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Helping "Orphaned" Wildlife

May 17, 2011

robin feeding young in nest

An e-mailer this morning wanted to know how to help a young mourning dove still in a nest on a limb that had fallen from a tree in her backyard. She was concerned that the nest was now only 3 feet off the ground and the nestling might be killed by the neighborhood’s feral cats or by native predators. May is the month in Missouri when "orphaned" wildlife are most likely to be encountered. Baby rabbits that should still be in their shallow, hidden ground nests are sometimes disturbed by dogs or other digging animals. Box turtles crossing roadways are subject to being hit by motorists who don’t see them or can’t safely dodge them. Deer fawns may appear to be abandoned because their instinct is to not move when potential danger approaches, even when their mother runs away.

young raccoon

It is usually not practical or desirable for common wildlife species to be captured by humans and raised for later release into the wild. In most cases, it is illegal to keep wildlife in captivity and it usually leads to animals that are ill-equipped for life in the wild. They lack the survival skills that should have been taught to them by their parents and often they don’t survive the stresses of captivity. While it may make us feel better, we are usually not doing wild animals any favor by intervening in the natural cycle of birth, reproduction and death.

box turtle on roadway

We can assist local wildlife by not introducing non-native predators to the landscape, such as free-ranging dogs and housecats. By keeping pets confined, especially during the spring, we can greatly improve the odds of successful reproduction by local wildlife, especially ground-nesting animals. We can watch for turtles on the roadways and avoid them when that can be done safely for us and other motorists. Having an understanding of the role in nature of predators and scavengers can help blunt the sadness for the inevitable young animals that don’t survive.

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