While the discovery of unattended kittens, baby birds, or even bunnies can seem like a heartwarming chance to save a life, the best course of action may not be what you think.
It’s not just kitten season – it’s everything season!
As counter intuitive as it may seem, the most important thing you can do when you find a treasure trove of little miracles is… nothing at all! Most parents in the wild animal world (this includes feral cats) spend the biggest part of their time away from the nest, hunting for sustenance so they can feed and protect their young while keeping an eye out for a safer place to hide. Mother cats and rabbits may only check in once or twice a day, and birds may leave their nests for up to 5 days before returning.
Often, when you pick up baby animals from the outside and take them to a sheltering facility, you’re kidnapping them.
If there is no immediate danger to the little ones – just leave them be. If you really think they need care, watch for mom for a day or two before trying to take responsibility for them yourself. If they are in an environment that may bring them harm, like near a busy road or in a yard where your dogs play, move them quickly to a safe place nearby and watch for mama from there. Even if you don’t see her, if the babies’ physical condition does not obviously worsen over the course of a couple of days, chances are you’re just missing her visits.
Fun fact! It’s just an old wives’ tale that a wild animal will abandon its young just because it smells faintly of human! Birds especially do not have a very strong sense of smell, and anyway the parenting instinct is much stronger than that. We’ve got a funny feeling that our moms just told us that so we wouldn’t go around grabbing dirty wild animals.
Anyway, if you’re ABSOLUTELY convinced that these little ones can’t survive without you, be prepared for the amount of time and dedication required to keep these little lives going. With baby season in full swing, it’s unlikely that you will find a shelter that has the space or the resources to take in more unweaned baby animals. If a kitten or any wild animal is in a nest, uninjured and not getting sick or thin (a sign that mom is around, even if you don’t see her), please, let them be and help shelters and rehabilitators keep our doors open for baby animals who are injured, sick and in desperate need of our support.
And, if you find a wild baby animal like bunnies out and about, our friends over at AWARE have put together some great tips on what you should do. www.awarewildlife.org/babyrules/