It’s THAT time of year again. The restaurants, roads, and beaches are bustling with spring break tourist traffic. The seasonal residents are basking in the knowledge that their northern neighbors are still freezing their buns off. The locals are reveling in one of the best economic times this area has seen in a while. The low humidity in the air allows my hair to be frizz-free for hours on end. And, my personal favourite part, it is the time of year when I get to dispel numerous myths that otherwise intelligent people continue to persist in believing.
Spring is baby season here at Peace River Wildlife Center. To be fair, we don’t really have a “season” for babies to be born around here as much as an upswing in incidence. We see baby doves all year long in this area. But spring brings an influx of all other song bird and raptor babies. Our first babies of the year, a nestling mockingbird and a hatchling barred owl, have already arrived. Songbird babies are only awake from dawn to dusk, but they need to be fed every 10 to 15 minutes during that entire time. This constant frenzy of activity and noise (yes, those tiny baby mouths can really create quite a cacophony) continues for months as we slide right into baby mammal season.
We also see baby raccoons, opossums, and squirrels year round, especially during warm winters like the one we have just experienced. We may have one or two mammal babies at a time during the rest of the year, whereas during baby mammal season we can have 30 squirrels and 40 opossums at once. All of these mammal babies need to be fed different formulas, by different methods, depending on species and age. And they need to be fed every few hours around the clock by our diligent home-care volunteers—many of whom are our staff during the day, but they do not get paid for their after-hours care of babies.
How do all these babies get to PRWC? Many are found by John Q. Public and brought to us for care. Some are delivered by Charlotte County Animal Control officers. We designate on the paperwork a “Cause for Admission.” Often this is “Caught by Cat” or “Orphaned” when mom was found dead on the side of the road. But an inordinate number of babies we care for are actually “Kidnapped”.
People often see a fledgling bird hopping around on a branch some distance from a nest or even on the ground. This is perfectly normal behavior for the growing bird. The best thing for these babies is to leave them alone. Mom and dad will care for them, even if they end up on the ground. If there is a dog or cat in the area, try getting the baby back up into the nest. If the nest is too high or cannot be found, a makeshift nest can be constructed using a wicker or plastic basket or bowl. Drill holes into the bottom so water will drain through if it rains. Line the new “nest” with leaves and grass and place as high as possible in the tree near the old nest, where the baby was found, or where the parents are hanging out. Attach the nest with zip ties, wire, or screw or nail it right into the tree limb or trunk.
The same basic methods can also be used for displaced baby mammals. If the nest or den can be found, place the baby back into it or near it. Watch from a distance to see if mom returns. A mother mammal or bird will not return if a human is sensed too close to the nest. If mom does not return after a few hours or if the baby appears hurt—holding an appendage oddly or bleeding—it should be brought to PRWC for treatment.
But your mother always told you the parent will reject the baby when she smells that you have touched it? Your mother lied to you. I’ll bet she told you other lies too. I’m not going to be the one to tell you there really is no Santa Claus, but I do have it on pretty good authority that rabbits do not actually lay eggs. To be fair, it’s not your mother’s fault. Blame your grandmother who lied to her daughter first.
Let’s stop the hurtful cycle now. If you don’t want your children picking up wild animals, just tell them they will catch some painfully-treated disease. Or better yet, tell them the truth. Show them how to gently handle an animal, the proper way to care for it (whether that is returning it to the nest or taking it to a rehabber), and most of all, teach them to be respectful of all other creatures.
It is now officially spring here in southwest Florida, even though some afternoons feel like summer already. Embrace the beauty of this season—the warm days, the cool nights. When you go to bed tonight, set your alarm for 3a.m. You don’t even have to get up when it rings; just think of us wearily feeding all those baby squirrels and bunnies. And if you can’t go back to sleep, check out our website at www.PeaceRiverWildlifeCenter.org where you can find detailed information about what to do when you find a baby mammal or bird.
Anyone genuinely interested in helping PRWC with home care, please call us at 941-637-3830 or contact us via email at PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com for more information and training. It is a serious time commitment, but it’s the toughest job you’ll ever love unless you have been in the Peace Corps!
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM