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Finding Injured or Young Wildlife

Many people encounter what appear to be sick, injured or orphaned wildlife. The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife urges New Jerseyans to leave young wildlife undisturbed. Every year, especially during the spring and early summer, the lives of many young animals are disrupted. Well-intentioned people may attempt to 'save' these animals, and more often than not, the mother is nearby.

Young rabbits found at a nest site do not need to be rescued. The mother rabbit will not return as long as a person is standing near the nest site. If you've kicked open a nest, just replace the top of the nest, and leave. The mother will return and care for the young. Cottontail rabbits leave their young for hours while eating, but they do return to nurse the young, until the young are old enough to survive on their own. Young rabbits are ready to leave the nest at three to four weeks of age when their eyes are open and their bodies are furry.

Young birds are sometimes found on the ground near a nest. When this happens, the best thing to do is to put the bird carefully back into the nest. Don't worry about getting your scent on the bird; it will not affect the mother's care. If you can't reach the nest, leave the bird on the ground. Every bird alive today has spent a few precarious days on the ground while learning to fly. The best thing you can do during this time of year to protect young wildlife is to keep cats indoors.

When young raccoons are found out alone, most likely, they are merely exploring and their mother is nearby. They are probably old enough to be fully capable of climbing back up a tree to their den. If they were too young to climb, the mother would carry them back.

If you find a young fawn laying alone, leave it there. The mother comes back several times each day to nurse the fawn. If you've already picked the fawn up and brought it home - put it back. Even one or two days after removal from the wild, fawns have been successfully reunited with their mothers, by returning them to the place where they were found. Adult deer spend much of the day feeding and loafing. Fawns that are not strong enough on their legs to keep up with the adults are left behind. Usually young fawns are quite safe because their color pattern and lack of scent help them to remain undetected until their mother's return.

Intended acts of kindness often have the opposite effect. Instead of being left to learn how to find food, young animals taken from the wild will be denied their natural learning experiences. They often become attached to their caregivers and no longer survive in the wild. In addition, nearly all wild birds and mammals are protected under the law and may not be legally kept as pets. Only when they are found injured or with their dead mother is there reason to do something and only under these circumstances can an animal be transferred to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

Those who encounter such a situation should consult the List of NJ Wildlife Rehabilitators for the nearest wildlife rehabilitation center.

List of NJ Wildlife Rehabilitators (pdf, 16kb)
NJ Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator Information

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Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: April 15, 2014