appear to act normally (no stumbling, lethargy, etc.), they should simply be left alone to go on their way.
Raptors (hawks and owls) are typically born anywhere from January through May. Generally, the larger the bird the earlier in the year they are born. By May, many of the early arrivals are beginning to leave their nests. Similar to songbirds, when raptors first leave their nests they cannot fly well yet. They are called “branchers” at this age and sometimes they wind up on the ground inadvertently. As long as they have feathers as opposed to down and they are in a safe location, they should be left alone. Their parents will still attend to them while they learn to fly. If you are not certain whether a baby owl or hawk may need help, please call us for assistance. Sometimes even younger birds that have fallen from nests can be “re-nested” in a large basket so their parents can continue to care for them.
Songbirds are busy nesting in spring and summer, and some birds will even raise two or three broods each season. Hatchling birds have no feathers. Nestling birds have fuzzy down feathers and/or are just beginning to have pin feathers emerge (it looks like they have toothpicks sticking out of them). If either a hatchling or nestling and has fallen from a nest, it does need help. If you can place it back in the nest, that is the best thing to do (it is an old wives’ tale that touching the baby will cause the parents to reject it). If the nest has been destroyed or cannot be located, take a small basket or bowl (like a margarine container), punch some holes in the bottom, and line it with pine needles, leaves, or straw. Tack the nest on the tree closest to where you found the baby and watch for at least a couple of hours to see if the parents come back to feed. Fledgling baby birds are fully feathered and have about one inch of tail feathers. They leave the nest TO learn how to fly, not WHEN they can fly. It is normal for them to hop from branch to branch or even wind up on the ground. The parents will still tend to them while they learn to fly. If they are in danger from domestic pets or not in a safe spot, it is ok to pick them up and place them in a nearby bush or low tree. This is the most dangerous time for baby birds, but they just need a day or two before they can fly quite well. If possible, keep cats indoors if you notice fledgling birds in your area.
Fawns are frequently “rescued” by well-meaning individuals who are convinced they have been orphaned. However, that is seldom the case. Very young fawns have no scent, and when they are under two weeks old they are too small and weak to run from predators, so the doe will bed the fawn down in a safe, quiet spot to keep them safe from predators. In the case of twin or triplet fawns, the doe often beds them all down in separate locations and will move from one to the other checking on them. The doe comes back every few hours to check on her fawn and nurse it. Natural behavior for the fawn in to lay curled up on the ground, most often with their head down, and to be very still. A person can walk right up to the fawn and it will not run. That is normal behavior. Danger signs which may mean a fawn needs help would be if it is cold or wet; it is obviously injured; it has flies all around it; it is lying sprawled on its side; it is being attacked by fire ants; or it is by a doe that has been killed. If none of these signs are present, it is best to leave the fawn alone. You can check every so often to make sure the fawn is still safe if needed. In almost all cases, within one hour after dark the doe has returned and the fawn will have been moved to another location.
Most often simply understanding what is normal behavior for wildlife babies is the best way to keep them safe and not unnecessarily separate them from their mothers. We have more helpful information on this website under the “information” tab. In next month’s column, we will focus on opossums, an often very misunderstood and maligned animal, so be sure to check back in June’s edition. To learn more about what we do and view pictures of many of the animals we assist, please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SavingTexasWildlife.