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  Wednesday, April 1st   

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Views From The Crow's Nest: Baby Animals

Karen Johns for local2 sault ste. marie
May 21st, 2011 at 4:48pm

This article is a column or editorial.
The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of LOCAL2.


One of many animals Karen has taken care of.

There are many things that people have been told, about what to do if they happen upon baby wildlife.

And most of them are wrong.

How many of us have been told that if you touch a baby bird, the parents will either kill it or reject it? This is not true. Most birds have a very poor sense of smell and will not ignore their young simply because a person has touched it.

If you do find a baby bird that has fallen from itís nest, no harm will come to it if you put it back.

But it may not have fallen from the nest, It may simply be that the parents have decided itís time for their offspring to get out of the nest and fly.

A bird you see on the ground, fully feathered but not really flying is probably not abandoned at all. Left on its own, it will fly within the next day or so. Last spring whiloe driving in the east end of town I spotted a little starling fluttering about in the middle of the road. I stopped the car and retrieved the bird. His parents and siblings were in a cedar hedge calling to the little one. He had tried to fly but just couldnít get off the ground. I placed him in the hedge then stood back and watched as the parents made a fuss over him. I knew that by the next day, he would be flying along with the rest of his family.

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Just hanging around the yard

A baby bird that has hardly any feathers and appears to have fallen from the nest is not going to survive very long. The best thing you can do if at all possible is to simply out him back in the nest and hope that he will stay put until he is fully fledged.

If you canít find or reach the nest, you could try putting him in a little box and place him as close to the nest as you can get. If no parents show up, you may want to help him. But helping it survive is not that easy.

Baby birds are used to being fed by the parents regurgitating deep into the back of the throat. These little ones cannot simply be fed a worm or two, but must be fed about every 45 minutes from sun up to sundown, everyday until they can eat on their own. This can be for a few days or a few weeks depending on its age. It is a demanding and time consuming task, so be sure that you are ready to be that birdís ďparentĒ.

.You can buy hand feeding formula at most pet stores and feed the tiny birds with a small syringe, placing it in the birds mouth like a parent would. You will know when it has had enough because the crop at the front of the neck will fill up as it is being fed. Too much food may again cause it to aspirate into its lungs.

Baby birds with hardly any feathers must be kept warm, perhaps by being placed in itsĒbedĒ under a light bulb, but the temperature can not be too hot or the baby will become overheated and die. Another important thing to know is that you must not try to give the baby bird water from a syringe or eye dropper. In the wild the babies get all the moisture they need from the food that the parents provide.

Trying to give a very young bird water can kill it. The water may get into its lungs and it will die. If the bird you try to save seems overly hot, you can dip a Q-tip in warm water and gently rub it on the outside and down the sides of its beak. When feeding the bird hand feeding formula it will get all the moisture it needs. Sometimes the birds will die despite all of your best intentions. There may be several reasons for this and you may never know why. Just remember that if there is an older baby bird being fussed over by its parents, it is best to leave it be. The parents will be feeding it and looking out for it or the next day or two when it can fly.

If you find a nest that has been dislodged from a tree, you might try to set the whole nest back into the tree even if it is not the same spot from which it fell. The parents WILL find those babies and take care of them. If it is obvious that the parents have been killed , or if there are cats and dogs in the area, you may take the nest inside and contact someone who can help.

Sometimes, even with loving care, a baby bird will die. Mother nature can be cruel that way so don't beat yourself up it your efforts fail.

Baby mammals are another story. I donít know how many times Iíve had people call to say the4y ďfoundĒ a nest in the bush or woods and there is no mother around.

The person may think they are saving the raccoons, squirrels, or rabbits but the truth is probably that the mother has left her babies for a bit and is out scavaging food for herself. Mothers who are feeding their young need a lot of food to produce milk for their seemingly always hungry babies.

Since they cannot take the babies with them, they will leave them in what they think is a safe place, go for food and get back as quickly as they can.

Just as birds require hourly feedings, mammal young must be fed around the clock and they must be fed food that they can digest and that has the right amount of nutrients that they need. Also if the babies are very young, they must be coaxed into urinating and emptying their bowels. Wild animals do this by licking the genital area of the young. As a surrogate parent you will have to wipe the baby down with a warm wet cloth every time they eat.

