A hands-off approach to baby wildlife is best

RBC I Despite the wintry weather in many parts of the state, spring is here, and with it comes the arrival of baby birds and mammals to Colorado.
Now is a good time to remind citizens that newborn wildlife may be found in backyards, along trails or in open spaces, and the best advice is to just leave them alone.
Each year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife receives scores of calls from concerned humans about wildlife that have been “abandoned” by adult animals. Many are tempted to “help” a young animal by picking it up or trying to feed it, however, it is critical that people understand there is no substitute for their natural parents.
Wildlife experts agree it is quite normal for adult animals to leave their young in a safe place while they go forage for food. And often baby birds are learning to fly or fledging, near their nests when they are deemed abandoned. While well-meaning people sometimes gather up this baby wildlife and bring it to wildlife rehabilitation facilities, it is often the wrong thing to do.
“Baby mammals are nearly scentless in order to prevent predators from finding them,” said Janet George, senior terrestrial biologist for CPW. “When humans touch these animals, they are imparting them with a scent their adults will not recognize or even fear. This can result in true abandonment of healthy offspring.”
Baby birds are a different story. They can be moved out of harm’s way or placed back in the nest if they are songbirds. However, do not try this with raptors. Great-horned owls and other raptors are territorial and have been known to fly at humans seen as a threat to their young.
If you find young wildlife, enjoy a quick glimpse, leave the animal where it is and keep pets out of the area. Quietly observe the animal from a distance using binoculars and don’t hover so close that the wild parents are afraid to return to the area.
“If 24 hours go by and the parent does not return, it is possible the newborn was abandoned or something happened to the adult animal,” said Jenny Campbell, customer service expert with CPW. “Call our office and we will work with a certified wildlife rehabilitation center to get aid for the wildlife if possible. Don’t move the animal yourself.”
Finally, it is imperative for Coloradans to understand that it is illegal to own or possess wildlife in the state. People can avoid heartache if they don’t “adopt” the cute baby raccoon or skunk. Human-raised and hand-fed animals are rarely returned to the wild due to their lack of survival skills or imprint on humans. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators are trained to use methods that will give a wild animal the best chance of surviving upon release.