Part of our responsibility to take care of creation is to make sure we know how to handle things when our lives intersect with the wild critters. You need to know what, if anything you should do to protect them and yourself. Especially when children, dogs, and cats often present families with an unplanned wild animal “gift” that must be dealt with.
It is so easy to notice the grass turning green and the bright colors of the flowers and trees in the spring. Colors are everywhere! But what is not often noticed by many city dwellers are all the babies being born! Most wild animals give birth in the early spring through late fall and they are everywhere whether you see them or not!
Some basics. Do not feed any young wild animals around your home. Milk is species-specific and giving a wild mammal cow or goat milk will make them sick. God gave the animal moms resources to take care of their young. They don’t always do it in the way we see as attentive or caring, but they are very successful if humans don’t interfere.
Rabbits by far are the most prolific in urban areas. They are numerous because as unpleasant as it seems, they are food for many predators. A mother rabbit can give birth several times a year, averaging five babies each time. They dig a depression in the ground and usually pull the hair out from their chest or bellies to line the nest. Rabbits are not attentive moms. They visit the nest around dawn and again around dusk and feed the litter. That is the extent of their mothering. If a nest is discovered, leave it alone and keep pets, children, and lawnmowers away. Once the young have all their fur and their eyes are open, they leave the nest and are considered adults. Don’t kidnap them, or any healthy animal in an attempt to help!
An injured bunny should go in a cardboard box with air holes. They don’t bite and aren’t known to carry rabies. Add a jar lid of water and some grass and take it to the nearest nature center.
Squirrels are similar but their nests are in trees. If one gets blown out of a tree in a storm with babies, replace it in the tree and keep an eye on it. An injured squirrel will bite so always handle them with thick gloves. Place in a box as with the rabbits and take to a nature center.
One important note about squirrels. They can be pests, eating plants, and even chewing on houses. They are also territorial, so trapping them and moving them to a different area does not work. The animal moved will not survive well in an area foreign to it and a new squirrel will move into your garden to take its place. The only really effective way to protect plants is to cover them with squirrel-proof barriers.
Birds are similar as far as putting the nest back in a tree after a storm. Birds can’t smell so the mom will continue to care for the nest, even if it smells like you. Some birds will give you a nasty peck, so gloves are advised if you find an injured one. They should be placed in a brown paper bag to transport. No water or food is necessary. Clip the top shut and take it to a nature center. You may find fully feathered babies on the ground that appear to be struggling. They are usually fledglings that mom has decided are old enough to fly. Leave them alone, keep everyone away from them and check on them in an hour or two. Most likely they will be gone.
Large raptors, such as hawks and owls, must be treated with the utmost respect. They can inflict nasty wounds with their beak and talons even when injured. Plus damaging their flight feathers while trying to catch one can mean they will never be released. Call for help if you find one on the ground. If it must immediately be moved from danger, throw a blanket over it and using heavy gloves, put it in a box and get it to a wildlife center.
Deer are very dangerous to approach. If one is injured, always call for help. Their hooves can inflict a nasty wound if they lash out. Mother deer leave their babies in a relatively secluded place in the mornings and go off to feed. They come back in the evening to move the fawns. The fawns have not been abandoned and should not be disturbed. If you think a mother has been killed, watch the fawn for at least 24 hours. If it doesn’t move from the spot in that time, immediately get help for it.
Raccoons are considered a “rabies vector” meaning they often carry the rabies virus. They can also spread feline and canine distemper. Never handle a raccoon of any age. If you find an injured raccoon, place a box over it if it is safe to do so and call the authorities. Never leave cat food or dog food outside for them to eat. Attracting raccoons in this way can spread disease. If you end up with raccoons in your attic (a popular place for them), place a bright floodlight and radio in the space. They are nocturnal animals and will leave for a dark, quiet place. Once they have vacated, find their entry hole and plug it up.
Notice that I advise you to take animals to a nature center, and not an animal hospital. Most veterinarians are not licensed to care for wildlife and won’t treat them. If you must call for help with a wild animal, call your local animal control, or call your nearest Nature Center or State Conservation Agent.
For more information or to volunteer to help wildlife as a rehabber, take a look at the following websites. We’ve included some useful phone numbers too.
- Kansas Department of Agriculture – Division of Conservation (ks.gov) — (785) 564-6620
- Missouri Department of Conservation Nature Centers
- Missouri Department of Conservation (mo.gov) — Visit this page for your local MDC contacts. Local MDC Contacts
- Wildlife Rehabilitation in Kansas | Operation Wildlife — (913) 631-6566