Wild Baby Season

Get expert help with wildlife rescues…

Here at the start of wild baby season, rehabilitators across Ontario will be preparing for the annual influx of rescued bunnies, birds, raccoons and squirrels. For the sake of the animals and the overworked folks who run our few wildlife centres, I hope the rescue efforts aren’t misguided.

When I volunteered at a wildlife rehab centre in Toronto years ago, the tiny facility was crammed to the ceiling with baby songbirds, grumpy half-grown squirrels and adorable raccoon kits “rescued” from cottage-country fields and dumped on our very urban doorstep. Survival rates weren’t great, especially after a distemper outbreak and I suspect many of them would have been better off left where they were. For the most part, nobody nurtures babies better than their mothers.

If a bird or animal is not obviously injured or sick, take some time to observe before deciding it needs rescuing. Fledgling birds are just learning to fly and their initial fluttering efforts to get off the ground can make them look in need of help. Most likely Mum is nearby to assist if needed, although she won’t be able to do much if someone stuffs Baby in a box.

Baby bunnies and raccoon kits are often falsely suspected of being orphaned because the mothers are absent for long periods. This is natural for both species. For example, rabbits usually only return to the nest twice in a day to feed their young.

Of course, there are times when nature does need a helping hand, so don’t let me put you off being a Good Samaritan. Injured and sick wildlife can be healed and returned to their natural habitats. To give them the best chance of survival, follow a few basic rules.

If possible, the first step should be to contact an expert. For Quinte residents, the closest rehabilitation facility of any size is Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre in Napanee. The Centre’s website provides helpful information, but don’t send emails if you have an emergency, instead, call (613) 354-0264.

When immediate action is required, collect the injured animal into a sturdy box with appropriately sized airholes. Be extremely careful with any animal that could bite as rabies transmission is a real concern with certain species, including, but not limited to skunks, bats and raccoons. Provide a source of heat, such as a hot water bottle, secured to the box to stop it from rolling around. Water can usually be offered safely, but unless an expert has advised otherwise, do not give any food including milk. Always wash your hands after contact with a wild animal.

Now find an expert to do the rest. It is illegal to be in possession of wild animals except for the purpose of transporting them for care by an authorized custodian or veterinarian. Even vets have to be specially certified to rehabilitate wildlife.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital, Trenton
April 2012