By Eileen Persike
A big part of Wildlife Biologist Jeremy Holtz’s job at the Department of Natural Resources every spring is fielding phone calls from citizens asking what to do next. They’ve found a young animal in the woods or the yard, and they are fairly sure it’s been abandoned.
This is the time of year, when young are born, that the DNR reminds residents of its Keep Wildlife Wild campaign. Secretary Cathy Stepp introduced the multi-agency partnership in 2014 to help citizens know to how best help their wildlife neighbors. Holtz says it’s pretty common sense advice, leave the animals alone until your know they are truly abandoned.
“We had that wind storm recently that may have blown a nest out of a tree,” Holtz cited as an example. “That’s an event that we know happened. In those cases, you can put the nest back up in the tree, or put it in a box close by and the mom will still take care of bird, if she is still around.”
Sometimes, humans fear touching baby birds that have fallen from a nest because of a wives tale that says the mother bird will not care for its young once it’s touched by a human. Holtz said that is not the case – and sometimes due to natural selection, the weakest or sickest gets pushed from the nest by its siblings and it’s not going to make it anyway.
The most prevalent phone calls in the Northwoods are concerning baby bunnies and fawns, which can be commonly spotted alone. That’s because the mom leaves them and goes elsewhere to feed, to keep her scent away from the young.
“That’s part of the plan,” Holtz said. “It may look like they are alone, but she will come back and take care of them.”
Bear cubs that appear to be alone are another animal that humans are drawn to.
“Mama bear, when she senses a threat, makes a sound that tells her cubs to climb the nearest tree then she’ll take off and try to lure the trouble away,” Holtz explained. “Those young cubs will stay up in the tree for a long time, maybe a day or longer. When it’s safe, mom will come back and bring them down.”
If it’s been a couple of days and they are still up there, calling out and making distress sounds, then, Holtz says, it’s time to take the next step and call a wildlife rehabilitator like Wild Instincts because “they have the special tools they need to get them down safely.”
The reality is that animals know their parent’s voice and they have their distress calls, which can sound pretty funny to the non-wildlife world.
“Possums, when they get separated from their mom, they make this repetitive sneezing sound so she can find them,” according to Holtz. “They have these mechanisms if they get separated they know how to get back together. All of them, baby turkeys, baby ducks, they are taught to hide and mom will try to lure you away and then go back and get them.”
Remember that a young wild animal’s best chance for survival is with its mother. “Pretty much always when people call me with a concern about an animal,” Holtz said, “the situation resolves itself.”