Newborn Wildlife Usually Better Off Left Alone
The following article has been re-printed from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The Ken-Caryl Ranch Park Ranger staff receives several calls this time of year about “abandoned” baby deer and birds. The information in the article is applicable to our situation on Ken-Caryl Ranch. Most of the time when you find a fawn or fledgling on the ground, it is not orphaned, and the watchful eyes of the parents are nearby. If, however, baby wildlife have been unattended for a long period of time (12-24 hours), please contact the Rangers at 303-979-1876, ext. 170.
With spring and early summer comes a rebirth of Colorado’s wildlife. From robins and jays to elk and deer, newborn wildlife can be found throughout the state at this time of the year. The Division of Wildlife (DOW) asks Colorado residents and visitors to please refrain from touching or approaching the newborns, so that they have a chance to thrive in their natural habitat.
“In almost every instance when somebody finds a baby chick, fawn or calf, the best course of action is to leave the newborn animal alone,” said Rick Spowart, district wildlife manager in the Estes Park area. “Most newborn wildlife are typically left alone for long periods of time by their mothers on purpose.”
By design, deer fawns and elk calves are born with natural camouflage and a lack of scent. In the first few days of their lives, the newborns are not mobile enough to travel with their mothers. As a defensive tactic to keep nearby predators away from the newborns’ location, the mothers will often leave the young animals alone for long periods of time. During this crucial period, the mothers will visit the newborns at least twice a day to feed them. After a few days, the fawns and calves are usually strong enough to join their mothers and the herd, where there’s more protection.
“The first few days of a newborn’s life are critical,” Spowart said. “Many people find a calf or fawn left on their own and they think the animal’s been abandoned. That’s typically not the case.”
Spowart asks persons finding a newborn deer, elk or antelope to leave the animal alone for at least 12 hours before calling – unless they are absolutely sure the parent animal is dead (hit by a car for example).
Oftentimes, people will find young birds that appear to have fallen from their nests. Sometimes the birds have actually fallen and other times they’re in the process of learning to fly. If the birds can safely be put back in the nest or on a high branch, it’s okay to do so.
One of the best things residents and visitors can do to protect Colorado’s newborn wildlife is to keep their pets under control. Countless numbers of baby rabbits, squirrels, birds and other wildlife fall prey to domestic dogs and cats every year. Owners of dogs that chase or injure big game animals – including newborns – can be held liable by law for their dog’s actions.
“By nature, dogs and cats are predators. You can’t really blame them for what they do naturally,” said Steve Yamashita, assistant regional manager in Grand Junction. “But you can blame their owners. It’s up to pet owners to contain their animals if they care about local wildlife.”
According to Yamashita, dogs that chase wildlife without actually catching an animal still do harm, either causing the animal to expend critical energy or running it away from its newborn. However, dogs aren’t the only dangerous pets.
“This time of the year, we have all of our young birds hatching out, and they’re easy prey for cats,” he said. “In my neighborhood alone, I’ve witnessed the cat population decimate a covey of quail.”
Keeping your pets restrained or indoors as much as possible will protect newborn wildlife, as will respecting the many seasonal wildlife closures that are in place during this time of the year on various municipal, county, state and federal properties to protect young animals.