One vet I spoke with you works at an animal rehab centre in southern Ontario told me that young rabbits are the most difficult to raise. Despite the best efforts of their workers, he said, those cute little balls of fur have a high death rate. Heís not sure why but thinks it might be a lack of something that only a mother can provide that they canít.

Baby rabbits have to be one of the cutest animals and some people might be tempted to take one home and try to raise it themselves. Most often it ends in tears and a broken heart.

Many times I get calls about baby raccoons, that someone has found in an abandoned nest in the bush. Thinking they are orphans these people believe they are doing the right thing by bringing them home. But then they donít know what to do with them. I tell these people that if they were in a nest they are more than likely only left for a time while the mother is out scrounging for food. I tell them to put them back where they found them and most of the time the mother will come and get them.

Sometimes you will find a baby racoon whose mother has been killed. This happened to me a few years back. A woman out at camp saw a transport truck hit the mother racoon. Three babies were wondering around looking for their mom. I went and got the babies. Two were a good size. The runt was as small as a kitten.

I released the two biggest ones and hoped that they would survive but I knew the runt would never make it. I put out food everyday for the two bigger ones but decided to try and save the runt.

It was a full time job. Feedings around the clock, cleaning up all the waste that he produced (and there was a lot of it), keeping him warm and gradually getting him to eat on his own.

I wasnít sure what I was going to do with him when the fall came so I called an animal help centre where they told me that I could keep him over the winter even though it was illegal to do so.

karen 3

Then a friend of mine told me she had talked to a rehab place near Toronto and they were willing to take three little orphans that she had seen at work as well as the one I had. The mother of those babies was killed when an old house had been torn down and they were on their own. She found someone to take them all to the rehab centre. Unable to catch them herself she called the MNR to live trap them. When they were caught the MNR person told her that he could not release them into her care because it was illegal to do so and he could lose his job. He told her that they would have to be killed. They werenít injured, only starving, so they technically were not injured. The man felt bad for my friend but he said he couldnít give them to her and that it was kinder that they be shot than to starve to death.

That left me with my little runt. He was so cute and very amusing . He used a litter box and would faithfully use it. He played with my dogs and cats, went swimming with us and generally stole our hearts.

Raccoons are very clever. They can get into anything you have food in and can be destructive. I manged to borrow a huge cage for him and brought him into town at the end of summer. Being mostly nocturnal, he slept the days away and came out with us at night. By January he was maturing sexually and his play became very rough. Even though he was aggressive, he never seriously hurt us, but raccoons have very sharp teeth and claws. Many people have told me that adult raccoons can be very dangerous. I was lucky that my little guy never turned vicious.

Iíve heard stories of raccoons gutting a dog by clamping on the neck of the dog and ripping out itís stomach area with their hind feet. They are not an animal that you would want around a child.They can also carry roundworms. When raccoon feces is dry you can inhale the dust from their poop and make you very, very ill.

In spring, we brought Bumbler out to camp each weekend and made him stay outside. After several weeks of this Bumbler finally left to find a mate, but occasionally would come back for a short visit. I was happy that he was surviving on his own and felt glad that I had helped him live.

I loved my time with him, but I wouldnít want to do it again.

Although baby raccoons are very cute, they demand a lot of work, more than you might think, and for most people the demands become too much. The cost is expensive. Replacement milk cost a lot and you may find yourself burdened with quite a bill by the time they are on solid food.

If you bring them home you are asking for heartache. The MNR canít help you and the only way to make sure they survive is to take them to a rehab centre a few hundred miles away.

There are also happy tales of animals that have survived under my care. I have raised two day old birds until they could fly, Iíve raised many baby squirrels and chipmunks and of course, my favourite, crows.

I am available if you want my help with any of the above mentioned wee ones, but please understand I cannot take in baby raccoons. If you find them, leave them alone. Chances are they will be much better off left in their nests.

I love taking care of baby birds and small animals ,and am always willing to help with them. You can reach me atKaren@local2. or through The Animal Assistance Group Phone number ( 705-575-7030).

The photos are of the three baby squirrels I just released and my little friend Bumbler.

Until next time, take care.


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