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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog

Look But Don’t Touch

Spring is a wonderful time of year. It is a time of warmer weather, a time of renewal, a time of mud, and a time of new birth. I love seeing birds return to the area. Waking to the sound of birds singing is wonderful. With the return of wildlife to our yards, means the return of baby animals as well. Every year I get a few questions about how to care for abandoned baby animals. If you suspect you have abandoned animals in your yard here are a few things to keep in mind.

Leave them alone. I cannot stress this enough. If you think you have abandoned animals, the fact is more likely than not they are not abandoned.

With birds, a nest may appear to be abandoned but the fact that you are near the nest or have been near the nest will keep the parents away for a while. This is a very common behavior. When a parent bird senses what it perceives as a predator the most common response is to leave the nest alone and try and draw the predator away. If the parents keep returning to the nest it can lead the predator right to the young. Some of the most interesting bird behaviors are the ones that keep their nests safe. Killdeer as an example will move away from the nest and pretend to have a broken wing to lead predators away from the nest.

Rabbits are another animal that seems to be found and assumed to be abandoned. Most mammals do not leave the den until they are at least partially independent and for the most part, weened. The general rule of thumb is if the eyes are open there is not any danger in leaving them alone. Young rabbits should be left alone if they are found. The mother will move dens regularly during the first part of the year. This helps to protect the young from predators. The mother will lead the young to the next nest site and though they might get separated the mother will come back for any young left behind.

Handling animals pose dangers to you and the animals. Improper care for a wild animal does more harm than good and can result in the death of the animal in question. Animals are also carriers of diseases that can be passed on to both your pets and to you, so interacting with wild animals should be avoided as much as possible.

The ONLY reason to help an animal is if your dog or cat has cornered or captured the animal. Make sure the animal is still alive. If it is still alive contact a local wildlife rehabber. A local rehabber can be found at You can search by county and find a rehabber that is close to you. They will give you instructions on what to do and how to get the animal to them.

Spring is a wonderful time of year. When I was growing up, upon entering a store with my mom was often prefaced with the phrase "Look but Don't Touch." The same principle holds true for wildlife. "You Can Look but Don't Touch."

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