So much misinformation circulates by our lives about wildlife. How many of our moms told us that if you touch a fallen baby bird, the human smell will excursion the parents away and they will no longer care for it? How many people have found a nest of baby bunnies in a field, no parent in sight, assumed they were abandoned, and took them home and tried to raise them? How many “abandoned” baby birds have been “rescued” simply because they were found on the ground and couldn’t quite fly however? Or worse however…how many animal lovers have raised a baby raccoon as a pet, only to be badly bitten when that adorable baby grew into an unmanageable adolescent?
How many people realize that taking in wildlife without a special license to care for them is not already legal in most countries? Most don’t, and generations of people have taught their children these myths, assuming they were fact simply because great grandpa told grandma, who told dad, who passed the wisdom (or without thereof) along.
If a baby bird falls from the nest, the very best thing you can do for it is to try to get it back into the nest. If you cannot get it back into that nest, create a makeshift nest (a strawberry basket or margarine tub lined with paper towels will do) and tuck it into a safe identify near where you found the bird. The parents don’t care if you handled it, and will, indeed, almost definitely return to satisfy it till it can fledge (leave the nest). If it’s an older baby, fully feathered, hopping about on the ground, leave it alone!
“Falling out of the nest” is a very normal part of how older babies learn to fly. Its parents are nearby, watching, encouraging it to use those little wings. Unless you are absolutely certain the parents are dead, do not interfere.
Wild rabbits, the ultimate prey species, only return to their nests once or twice a day to nurse their young. Those babies “abandoned” in the field are not abandoned at all. They’ve been left there by their moms, to avoid leading predators to the nest. Leave them alone, or momma-bunny will return at dusk to discover that her babies have been abducted!
And raccoons? already experienced wildlife rehabilitators cannot legally raise raccoons without a special permit for rabies vector species. Raccoons are considered one of the most dangerous animals to rehabilitate, and not just because they are one of the dominant animals to spread rabies. They also carry a kind of roundworm that is often fatal to other animal species…including humans.
So, if you find a wild animal or bird which is truly in need of rescue (you are certain beyond doubt the parents are dead, or it’s been injured in some way that needs medical attention), what do you do? Keep watch on it, try not to manager it if at all possible, and dig out the number of your nearest wildlife rehabilitator. Most vets have a list of rehabbers local to them, or you can Google “wildlife rehabilitators” for your area.
And what do you teach the kids?
Once you find your local rehab center, stick with them. They need your sustain. They get no government funding, and every effort they make comes out of their own pockets. They are sometimes on call at insane hours, and the job of caring for orphaned and injured creatures is one that often receives no thanks, and gets no downtime. Once “baby season” begins, many rehabilitators get very little rest, and they are all unpaid volunteers.
Many rehabbers put on public education programs, giving talks throughout their area to teach people how to properly deal with their wild animal neighbors. Find out their schedule and show up to sustain them at these talks. Bring the kids!
Ask if the center gives tours (they will not be able to show you animals who are to be released, but many have educational animals as long-lasting residents), and make an appointment to bring the kids. Find out how you can sustain their efforts, by donations or volunteering. Though you won’t be working with the wild animals, there are many other chores that need to be done, and many centers accept volunteer offers happily. Encourage your kids to listen and learn, and to truly care.
By becoming a family that supports your local wildlife rehabbers, you have not just helped to protect this generation of wild creatures. You’ve set forth on the adventure of raising a new generation of educated humans who can teach their own children safety, wisdom and respect for all life.