Opinion

Orphaned animals are common this time of year | Island Wildlife | May 6

Last week I was sitting at my desk when a woman came to the door. She seemed a little anxious as she said, “I found a baby. I’m not sure if it’s a puppy or a fox. Can you help me identify it?”

I was surprised to learn that she actually had the animal in her car. In a flash, I was out the door. Indeed, she had a tiny baby fox in the back seat of her car. I took the animal into our wildlife hospital, where our staff set to work examining the fox.

He was clearly malnourished and dehydrated, so we had confidence that he was actually orphaned and not kidnapped.

Baby animal season is upon us. As spring comes, nature’s fecundity takes hold. You might not be lucky enough to see them, but the babies are all around us. Baby raccoons, barn owls, opossums, squirrels, pigeons, ducks, and a baby fox – we’ve had all of these babies arrive at our door this year.

Over the next month or so, we expect to also receive baby eagles, rabbits, owls, deer fawns, and baby birds of all shapes and sizes. It’s a joyful time in the wildlife hospital. It’s also a tremendously busy time that requires scores of dedicated volunteers working shifts from dawn to dusk.

Imagine holding a warm little raccoon baby as it suckles from a bottle. Her eyes aren’t open yet, but her little paws grip the bottle, just like they would grip her mother, as she hungrily sucks down her special formula. She starts purring as her little belly fills with the warm sustenance.

Or imagine a quartet of baby Stellar’s jays. Their eyes are still closed, and they have no feathers. They’re tiny pink bundles of life. As you open the lid to their container, a chorus of discordant chirping erupts as their heads snap up, beaks agape, begging for their crickets or mealworms.

The job does have its hazards. Most baby mammals have very sharp teeth and can easily mistake your finger for a nipple. Also, they don’t appreciate the cleaning that happens after the feeding.

The baby fox in particular does not like having his belly sponged off after he somehow gets half of his formula all over himself. Those little claws are sharp.

The sponging serves the dual purpose of stimulating him to pee. Bunnies have a particular penchant for peeing on you as you feed them.

Nevertheless, these innocent youngsters are worth all of the effort – the endless feedings, the bites, the scratches, the peeing.  It’s not their fault that their mothers were killed by dogs or cats or hit by cars.

Although our staff and volunteers receive immense satisfaction from saving their lives and watching them grow into capable juveniles, we work hard to keep them wild. They need to leave our facility feeling no affinity for us.

If you find a baby animal in the wild, please don’t assume it’s orphaned and pick it up.

If it’s a baby bird on the ground, see if you can find its nest and put it back in. If you can’t find a nest, call us. If you find a deer fawn or other baby mammal, step away from it and monitor it.

Most likely its mother is nearby, probably watching you. Some baby mammals are left alone for 10 or more hours during the day while their mother is out hunting or feeding. If you are concerned about the baby, call us.

On the other hand, if you see baby animals in the road, stop and immediately bring them to us. Or stop and call us.  We’ve received a remarkable number of reports this year of people running over baby animals rather than stopping to help them.

This baby fox wasn’t found in a road. He was found in a ditch, barking and yelping for his mother. We don’t know what happened to this baby fox or his mother, but I’m very happy to report that he’s doing fine.

We knew he’d recovered after he started ripping the nipples off of bottles. He’s now moved outside and is self-feeding. No more nipples for you, Mr. Little Fox.

Kol Medina is executive director of the West Sound Wildlife Center.

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