What time is it?
It’s THAT time of year again. The Rounders (people who live here year round) can actually get a seat in a restaurant. You can drive from Punta Gorda to North Port on US1 in under two hours. The few remaining volunteers at Peace River Wildlife Center are going stark raving mad listening to baby birds cheep, squeak, peep and chirp.
Spring is baby season here at PRWC. To be fair, we don’t strictly adhere to a “season” for babies to be born around here like they do in more northern climes, but we do experience an upswing in incidence. We see baby birds all year long in this area, especially doves. But spring brings an influx of all other song bird and raptor babies. We see lots of mockingbirds, grackles, blue jays, fish crows, herons, owls and hawks. These babies may only be awake from dawn to dusk, but some of them need to be fed every 10-15 minutes during that entire time. This constant frenzy of activity and noise (yes, those tiny baby mouths can really create quite a cacophony) continues for months as we slide right into baby mammal season.
We also see baby rabbits, raccoons, opossums, and squirrels year round, especially during warm winters like the one we have just experienced. We may have one or two mammal babies at a time during the rest of the year, whereas during baby mammal season we can have 30 squirrels and 40 opossums at once. All of these mammal babies need to be fed different formulas, by different methods, depending on species and age. And they need to be fed every few hours around the clock by our diligent home care volunteers—many of whom are our staff during the day, but they do not get paid for their after-hours care of babies.
How do all these babies get to PRWC? Many are found by John Q. Public and brought to us for care. Some are delivered by Charlotte County Animal Control officers. We designate on the paperwork a “Cause for Admission”. Often this is “Caught by Cat” or “Orphaned” when mom was found dead on the side of the road. But the sad fact is that an inordinate number of babies we care for are actually “Kidnapped”.
People find a fledgling bird hopping around on a branch some distance from a nest or even on the ground. This is perfectly normal behavior for the growing bird. The best thing for these babies is to leave them alone. Mom and dad will care for them, even if they end up on the ground. If there is a dog or cat in the area, try getting the baby back up into the nest. If the nest is too high or cannot be found, a makeshift nest can be constructed using a wicker or plastic basket or bowl. Drill holes into the bottom so water will drain through if it rains. Line the new “nest” with leaves and grass and place as high as possible in the tree near the old nest, where the baby was found, or where the parents are hanging out. Attach the nest with zip ties, wire, or screw or nail it right into the tree limb or trunk. An older fledgling, especially a raptor, can just be placed on a branch in the tree or bush. Wear thick leather gardening gloves or handle the bird with a sheet or towel to lessen the chance of getting either the bird or yourself injured.
The same basic methods can be used for displaced baby mammals also. If the nest or den can be found, place the baby back into it or near it. Watch from a distance to see if mom returns. A mother mammal or bird will not return if a human is sensed too close to the nest. If mom does not return after a few hours or if the baby appears hurt—holding an appendage oddly or bleeding—it should be brought to PRWC for treatment.
But your mother always told you the parent will reject the baby when she smells that you have touched it, right? Your mother lied to you. I’ll bet she told you other lies too. I’m not going to be the one to tell you there really is no Santa Claus, but I do have a vague recollection of a class in vet school that discredited the fact that rabbits can lay Easter eggs. To be fair, it’s not your mother’s fault. Blame your grandmother who lied to her daughter first. But let’s stop the hurtful cycle now. If you don’t want your children picking up wild animals, just tell them they will catch some painfully-treated disease. Or better yet, tell them the truth. Show them how to gently handle an animal, the proper way to care for it (whether that is returning it to the nest or taking it to a rehabber), and most of all, teach them to be respectful of all other creatures.
Spring is rapidly sliding into summer here in southwest Florida. As the days get longer and the nights get shorter, lets pause to appreciate the wonderful diversity of wildlife we are blessed with here in our corner of paradise. If you need something to help fill those expanding daylight hours, consider volunteering at PRWC. We can use habitat cleaners and tour guides, even a few hospital shifts are available. If you want more information on what to do if you find a baby bird or mammal, check out our web site at PeaceRiverWildlifeCenter.org.
by – Robin Jenkins, DVM