Think twice before rescuing baby wild animals

A mild winter and early spring have moved up baby animal season by about a month, and wild babies are already showing up at animal rescues, according to Claudia Supensky, who runs For Heaven’s Sake Rescue and Rehabilitation in Thurston County.

“We have a lot of squirrels, rabbits and opossums already,” Supensky said. They also have two baby barn owls. No fawns yet, but once deer begin giving birth, the rescue could get as many as 30.

For Heaven’s Sake helped 1,350 animals last year.

“We’re pretty much the place for deer in western Washington, “ she said.

And while For Heaven’s Sake and other rescue centers are happy to help injured and sick wildlife, this is the time of year when well-meaning people bring in baby animals that would have been better off left in the wild.

“Unless there’s a dead mother nearby, it’s almost always better to leave the babies alone,” Supensky said.

That’s also the advice of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which says that leaving a baby animal alone is its best chance for survival.

“Unless the animal is showing obvious signs of illness or injury such as bleeding, vomiting, panting, shivering, lethargy, ruffled feathers or fur, attack by cat/dog, leave them there, “ the state Department of Fish and Wildlife advises on its website.

It’s a myth that mothers abandon their babies, Supensky said. Most babies — from fawn to bunnies — are left for long periods while the parent eats or gathers food. Mother deer will bed down away from their fawn.

If possible, watch the baby for 12 hours to see if a mother returns. Or, call a rescue, which may be able to send someone out to observe the baby.

It’s also a myth that mothers won’t come back and take care of their babies if the babies have been touched by humans, Supensky said. For instance, the best action for nestlings is to return them to the nest.

And that big baby bird sitting on the ground looking lost? It’s waiting for its parents to come feed it on the ground, which is normal, Supensky said.

People who are tempted to raise an orphaned wild animal as a pet, be warned: It’s illegal.

Michelle Tirhi, a state wildlife biologist in Thurston and Pierce counties, said animals that become habituated to humans don’t have the skills to survive.

“Most people get excited about a baby animal,” Tirhi said, “and then they get bored or don’t have to ability to keep it. And now, being around humans has altered the animal’s behavior.”

That gets the animals in trouble, Supensky said. For Heaven’s Sake has several adult deer that were raised by people and can’t be released into the wild. They serve as adult surrogates for the fawns that come in every spring.

Deer imprint really quickly, Supensky said, so if a fawn is truly orphaned or injured, it needs to be brought to a rescue right away, before it imprints on people. At For Heaven’s Sake, tarps cover the fences of the deer enclosure, so they see humans as little as possible.

The 8-acre farm on Case Road in south Thurston County has housing that is customized by species. The aim is to release the animals back into the wild. The few who can’t may become educational animals, which requires a special permit.

Raptors — large birds who hunt live prey — present special challenges when raised from nestlings. They are the specialty of Stephanie Estrella of Raindancer Wild Bird Rescue in Olympia.

“The biggest challenge is to get them to practice hunting,” she said. The birds are put into a flight cage with live prey in a stock tank. As the birds become more capable, the prey’s environment is made more complex.

While spring is baby season, injured animals can come in at any time of year. Last week, For Heaven’s Sake had a red-tailed hawk with a head injury and a mature female bald eagle with a badly broken wing come in within a few hours of each other.

The hawk was checked out and placed in an incubator to see if it would recover.

The eagle was hit by a logging truck and got caught in the mirror. It was examined, X-rayed and placed in a carrier while waiting to see if surgery was an option or if the rescue would need to get permission to euthanize the bird.

The broken wing was determined to be a candidate for surgery, which is scheduled for Wednesday. The rescue is asking for donations to help cover the costs.