April’s showers bring May’s flowers, and they also signal the arrival of new life to animal nests and dens across the state. As this annual rebirth unfolds, many well-meaning Ohioans are sometimes compelled to “rescue” young animals they think have been abandoned by their parents.
But wildlife experts warn against such rescues, explaining that from down-covered goslings to wobbly-legged fawns, each species has its own way of successfully raising and protecting its young. In some cases, as with rabbits, that can mean the mother being absent from the nest for long periods at a time.
“People often misunderstand what they are seeing,” says Gail Laux, executive director of the Ohio Bird Sanctuary near Mansfield. “For example, when a fledgling robin leaves the nest it doesn’t know how to fly. With short wing and tail feathers, it hops around on the ground for three to five days before figuring out how to take flight.”
Laux reassuringly adds that during this time, the robin’s parents are nearby taking care of their flightless offspring. “With that kind of natural support, our help can be more of a hindrance to the animal,” she explains.
She says, however, that there are times when minimal intervention is acceptable. If you see a fledgling bird hopping too close to the road or in the path of the neighborhood cat, she recommends moving it to a nearby bush or low tree.
One common misconception is that birds and other mammals will not care for offspring that’s been touched by humans. Your brief contact will not cause parental desertion. In reality, the biggest problem is the stress caused to the animal while being handled; and excessive handling can ultimately lead to its death.
Here’s a look at when some of Ohio’s most common wildlife species will be rearing their young this season …
Canada geese: May through mid-June
Canada geese construct their nests on the ground, with females incubating a clutch of three to eight white eggs for approximately 28 days. After hatching, the young are out of the nest within one to two days and marched to water, as one parent leads the way and the other protectively brings up the rear. This species is very devoted to its offspring and will attack whatever comes between them and their goslings.
Eastern cottontail rabbits: March through late September.
If you find tiny rabbits in the nest, leave them alone. Female cottontails feed their young early in the morning and at dusk to prevent drawing a predator’s attention to the nest. She is most likely nearby, but won't approach the nest while humans are around.
Gray and Eastern fox squirrels: Give or take a month, these two species produce litters from February to April and June to August.
It isn’t unusual for a squirrel’s nest to be blown from a tree. If the young are knocked to the ground, you can help by ensuring no dogs or cats get to them. In a few short hours, the mother squirrel will rebuild a nest and then one-by-one carries her offspring up the tree to their new home.
Other common wildlife species you’ll likely see include mallard ducks, which hatch between May and July. Some mallards will even re-nest if their first clutch is destroyed, resulting in early-August ducklings. Songbirds, such as the Northern cardinal and American robin typically raise three broods a season, with their young fledging from May through August.
We don’t see the offspring of Ohio’s state wildlife symbol the white-tailed deer as often as the previously mentioned animals. However, they also fall prey to well-intentioned individuals. Born mid-May through July often as twins fawns come into the world with their eyes open, and are able to walk soon after birth. When the mother is away feeding, both fawns seek separate protective thickets of cover, which increases their chances of survival. The fawns venture out only two or three times a day when the female returns to nurse her young.
If you come across a young animal that you think is in distress, contact your local wildlife officer or wildlife district office for advice. Visit ohiodnr.com/wildlife or call 1-800-WILDLIFE for specific telephone numbers. Specially trained and licensed rehabilitators who provide care to orphaned and injured wildlife are another great source. A county listing of these professionals is available at ohiodnr.com/wildlife/resources/orphans/rehabilitators_04.htm
State and federal laws protect Ohio wildlife and endangered species. Only persons with a permit from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife may possess a native wild animal.
As temperatures in the Buckeye State continue to rise, luring you into the out of doors, you’ll likely see more and more young animals. Just remember that unless something truly appears to be wrong a broken wing or bleeding wound leave wildlife alone to take care of itself.