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Orphaned Wildlife?

How to tell if they're really orphans!
What you can do to help them survive!

Ever find what appears to be an orphaned wildlife animal? You'd like to help but how? Well, the first thing to do is make sure the little fellow is really an orphan. Leave it alone for a little while and just watch to see if mama comes back. If not then the next possibility is that the little critter has been separated from his family. He may have wandered too far from the den. He may have fallen out of the nest. He may have been uprooted from the nest by a dog or cat. You must be open to the possibility of separation and try to find out where the little tyke came from. You see, in all cases, the best thing is to reunite the critter with his family. It is a myth that once we touch the young the mother will abandon them. This is not true. Look around and see if you can find the nest.

For example, if your dog digs up a bunny nest, look around for nest material [usually fur and dried grass]. find the hole where the nest was and place the material and babies back in the hole. Then, keep your dog away. If at all possible, block off the nest from your dog. It may seem that the babies are abandoned but you must keep in mind that mother bunnies do not spend much time in the nest. They only visit the nest 2 or 3 times a day. Be patient and wait awhile. Sometimes the mother will move the babies if she finds the nest disturbed. So if you come back to check and find them missing then more than likely the mother moved them.

If you find a baby squirrel at the base of a tree, chances are he fell out of that tree. Listen for the mother's chattering. If you hear it, leave the baby alone. The mother will generally tend to her baby herself. Just keep an eye out for dogs and cats and make sure the baby is taken care of by the mother.

If you find a baby bird out of the nest, try to find the nest. When you find it place the baby back into the nest.

Raccoons, skunks, opossums, foxes and such are a different matter. These animals generally don't wander if the mother is alive so the chances are good that they are orphaned. Nevertheless, don't rush in and take the babies right away. The mother may just be changing their den site. Just watch and observe from a distance for awhile. Make sure they are truly orphaned.

You will notice that in every case listed above - every case - the first step is to find the babies' home. Find the nest, or the den. Reunite the baby with its family. That is the animal's best chance for survival. However, if you can't find its home or don't have the time, call Noah's Ark. We have a list of state-licensed animal rehabilitators with whom we can put you in touch. These people have the expertise to rehabilitate and place the wild where they belong.

The question is what to feed them. Flake fish food mixed with water is the easiest thing to use for baby birds. Baby birds need high protein food. Flake fish food fits the bill and is much easier than mashing worms.Fur bearing animals will need a milk supplement. Do not use cows mile bought from a store. Milk bought from a store will only result in giving them diarrhea. This milk is pasteurized and pasteurization process destroys the enzymes that enable them to digest the milk. There is milk available for fur bearing animals. Ask at your favorite pet shop. They should be able to help you. However, in a pinch, human baby formulas can be used.

After we know what to feed the orphan, we need to know how to feed it. There are nursing bottles of all sizes available. Again, ask at your pet shop. The most important thing to remember in nursing these babies is feet down to eat. do not feed them while they are on their backs. The food can enter their lungs and make them ill. Be patient with baby birds. They will not recognize the fish mixture as food. Gently tap the bill of the bird and when it opens its mouth gently squeeze the mixture down its throat. Before long the bird will eagerly open its mouth when it sees you.

An important thing to know is that very young fur bearing babies need to be helped to defecate. Their mother, in the process of cleaning them, stimulates them to defecate. It they are not yet doing this on their own you will have to help them. Use a soft tissue and gently rub their genitals. This procedure normally works. If it doesn't then wet a soft cloth with warm water and then gently rub their genitals. This method always works.

Our domestic kittens and puppies wean in about 7 - 8 weeks. However, wild babies will nurse for a much longer period and the weaning process is much slower. Wild babies will be on a milk and solid food diet for months. It is important to use food as close to the natural food that they would find in the woods as possible. By using natural food they will be able to recognize what they are supposed to be eating when they are released into the woods and will help them to fend for themselves. The trick is to keep their diet simple and very close to the natural food they would find in the woods.

Remember, an orphaned critter may not be orphaned at all. Be patient and observe the little one. If the mother doesn't appear to be coming back, try to find the nest or den. It is much preferable to reunite the babies with the mother. After all, mother knows best! And lastly, if you really do find yourself with an orphan on your hands, then call Noah's Ark. We can help.

Jan Stewart, Director
Noah's Ark of Rockford Illinois

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