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Nature Notes: Welcome the baby critters

By Julie Champlin

With spring comes baby critters.

An orphan is defined when the critter’s parents are no longer present to feed and protect it. Before rescuing an animal, make sure it really needs help. Please remember that a young animal’s best chance for survival is to be raised by its natural mother. It is very important to make sure that every effort is made to try to return the young to its mother.

If you have witnessed the death of its mother, it is obviously an orphan; however, a dead squirrel or rabbit in the street does not necessarily mean the squirrel or rabbit nest in your yard belongs to the dead critter. Many species have hiding techniques to protect their young.

A good example are cottontail rabbits. They only visit their nest at dawn and dusk to feed their offspring so you usually do not see the parent during the day. They stay away from the nest during the day because they do not want to attract the attention of predators.

If you find a nest of baby rabbits and believe the mother is missing, lay sticks in a specific pattern around the nest or spread flour. Come back the next day and see if the flour or sticks have been disturbed. If the sticks have been moved or you see tracks in the flour and the infants appear to be fine, the mother has made a visit to the nest and the animals are not really orphans.

The mother will accept humans have touched her offspring even after returning the critter to the nest. It is a myth that a wild animal mother of any species will reject her baby if a human touched it. Please do not remove the babies from the nest for an extended period of time. Just think how the mother would feel if her baby was gone overnight. She may think a predator has taken her young and abandoned the nest site.

Returning an orphan to their nest or making a temporary nest as soon as possible is the best answer for baby critters. If you find a baby bird on the ground and are not sure where the nest is, get a small to medium wicker or weaved basket that allows water to flow through and put nesting materials (finely shredded paper or crushed leaves) in with the baby bird and hang it securely up in a tree. The baby bird’s vocal cries will bring the mother back. Just because the baby bird is out of the nest does not mean it is an orphan.

Even if the baby critters are on the ground or out of the nest, the parents will continue to feed and protect them. Older juvenile birds are “fledglings or branchers” and are trying out their new flight wings. They cannot completely fly yet and end up being cared for on the ground by their parents. The concern is that predators such as cats, dogs, foxes and raccoons will prey upon exposed youngsters. Getting them back up onto a tree limb helps these critters survive.

Fawns are often left alone by their mother for periods of time. The mother does not want to attract predators to their young. Rest assured they are close to them. Please leave the fawns where you found them. The mother will soon return unless you have witnessed her death.

An important note is that it is illegal to keep wild animals without a wildlife rehabilitation license. Only a person with proper skills, facilities, equipment and knowledge can raise a healthy baby critter and release it with a good chance of survival. Taking care of wild animals means devoting a great deal of time and energy in meeting their needs. For example, mother songbirds feed their young about four to 12 times an hour, 24 hours a day during their first days of life.

The staff at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center will ONLY take in birds of prey, like a hawk, owl or an eagle. The JCHNC staff provides primary/triage care and will make the best decision regarding treatment and transport the injured raptor to the University of Minnesota Raptor Center. We do not have the facilities, extra staff or expertise to provide care for mammals, waterfowl, reptiles or songbirds.

If you find an injured mammal, reptile, waterfowl or songbird other than a raptor, the closest free rehabilitation center is in Roseville, Minnesota. You can transport the injured animal to 2530 Dale Street North, Roseville. The phone number is 651-486-9453. The Roseville Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is an emergency hospital and clinic that provides free medical care for over 200 different species of injured or orphaned wild animals. The Nature Center does not transport animals to this facility.

Wild critters are meant to be in the wild. If animals grow up unafraid of humans, they will have no chance to survive in the wild once released. Sometimes it is necessary to intervene and help the animal that is orphaned or injured. Working together, we can offer many young critters a second chance at life in the wild. Please remember if you find an injured hawk, owl or eagle in Mower County, call the Nature Center at 507-437-7519 and we will do our best to rescue the raptor, assess its status and transport the raptor to the University of Minnesota Raptor Center for treatment.

April at the Hormel Nature Center

The Interpretive Center is closed until further notice. Trails will be open for public use from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.  Please respect that dogs and bikes are not allowed on our trials.

April 1: Postponed Registration for summer

April 4: Postponed Friends and Volunteer Appreciation Event

April 4: Cancelled Sola Fide viewing.

April 13: Red Cross Blood Drive in Ruby Rupner Auditorium from 1 – 6 p.m.

April 18: Cancelled Sola Fide viewing.

April 21: Cancelled Audubon Program.

April 22: Service Project Planting Trees: 3:30-5 p.m. Visit our website for more information; Cancelled: Earth Day Craft; Cancelled: Earth Day Concert with Minnesota Orchestra