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How To Properly Help Certain Wildlife

Special to the Metro

We are in one of the best times of year for wildlife; baby animals can be frequently observed while out enjoying nature, reptiles (lizards and snakes), and amphibians (frogs and salamanders) are on the move and active! However, many well intentioned animal lovers may unknowingly harm these animals by handling them or moving them. Most of the time, a baby animal, such as a fawn found in the woods, does not need our help as the mother is often nearby.  Young wildlife is rarely, truly abandoned.

Don’t kidnap that fawn! If you find a fawn alone in the woods, a ditch, or even on the side of the road, mom is most likely nearby. With their spotted coat as camouflage, fawns naturally lie very still in an attempt to avoid discovery. Mothers leave their fawns alone for most of the day in an effort to not draw the attention of predators. In fact, as well meaning as you may be, you as a human, are a predator. Unless you know for certain the mother is dead, leave the fawn alone.  She will return to the fawn when the danger (you and other predators) is gone.

Many rabbits make their nests in small depressions in the grass. These depressions are often lined with a bit of fur and may, or may not be, covered with grass. If the nest appears to have been disturbed, you can lightly cover the nest with surrounding grass and leaves.  As with deer does, rabbit moms only return to the nest to feed them, usually at dawn and dusk. Unfortunately, wild rabbits have a very high mortality rate when hand raised. They have a much better chance of survival left in the wild. A rabbit that is greater than four inches long, with open eyes, is already independent of its mother and should be left alone. There is also a similar rule for Opossum babies; if they are over six inches long, excluding the tail, they are no longer nursing and on their own.

Baby squirrels are most often encountered by humans after a storm blows its nest out of a tree. Squirrels and raccoon mothers will typically retrieve their baby from the ground and move it to a new, safe nest once the danger (you and other predators) has cleared. Squirrels and raccoons often maintain more than one nest, so don’t worry, they probably aren’t homeless. It is always best to leave the baby squirrel alone, but if you are worried about leaving it exposed you can put it in a cardboard box at the base of the nearest tree. The large, leafy nest can often be seen high up in the tree. Raccoon moms are similar, and never leave babies alone for more than a few hours. When moms don’t return within the expected time period, or the animal is injured, it is time to call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

If a baby bird has skin visible or only fluffy feathers, the bird has probably fallen from its nest and, if it can be done safely, should be placed back into the nest. If the nest is destroyed or out of reach, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or a wildlife biologist from GDNR for advice on how to make a makeshift nest so the parents can still access the baby. Watch from a distance to see if the parents come back to feed it. Don’t worry about leaving your scent on the baby; it is a myth that birds will abandon their babies if you touch them. Would you ditch your kid just because they smelled funny? Fledglings, however, can be trickier. These birds are partially feathered, learning to fly, and are usually found on the ground. It is normal for them to jump out of the nest while learning how to fly. These birds should be left alone as the mother bird will continue feeding it even on the ground!

Snakes are an important part of our ecosystem and help keep rodents and insects populations under control. They are especially helpful around our gardens. Many gardeners love the great job snakes do at pest control, but are unaware that loosely secured garden netting can pose a serious danger to snakes as they can get caught in it and die. Birds, frogs, and toads can also get caught up in this netting. Consider researching safer netting alternatives.

Between breeding, nesting, and hatching, turtles and gopher tortoises are very active in the summer months. This means we often encounter turtles on the road. These turtles are on a mission and know where they are going! Help them out by moving them safely to the side of the road in the direction they were headed. Even though the habitat might not look good to you, they know where they are going. It is illegal to relocate wildlife, and is often more dangerous to the animals. A relocated turtle or tortoise may spend its entire life trying to get back to where you took them from. This puts them in more danger from predators, and vehicles. In addition, there are some terrible diseases that, while not dangerous to humans, can decimate turtle populations if a sick animal is introduced into an otherwise healthy population. Always be aware of your own safety when helping turtles cross the street!

 Don’t ever attempt to treat wildlife yourself. Not only is it illegal, it’s possible you will do more harm than good. According to the Georgia Wildlife Rescue Association, 75% of the calls that they receive during the spring and summer are regarding animals that should have been left alone. There are many ways to make an impact in an animal’s life that don’t involve taking it from the wild. Consider volunteering at the Zoo, participating in conservation efforts, attending Chehaw’s Conservation Lecture Series, or even just sharing this article with a friend.

More information can be found at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division,, Georgia Wildlife Rescue Association or 229-546-7143, National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, or by contacting Chehaw at or 229.430.5275