Mammal babies are usually born naked with their eyes shut and require a lot of care from their parents. People are often tempted to take in mammal babies and try to raise the babies themselves. This is a bad idea. Not only is it illegal to do so without the proper permits, but it is dangerous for the animal and yourself. People will try to feed mammal babies, and they will often end up having the babies choke to death on the food.
Many people are under the misguided impression that since it is a baby animal, they should get milk from the store and feed that to it; however, only humans and cows can digest cows’ milk! Baby animals are lactose intolerant, which means that drinking milk will cause diarrhea, which may result in death (due to dehydration and lack of nutrition).
It is a mistake to try to raise a baby mammal on your own, as mammals can carry a variety of diseases. For example, Raccoons can carry distemper, rabies, and a roundworm parasite that can be transmitted to other mammals, including humans. The parasite finds its way into the body and can burrow into the brain.
Another problem is that of imprinting. People who don’t know how to properly rehabilitate animals will end up with imprinted babies, even skilled rehabbers can have problems with imprinting babies. So, when the cute baby mammal turns into a mean adult mammal, and you try to release it, it can come right back and not be afraid of you, other humans, or people’s dogs and cats. Imprinting makes it easier for these animals to be hunted or injured, and there have been attacks on people by imprinted animals, particularly children.
Baby rabbits are often found in backyards. Rabbits will make nests in shallow depressions in the ground, in grassy areas. These areas are often near edges of forest, by fences, and under shrubs. Before you mow the lawn or rototill your garden, you should check the area for rabbit nests, and if you find one, just work around it and wait a few weeks; the babies will be ready to leave and get out of your way.
Bunnies are born with their eyes closed and no fur. Their ears are close to their head. Bunnies are on their own when they are around 5 inches long and furry, with their eyes open and ears up. They may still hang out with each other near the nest for awhile before going their separate ways. You don’t want to bring these older bunnies to a wildlife rehabber, since they don’t need help, and bunnies tend to become stressed out very easily and could die from just the transport to a rehab center. It’s a good idea to make sure they need help before trying to help them, or you could do more harm than good.
If you find a nest with bunnies inside that are too young to be on their own, unless they look injured, leave them alone. The mother will come back, but not until dusk and dawn. So, you won’t see her coming back to the nest. If you’re worried that the mother isn’t coming back to the nest, put flour around the nest and place some twigs in an X formation over the nest, and check back the next morning. If the flour and/or twigs have been disturbed, the mother hasn’t abandoned her babies. If you happen to touch one of the babies, just put it back and gently touch the others so they all smell the same. The mother will still accept them, just make sure you don’t handle them much.
It is not a good idea to move a rabbit nest, but if you can’t wait a week or two for them to leave, or if you have already disturbed the nest, you can try to move it. You should move it to an area as close as possible to the original location, in an area that has some longish grass, possibly under a shrub. Put the fur that was in the old nest in the new one, and cover the bunnies with dry grass. Again wait till the morning to see if the nest was visited by the mother, using flour and twigs.
Baby squirrels are born naked and with their eyes shut. Sometimes they get knocked out of the nest in a tree by storms or by high winds. If you find a squirrel on the ground near a tree and it doesn’t look injured or sick, you can put it back in the nest if you can find it and reach it, or get a box with no lid, put a rag warmed from the dryer inside, and put the squirrel in it, and place it by the base of the tree. If the whole nest fell down, just put the materials from the nest in the box, put some holes in the bottom and place it by the tree, or hang it up in the tree. Mother squirrels rarely abandon their young and will come down and retrieve their babies if they can. Leave the area and come back within a few hours to see if the baby is still there, if so, call a wildlife rehabber to see if you can bring it in. This applies for chipmunks as well.
Baby opossums are born very early, and spend over 2 months inside the mothers’ pouch. They are on their own when they are 8 inches or longer, not including the tail. If you find one that is smaller than 8 inches, leave it alone and watch it from a distance, if the mother is alive she should be nearby. If the mother doesn’t show up after around 30 minutes, or you know the mother is dead, you can call a rehabber to see if you can bring it in. If you see an adult opossum get killed and her babies are crawling on top of her, you can bring the babies in. Sometimes a mother opossum will get killed and she will have babies in her pouch. Leave the babies alone, and bring the whole thing in to a wildlife rehabber you’ve called to help.
Baby Woodchucks, Raccoons, Skunks, and Foxes
If you find a baby woodchuck, raccoon, skunk, or fox, and they are naked and unable to walk yet, you can put them near their den if you know where that is at. You shouldn’t handle these animals with bare hands, especially foxes, skunks, and raccoons, as they can carry many diseases, including rabies. If you see one just walking or playing around, check back in 2 hours to see if the mother came back, as parents will let their young play around in the woods with them at a distance. If you find any of these babies injured or weak-looking, or they’ve been crying for their mom for awhile with no results, you can call a wildlife rehabber to see if you can bring them in, except for skunks.
Baby Deer (Fawns)
Fawns are often found alone lying in the grass, and people just assume the mother deer has left them. Mother deer will feed elsewhere so that predators won’t be attracted to the helpless fawn, which has no scent. She will come back twice a day to nurse the fawn. If the fawn is lying quietly alone, leave it and stay away, otherwise your scent may attract predators. If someone accidentally takes the fawn without knowing, you can put it back in the same area within 8 hours, the fawn and mother will often find each other. If it is injured, or crying for its mother and the mother hasn’t come back in several hours, call a wildlife rehabber for information.
Fawns can imprint on humans very easily, and if they become imprinted, they will not survive in the wild, and will be a danger to humans. Imprinted deer have killed people they have encountered in the woods. Deer that are imprinted lose their wariness of humans and human things, making them easy prey for hunters, and dangerous road kill. Often, imprinted deer will hang out near houses, destroying their yards, and possibly bringing tuberculosis. Because Chronic Wasting Disease was found in a deer in Kent County in 2008, it is now illegal to rehab deer in Michigan.