May 1, 2024

The Wonders of Springtime Wild Baby Animals: Why Professional Handling is Essential in Illinois

Photos courtesy of the author.

A group of dark brown and tan baby ducklings huddle together in the corner of a plastic box with wood chips on the bottom.

As the cold grip from winter is released and warmer temperatures find their way into Illinois, we find ourselves in another springtime birthing season. Soon there will be an abundance of wild baby animals, from fluffy ducklings to cute fawns. Springtime brings a wave of life to tickle our hearts. It’s important to remember: Wild animals and their offspring should only be cared for by experts, not by the general public. In Illinois, where our ecosystems are diverse and filled with wildlife, professional care and handling is crucial for the survival of orphaned wild babies, and the preservation of our wildlife heritage.

Spring is a time of migration, birth and renewal and we welcome the arrival of thousands of young animals to fill Illinois’ forests, wetlands and fields. Many deer fawns take their first steps in forests and cities. Songbirds fill nests with baby chicks eagerly waiting for mom to return with their next meal. Fox kits find a home in a hollowed-out stump, road ditch or under your equipment shed. Tiny raccoons stay close to mom and learn to forage for food in the woodlands and urban landscapes. Each species contributes to the diverse landscape and rich biodiversity of Illinois.

Resist Helping Wildlife Babies

Despite their undeniable charm, wild baby animals are not suited for domestication or human care. Many well-intentioned individuals may encounter seemingly orphaned or injured wildlife and feel compelled to intervene. It can be a challenge leaving an apparently abandoned baby deer alone or wondering what might happen to the lone tiny raccoon. Social media pressure may have you picking it up and sharing your rescue online.

A gray downy owlet sits on a dark green fleece jacket.

Intervening on behalf of wildlife babies can do more harm than good. You may create health concerns for the animal if it is not handled properly. More importantly, intervening without proper knowledge, training and permits is against the law. The care of wildlife babies should be handled by the experts, their parents! However, sometimes the animals are legitimately orphaned or abandoned. That’s where wildlife rehabilitators can sometimes help.

The care of wildlife babies should be handled by the experts, their parents!

How Do You Tell if a Baby Animal Needs Help?

If you find a baby bird or animal, do not touch or remove it unless you are absolutely sure that it is an orphan. If you are not sure if the animal is orphaned, watch it from a distance so that the parents will not be afraid to return. This might take a while; many species only return to their young near dusk and dawn.

A young animal or bird that looks well-fed and has bright eyes and clean fur or feathers is probably not orphaned. If the animal does need help, contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice.

Why Rehabilitators?

The primary reason why baby animal care should be left to licensed wildlife rehabilitators is that wild animal babies have special diet and health requirements. For example, young birds require protein-rich meals and calcium. Much of these nutrients come from insects or specialized formulas. Illinois mammals need specialized milk from their mothers to be properly nourished. Improper feeding can lead to malnutrition, developmental issues and even death. Additionally, wildlife mothers (and in some cases fathers) care for their babies, aiding in proper digestion and cleanliness. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators have the knowledge, food and specialized equipment to provide a specialized diet and ensure adequate nutrition for injured or orphaned animals.

One person steadies a tiny reddish fawn with white spots while it nurses from a bottle held by another person.

Furthermore, young wild animals learn crucial behaviors from their parents, ranging from hunting and foraging techniques to social interactions and predator avoidance strategies. Attempting to raise wild animals in captivity deprives them of these vital learning experiences, reducing their chances of survival upon release.

The Role of Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators

Licensed wildlife rehabilitators employ strategies, such as fostering with other adult animals and providing specific environments, to facilitate the development of natural behaviors.

Another compelling reason to entrust wild baby animals to professionals is the risk of disease transmission. Many wild species harbor pathogens that can pose significant health risks to humans and domestic animals. Handling or caring for wildlife without proper precautions can increase the likelihood of disease transmission, endangering both the caregiver and the animal. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators follow strict protocols to minimize the risk of disease transmission and ensure the safety of all involved parties.

A close-up portrait of a baby opossum with a pink nose, white face, and gray ears.

In addition to health concerns, legal considerations become relevant. In Illinois, the possession and rehabilitation of wildlife is regulated. State law defines the method and action required to participate in these activities. Violating these regulations can result in fines, penalties and other legal repercussions. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators undergo rigorous training and certification processes to ensure compliance with state rules and to provide proper care for wild animals.

Keeping Wildlife Wild

Springtime wild baby animals may find their way into your heart, but they should not find their way into our homes. It is essential to recognize that wild animals belong in the wild and should not be raised as pets or kept in captivity. Wildlife pets can be dangerous. They can carry diseases and parasites that are dangerous to people and domestic pets. Wildlife pets can get even more dangerous once they reach sexual maturity. That cute fawn can grow into a mature antlered buck that has no fear of people and feels like sparring with children at the bus stop.

Remember, professional handling by licensed wildlife rehabilitators is essential for ensuring the well-being of orphaned or injured animals. Visit the Wildlife Illinois website section titled Help Injured or Orphaned Wildlife for more information and a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators.

Steven Beltran joined the Illinois Conservation Police in 2000, retiring as a Sergeant in northwest Illinois in 2024.

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Question: How do I help rehabilitate animals

Question: How do I help rehabilitate animals