MDC urges public to leave wildlife wild this spring

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As you head outdoors this spring to enjoy the warmer weather, it’s likely you’ll encounter a variety of newborn animals. Young wildlife can pull on our heartstrings as they appear to be abandoned, but that’s rarely the case. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) reminds the public that interfering with wildlife does more harm than good.

According to MDC State Wildlife Veterinarian Sherri Russell, young animals are rarely orphaned.

“When we see newborn wildlife alone, that means the parents are likely out searching for food and will return,” Russell explained.

A common newborn species people can come across in the spring season is young birds.

“If you see a chick with feathers hopping on the ground, leave it alone because it’s a fledgling and the parents are nearby keeping watch,” said Russell. “Fledglings can spend up to 10 days hopping on the ground learning to fly. If you find one that has no feathers, you can return it to the nesting area if possible, as it likely fell out of its nest.”

Russell also warned against “rescuing” newborn rabbits.

“Rabbits seldom survive in captivity and can die of fright from being handled,” she said. “Even if the animal is injured, it’s best to return it to the nest because the mother will most likely return.”

Human scent does not cause wild mothers to reject their young, and most newborn animals do not survive in captivity.

“It takes a lot of knowledge to care for and rehabilitate wild animals,” stressed Russell. “It requires special training, permits, and facilities. Not to mention, it’s illegal to possess many wild animals without a valid state or federal permit.”

Russell also noted wildlife can become dangerous as they mature, and can carry disease, parasites, and cause property damage.

“We know people have good intentions, and it can be tempting to take these cute, young animals in our homes, but the best thing we can do for wild animals is to leave them be,” she said.

To learn more about Missouri’s native wildlife, visit the MDC online Field Guide at