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If you come across an injured or seemingly orphaned bird, fawn or other critter in the forest, your first instinct may be to take the animal to a veterinary clinic or a wildlife rehabilitation center.
Think again, says Dr. Peregrine Wolff, DVM, a vet with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
“In most cases, it's advised that you leave them alone because nobody does a better job of raising and caring for their young than their moms,” says Dr. Wolff. “And if you have dogs or children with you, please keep them under control, and give the creature a wide berth.”
For wildlife with serious injuries, it's best to contact your state wildlife department or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to come to the scene.
Vetstreet asked Dr. Wolff to offer her top tips on what to do in these three common scenarios:
You may feel the urge to get close to the fawn — kids and dogs in tow — but you should resist the temptation.
“Fawns are usually parked close to their moms at all times, but the mother may be hiding nearby and not visible to people,” says Dr. Wolff. “The worst thing that you can do is move the fawn and place the animal in the middle of your backyard, expecting his parents to come and get him. Instead, back away because the mother will not approach until she feels safe."
If the fawn is injured, Dr. Wolff says that the mother will come back periodically to nurse, and clean him up to remove any trace of scent that could alert predators. Her ultimate advice: Leave an injured fawn alone, and call wildlife officials to come to his aid.
She also cautions people to be wary of male deer. “They're not usually that fearful of people during mating season — and can attack you,” says Dr. Wolff.
Fledglings can fall out of a nest when they're learning how to master flying. If you come across a baby bird on the ground, carefully move him to a shrub or place him back in the nest to protect him from predators.
“Falling out of the nest is a normal part of growing up for baby birds,” says Dr. Wolff. “Most birds do not have a sense of smell, so it is a misconception that the mother bird will not tend to her fledgling if it has been touched by human hands. The only ones with a sense of smell are vultures, who pick up on the scent of rotting meat.”
Dr. Wolff adds that feathered parents are usually not too far from the scene — and will be watching what you are doing. “They won’t go over to tend to their baby while you're there because they don’t want to attract the attention of predators,” she explains.
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