This feature is a reprint of a story that originally appeared in Arizona Wildlife Views.
With more people recreating outdoors in the spring, baby birds and mammals routinely are found. Concerned people often want to intervene and help animals. Actually, most babies remain under the watchful eyes of their parents. The best way to tell if an animal is orphaned is to wait and check it periodically. If the baby animal has its eyes open, is fully furred or feathered and can walk, it probably just strayed from its mother. Check periodically for two hours from a distance before intervening.
Baby birds might fall out of the nest. If they are uninjured, it is safe to place them back into the nest. Human scent does not cause abandonment. Remember, fledgling birds learning to fly often are found on the ground, and the mother takes care of them there.
Baby mammals might be found when nests or dens have been destroyed or disturbed in some way. If a nest is found, do the following: Put the baby back and leave it unless it is injured or you know the mother will not return. If the baby is cool and appears very hungry, contact a wildlife rehabilitator immediately.
You should leave young wild animals alone, but if you decide to take responsibility for a baby, it is important to get it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. The Arizona Game and Fish Department permits rehabilitators to provide care for wildlife.
Suggestions for helping injured or truly orphaned animals before they reach a rehabilitator:
Safety: Wear gloves or use a towel to pick the animal up. Animals will bite or scratch.
Quiet: Reduce noise to minimize stress on the animal.
Dark: Darkness also reduces stress for the animal.
Warm: Infant wildlife may have trouble keeping warm. Place the animal on a towel over a heating pad or by a warm — not hot — water bottle.
Dry: Make sure whatever you transport the animal in is dry and has plenty of ventilation.
Always enjoy observing wild animals in their natural surroundings, but don’t accidentally break up a family. Evaluate the circumstances carefully before helping an “orphaned” wild animal.
—Joe Yarchin, Arizona Game and Fish Department watchable wildlife program manager