Summer in northern Minnesota is an exciting season to be spending time outdoors and getting out into the woods, but humans aren’t the only ones out there! We are lucky enough to share our environment with some pretty cool creatures and it is important to be mindful of our influence and interactions with these animals. Early summer means lots of animals are on the move and babies are abundant. I want to share some common issues and questions wildlife rehabbers are faced with every year.
There are so many people who want to help our furred and feathered friends, but it is important to know and understand when an animal needs help and when it is better to leave it be.
Let’s start with a personal favorite of mine, turtles! Turtles are on the move and likely to be crossing roads to get where they need to go. Year after year, turtles remain in the same area, so it is very important not to move them to a location we deem as “safer”. If turtles are removed from their home, they will try their hardest to find their home location, often creating many more problems for them.
If interference is necessary (i.e., crossing the road), it is very important to help the turtle along in the direction it was moving. If it is moved the opposite way, it will simply turn around and try again to cross the road. Their movement is slow but very intentional.
If a turtle has been hit by a car or injured in another way, call your local wildlife rehab center and take careful note of the location it was found so it can be returned once it’s healthy. As with any wild animal, always wash your hands if you do have any contact with it. Turtles are known to carry salmonella.
Fawns are a very common animal to stumble upon in the woods this time of year. It is incredibly important to not interfere with healthy babies. When finding a fawn in the woods or a yard, it is perfectly normal for it to be laying down alone, waiting for mom to come back. The mother deer will intentionally “park” the baby (or babies) somewhere for long periods of time during the day between feedings. It is much safer for the baby to stay in one place than travel around with mom. If a fawn has been crying for long periods of time, is laying sprawled out or appears injured, it may need help and you should contact your local wildlife rehab center.
You may have noticed birds nesting and gathering food for their little ones this time of year. It is important to know the phases baby birds go through while growing and what is normal behavior for them. Freshly hatched babies are considered “nestlings”. These babies have not gotten their feathers yet, and do not open their eyes right away. Nestlings need to be fed several times an hour, keeping mama bird and wildlife rehabbers very busy! If you find a healthy nestling out of the nest due to wind or being knocked out of it by another animal, we want to first determine if it’s possible to get it back in the nest. If you can locate the nest and reach it to put the baby back, you should do just that! If the nest is too high or in a strange location, you can make a new nest for baby and place it as close to the original nest as possible and keep watch for mom.
Nestlings eventually turn into feathered little “fledglings”. Fledglings will begin to test out their wings and may end up on the ground below their nest for a few days before being able to fly well enough to get back in or go elsewhere. Fledglings will be fully feathered but the feathers may appear shorter or fluffy for a little while. If you find a healthy fledgling on the ground, it is likely the parents and nest are nearby and they are still keeping an eye on their little one. In this situation, we do not want to interfere as this is a completely normal process. If a nest is disturbed by construction or cutting a tree down, we want to replace the nest as close to the original location as possible. The parent birds may be hesitant to return with lots of commotion but should eventually come back to feed their babies.
Whether you live in a rural area or closer to a city, you’ve probably seen plenty of cotton tail rabbits around. These rabbits are notorious for nesting in some strange or inconvenient places. Baby rabbits are left alone most of the day with mom only returning to feed in the early morning and late at night. This is done to not lead predators to the nest. Once the babies are fully furred and about the size of a baseball, they are ready to be on their own! If a healthy baby gets displaced from the nest by another animal or a nest being disturbed when doing some gardening, it can simply be placed back in the nest.
If you are unsure if mom is still returning to the babies, you can do the “string test” overnight to see if she visits the nest. This would be done by placing four strings in a # pattern across the nest. If the string is disturbed the next morning, then mom paid babies a visit! Rabbits get stressed very easily and can even pass away due to stress so it is important to leave them be as much as we can, no matter how adorable they are! If you find a nest in an inconvenient place on your property, it is best to leave it be. Baby rabbits grow very quickly and will be out of the nest and on their own in no time!
The last species I want to talk about is squirrels! You may come across baby squirrels anywhere from early spring to late summer. These babies can often get themselves into trouble by being too friendly and following people around. This behavior can get them into trouble as some people want to take them home and try to raise them. Not only is it illegal to possess any wild animals without proper permitting, babies will often suffer from issues due to malnutrition and eventually become aggressive as they grow older.
If a baby squirrel comes to a rehabber after being kept by a member of the public, they are often farther behind in development due to not having the food and formula it requires and can even suffer from irreversible conditions such as metabolic bone disease.
Like birds, if a baby squirrel is looking healthy and is found after being displaced from the nest, the best option is to return it to the nest. If this is not possible, we want to place it as close to the nest as possible. Often times the parents will still be watching over the babies, even if it strays from the nest.
If you find wildlife that may need some help, please contact your local wildlife rehab before interfering with the animal, as we want to make sure we are doing the absolute best we can for them!
Resources in MN:
Wildwoods (Duluth): 218-491-3604 ( Pssst I work here!)
Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (Roseville): 651-486-9453
Wild and Free (Garrison): 320-692-4180
Grand Rapids Wildlife Rehab (Grand Rapids): firstname.lastname@example.org
Cripple Critter Ranch (Babbitt): 218-235-3496
About the Writer:
Hi! I’m Brighid! New to the team here at North & Shore, but I have been a maker with them for a while now. I’ve worked in veterinary medicine and wildlife rehab for over 7 years. I’m also a nanny, the maker behind Barn & Birch woodworking, and you can catch me working at North & Shore most Sundays.
Like many people in the north woods, I’ve always been passionate about animals and love to share my knowledge so we can do the very best for our furry little neighbors!
Follow me on social media @barn.and.birch!