Our communities are alive with invigorating signs of spring – blooming flowers, fresh-cut grass, and a new brood of cute baby animals joining the world.
It’s only natural for animal-lovers to want to help and protect the cute little bunnies, fledgling songbirds, or fawns that seem to be endangered by the absence of their mamas. But that natural, compassionate urge is often misguided, said Kathy Stelford, president of Oaken Acres Wildlife Center, a 33-acre wildlife rescue facility northwest of Sycamore.
Stelford, who founded Oaken Acres in 1984, says that in recent years the nonprofit animal rescue facility has cared for about 500 orphaned animals each summer. Of those, about 100 probably didn’t need to be rescued.
Although a human mother would never dream of leaving a newborn on its own for hours at a time, that’s common in the animal world. Does will leave their fawns for eight hours at a time before returning to check on them. Mother rabbits will often be gone from their nests during the daylight hours, only returning from dusk to dawn to feed their babies.
And those defenseless fledgling birds that seem to have fallen out of their nest before they’re capable of flying into the trees often are being watched by a mother bird who is ready to take them somewhere safe and feed them.
“Wild mothers are extremely good, responsible mothers,” Stelford said. “It almost has to be their death that keeps them from caring for their babies, or it has to be impossible for them to get [to them].”
It’s not true that a mother bird will not care for her babies if they’ve been handled by humans. Stelford recommends putting them back in their nest if possible.
A nest of bunnies that might be vulnerable to a pet dog or cat, or curious children, can be covered by a laundry basket during daylight hours, and left uncovered before nightfall when mama is likely to visit.
A doe will keep looking for her fawn for two to three days before giving up, so the babies should not be moved, or if they are, they should be replaced quickly.
Oaken Acres relies on donations to fund its services, and there’s no need to tax those resources with rescues that don’t need to happen.
Before moving any baby animals you suspect are in need of rescue, it’s best to call an expert. If you need assistance with an injured or orphaned wild animal, call Oaken Acres at 815-895-9666.