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Spring means ‘baby season’ for wildlife

Northwoods Notebook

Indigo buntings have been frequent visitors this spring. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photos)

Phyllis Carlson of Quinnesec is gearing up for what usually is the busy period for a wildlife rehabilitator.

Which means it’s also time for the annual reminder that during “baby season,” humans should resist the temptation to step in on some misguided rescue mission.

“Don’t kidnap them,” Carlson said. “Trust that their mothers are taking care of them.”

Spring 2020 has a potential added wrinkle: Carlson wonders if the greater number of people at home this spring will mean more might find — and worry about — the fuzzy mammals and fluffy fledgling birds they stumble across in the backyard.

She’s already gotten several very young gray squirrels, though they definitely needed help after losing their mother or when the tree with their nest was taken down.

A rose-breasted grosbeak finds a spot to perch.

And the calls have started about fawns, though it’s early in the season. People still fear when they come upon a motionless fawn pressed to the ground, the doe nowhere in sight, that the seemingly vulnerable and helpless baby deer has been abandoned.

Dial down the worry, Carlson said. “They’re supposed to be still,” she advised. “They’re supposed to not have mom around.”

Does keep their fawns hidden and only return a few times a day to nurse them, lest they draw attention from predators. Unless the fawn is visibly injured, walk away and don’t hover nearby, as that could discourage mom from coming back.

Truth is, even wildlife rehabilitators who know what they are doing still face significant challenges when a baby animal comes into their care. Most have fairly specialized diets and require round-the-clock tending to survive. Some simply are not suited to surrogate parenting.

Someone who doesn’t have that knowledge or expertise — or the license, which is required to possess a wild animal — likely will find such a task ends badly.

Keep in mind, too, that for most species, the wave of spring hatchlings or births will be on a scale that should allow for normal predation or other factors. In some cases, if they all lived, they might overburden their environment. Think cottontail rabbits, which can have up to seven litters a year, though the usual is three to four, and the females are ready to breed when two to three months old. At perhaps four offspring a pop, a single rabbit can crank out about a dozen little bunnies or more even in an average to poor year.

While it can be difficult to keep hands off, when it comes to wild animals, stepping in might do more harm than good.

If the bird is feathered, it’s a fledgling — its parents know where it is, so in most cases it’s best left where it’s found. If a baby rabbit turns up and can sprint away, don’t chase or catch. It’s reached the point of being on its own.

If unsure about the situation, Carlson can be reached at 906-774-5868. She recently was able to counsel someone from long distance to rescue baby cottontails from a nest that was flooding during a heavy rain. They kept the babies warm until the nest dried out, then put them back and successfully watched the mother rabbit return.

*****

The bulk of the spring migrating birds definitely are back. Rose-breasted grosbeaks and indigo buntings, in particular, seem to be in excellent numbers this year. Hummingbirds of both sexes have turned up at feeders as well. For the second straight spring, too, a male scarlet tanager has visited the grape jelly set out for the orioles at Six Mile Lake.

The next week in the region likely will see the first Canada geese goslings, mallard and wood ducklings, perhaps even sandhill crane colts. All already have been seen downstate in Wisconsin and Michigan.

A caller this week also reported finding common loons nesting in the area, though he did not want to disclose where.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 240, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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