While the best intentions of people are to care for what appears to be helpless baby animals, it is not necessarily the best option for the animal (if it is not obviously hurt or sick) and most likely is in violation of state and Federal laws regulating possession of game, non-game, and migratory wildlife and birds.
The vast majority of wildlife calls are about baby birds being found on the ground. Most of these are ‘fledglings’, meaning they have grown too big for their nest and need room to move around, flap their wings, and learn to fly. In addition, because their parents built the nest, laid the eggs, and fed the babies for a couple of weeks, predators may be homing in on the nest site by now. If the babies leave the nest and disperse into the surrounding vegetation, they can avoid predators. The parent birds keep track of the babies using certain types of calls. When the baby responds, the adults can bring food to the baby.
If the young birds can hop and flutter about on their own, leave them alone. This principal applies to other animals including deer fawns, baby rabbits, raccoons and opossums. Unless they have been brought to you by your dog or cat, you need to return it near to where it was found and where it won’t be threatened by predators. The exception to this is with birds of prey (hawks, owls, falcons and eagles). Because their nests are so high in trees, hay stacks, buildings, cliffs, etc. it is too dangerous and often impossible to return them safely. Please refer to the agencies listed below for help with these sensitive birds.
A smaller number of birds found are truly nestlings. They are mostly featherless and sometimes the eyes are not yet open. Without immediate help, these birds will probably die. The best thing to be done is to place the chick back in the nest, if there is one and you can safely do so. Look for a nest within a few yards of where you found the bird, and make sure it is the right type of bird nest! (don't put a robin back in a dove nest!) If you can safely replace the nestling, do so as soon as you can.
Nearly everyone has heard the myth that you don’t touch a baby bird or the parents will smell your scent and not return. While completely false, this tale has probably saved countless numbers of birds because people have left them alone. If you must handle a bird or animal, use gloves, towels, blanket, sheet, tarp to protect you and the animal. Place in a padded box or crate that can be closed securely, keep in a warm, quiet place until you can get it to help. Dont try to feed or water the animal, as it could choke or have a reaction to un-natural food items.
If you are in a natural outdoor area such as a park or refuge, it is probably best to leave everything alone. Most wild animals and birds are not 100 percent successful in raising a brood each year, especially first-time parents. Predators often raid nests and dens before the eggs hatch or while babies are still helpless. Broods fail because the parents did not properly build the nest or den, or they placed it in an unprotected location. This is why birds usually lay more than one egg, to ensure survival of at least one young from hatch to fledge.
What can you do for baby animals found near your home, along a road, or in danger of being harmed? Most parks, refuges, shelters and agencies in our area are not set up to be full-time wildlife baby sitters. And, it is illegal to keep wildlife in your possession. Your first call should be to the state wildlife agency. They will help you make the right contact for wildlife help.
Who to contact
Contact Nevada Dept. of Wildlife (NDOW) in Churchill County: call 775-423-3171, or 775-741-6809 if after hours. Outside of Churchill County, contact the NDOW office in Reno at 775-688-1500.
Is the animal already injured or sick, parents are missing or dead, or you can’t find where to return them? In Northern Nevada there are two licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators:
Wild Animal Infirmary for Nevada (WAIF) at 755-849-0345; website: http://waifnv.org/
Dayton Valley Wildlife Rest Stop at 775-883-8658; website: http://www.daytonvalleywildlifereststop.com/
Wildlife Rehabilitators have the proper equipment, facilities and training dedicated to the care of orphan, injured, and sick wildlife including birds of prey and mammals. Animal shelters may take in young healthy animals if no other alternatives exist, but they will call the rehabilitators as well. If the animal is obviously injured, bleeding, unable to move, swim, walk or eat and drink, then you could call a local vet that has an exotic animal specialist, such as Klaich Animal Hospital in Reno, at 775-826-1212. Some vets may charge for their services; Re-habbers can’t because they are nonprofit groups run by volunteers. If you'd like to give back, consider a donation or offer your volunteer help to these vital animal care-givers.
Drivers are also reminded to be more bird aware on country and even some busy city roads this time of year as families of birds with young that are not able to fly (Valley Quail, Ducks and Geese are most common) often cross roads in the mornings and evenings when traffic is heaviest. Usually one parent bird stands in the middle of the road and signals the young to follow, then the other parent bird brings up any stragglers lagging behind.
These family groups can behave erratically, and may make several attempts to get across the road. If a bird is in the road not willing to move, or keeps running back and forth to the side, slow down and look for the larger brood waiting to cross. Give them space and they usually complete their journey in less than a minute. If one of the parent birds are hit, injured or killed, the young can survive with the remaining parent. The exception to this is with wild ducks, where only the hen cares for the young; if the hen is killed and the young ducklings can be rounded up safely, get them to a rehabber as quickly as possible.
Remember, the best thing you can do for the birds is to not interfere with Mother Nature; she will take care of them. Explain to children not to touch young wildlife, and if your children bring you a baby bird or other young wildlife, help them take it back to where they found it or contact one of the sources mentioned in this article.