Feeding baby animals is best left to the mothers
Hikers, campers and others who find young animals and birds in Utah's backcountry this spring and summer are urged to leave the animals and birds where they are found. Those who find baby birds in their neighborhoods are encouraged to do the same thing.
"Feeding baby animals is best left to the mothers and fathers," stated Ron Stewart, conservation outreach manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "With spring in the air, it won't be long before the division gets flooded with calls from individuals who found an abandoned baby bird or mammal and would like us to take care of it," Stewart explained. "While we appreciate and share the concern of the caller, the best caregivers are its natural parents."
Birds and mammals have numerous strategies to avoid predation and raise their young. "Often these strategies look like the adults have abandoned their young when actually they are doing their best to protect it," Stewart explained. "For example, deer fawns learn to walk soon after birth, but they are far from coordinated or strong enough to run away from their predators. So, evolution has added a few safety measures."
"Most predators on these fawns have a good sense of smell which helps make up for an inability to see color," Stewart said. "Deer have adapted so that the fawns are born scentless, meaning they don't have an odor so predators can't smell them. Also, their creamy brown coats are the same shade of color as the new grass and leaves, if the animal is viewed in black and white. Add a few spots and they are well camouflaged."
"With these adaptations, the fawn's best strategy for survival is to hide for its first few weeks of life. The doe usually moves away to feed or rest, but still remains reasonably close by. If she senses danger, such as a human, she will leave in hopes of luring the predator away from her fawn."
Humans, which have good color recognition, often see the fawns in their hiding places. Since the doe is hiding, many people assume the worst. The human often times jumps to the conclusion the fawn has been abandoned and picks it up. That's the worst possible thing that could be done, the fawn has just been takenfrom its mother," Stewart explained.
"If one sees a fawn or calf elk, don't approach it. Take a look from a distance, but if the fawn is approached, the human scent could kill it. Numerous studies and observations have documented predators following human tracks. I've watched coyotes and other predators cross a path that someone just walked and immediately turn and follow it. I don't know if the predators are curious or not but if the fawn has just been checked out, the scent will lead the predator right to it."
Abandoned baby birds are another problem. "Birds have also developed some strategies for raising their young which often leads people to think they need to lend a helping hand," Stewart said.
"Young birds will often leave their nests before they are able to fly. They usually spread out along the branches of their tree and then call for their parents to bring them food. This is a don't-keep-the-eggs-in-one-basket type of adaptive strategy. It's not uncommon for a good wind to blow them off and so people find them on the ground. The best thing to do is to get them out of reach of house cats by simply placing them back up onto a safe branch. The baby will squawk and the parents will find it."
Other common phone calls come when a nest is found after a tree is taken down, or if the birds nested on a piece of outside equipment. "If possible, relocate the nest to a nearby tree or other safe place," Stewart advised. "Birds are extremely good parents and will almost always find the new spot by following the sounds of their young."