Don’t Rescue Me
The final counts have been tabulated and the winner is…Peace River Wildlife Center! We have added up all the patients seen over the 2014 calendar year and the total is 1,829. That is down slightly from 2013’s total of 1,946 and we see that as a success. Our goal this past year has been to try to educate the public what to do when they find a baby bird or mammal. We coach people over the phone, on the internet, during outreach programs and here at the Center when people visit us.
We have a wonderful pamphlet entitled, “Does this animal need your help?” Many young animals are found during their formative stages and brought to us by well-meaning folks who think the babies are in distress. Often the parents are nearby or the baby is just exercising a little independence as it prepares for life’s journey. The focus of our message is that leaving the baby with his or her parent is the best thing for that baby, the parent, and the area where the animals are located.
Looking at our intake numbers, it is apparent that we have started to get our message across and hope to continue to spread the word as we approach another baby bird season. It’s not that we are being lazy. Okay, well, it isn’t ONLY that! Rearing baby birds properly is time consuming and expensive. Every baby bird that comes into PRWC needs to be fed every 15 minutes on average, from sun-up to sun-down. We have different formulations of food for each species and age. The hatchlings are housed in incubators for the first few weeks of their lives. The nestlings are moved to indoor cages as they start to perch and walk. The fledglings are then moved outside to pre-release habitats as they achieve more independence.
Worst of all, try as we might, we cannot teach the young birds what they would learn from their parents in the wild. We have a few permanent resident birds that serve as foster parents to conspecific babies when they come in, but even that is limited in its scope. As natural as we try to make the habitats, it is not the same as being in nature. We make every effort to expose the babies to the types of food they will find when released, but that is not always possible either. We have to balance the bird’s nutritional needs with the availability of foods. We purchase mealworms, crickets, mice, and a variety of fruits, greens and vegetables but the birds would be eating a huge variety of other things in the wild.
Many of the behaviours exhibited by wild animals, including birds, are instinctual, but there is no substitute for a baby watching and mimicking the actions of the parent. When we get a fledgling bird in that is a few days away from flight in the wild, his progress is set back by weeks to months by being in captivity. Just because he wasn’t in the nest doesn’t mean he wasn’t being taken care of. His parents would have taken care of him on the ground and as he quickly learned to perch back up in the tree or bush. They would have provided food in addition to what he was learning to find on his own.
People who find baby birds or mammals on the ground or nests that have been disrupted are encouraged to call PRWC for further instructions. If you can’t call, check out the “Found a Baby Bird/Mammal, Now What?” links on the education page of our website.
We are grateful to our supporters for bringing injured wildlife to us for treatment, but let’s try to leave the babies in the wild unless they are truly orphaned.
by-Robin Jenkins, DVM