Springtime is when many people discover fawns hiding in the grass and mistakenly believe these young animals need help.
This year, it is more important than ever to leave these fawns alone due to the recent discovery of chronic wasting disease in a captive elk breeding facility in Lincoln County, Oklahoma.
The state veterinarian with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has issued an order to stop all movement of elk and deer within the state until May 24. In the case of deer and elk fawns, the order prohibits anyone from taking these animals to a wildlife rehabilitation facility for any reason.
Each year at this time, well-meaning people often make incorrect assumptions when they happen to come across young birds or animals.
“People should keep their interactions with wildlife to a minimum,” said Wildlife Diversity Senior Biologist Mark Howery with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC). “Normal wildlife behavior is often misinterpreted as something abnormal by well-meaning people, and it usually does more harm than good when people intervene.”
The majority of encounters with young wildlife are nothing to be concerned about. Many animals try to hide their young and tend to them periodically through the day. They leave them alone for much of the time so they won’t call attention to the young or create a scent trail that might lead predators to them. Chances are the parents are watching them from a distance or are nearby eating or gathering food and will return to their young.
“Every spring, we receive many calls from people who have found a young animal hiding in the grass, or some other animal that they think might need help,” Howery said. “People are often inclined to intervene, but they should refrain.”
“From May through July, young feathered birds are commonly encountered on or near the ground. In almost all cases, the parent birds are nearby and have not abandoned them. It’s normal for parents to lead their chicks out of the nest just before they are able to fly and hide them so that predators can’t take the whole brood. The parent birds will continue to feed them on the ground.”
If a baby bird is found featherless or only has light down, try to put it back into its nest. The parent birds will not be scared of human scent, which is a popular misconception. If the nest cannot be found, people can build a substitute nest by lining a holed plastic container with grass and securing it to a nearby branch.
Young rabbits, squirrels and opossums, even when they appear small, are able to fend for themselves if they are fully furred and their eyes are open. It is best to leave them alone and keep pets away from them. If these young animals are able to run away, they are able to fend for themselves.
“Before anyone attempts to help, they should make sure a young animal truly has been abandoned or is really injured,” Howery said. “When an injury is apparent, go ahead and call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for instructions. There is a list of Oklahoma wildlife rehabilitators on the ODWC at www.wildlifedepartment.com/law/rehabilitator-list.
If you suspect abandonment, simply keep an eye on the situation for an appropriate amount of time. Keep in mind that mammal parents tend to nurse their young only a few times a day, usually around dusk and dawn, and those are the likely times when parents will show up. Birds tend to bring food to their chicks three or four times an hour throughout the day. If after watching you become convinced the young animal has been abandoned or orphaned, put it in a well-ventilated box (except for any deer or elk, which are not to be moved) and call a wildlife rehabilitator.
Many people don’t realize it is illegal to keep and attempt to care for most wild animals unless properly permitted.
People who have questions about any wild animal situation are welcome to call a game warden in Oklahoma at www.wildlifedepartment.com/law/game-warden-directory.
For information on found animals in Texas, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department or see the information below.
To contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in Texas:
- Go to the list of Texas volunteer wildlife rehabilitators by county
- Or call your local game warden, or the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Wildlife Information Line at 1-800-792-1112.