It is Spring time and baby animals are everywhere it seems.
In our neighborhood Spring brings a flurry of activity from ducklings. Cars slow as mama ducks lead their little ones from their hatching nest to the water for their first swim.
This weekend we had 11 little baby ducks on our front porch peeping away. Luckily they were not newly hatched. According to this site they are at least 5 or 6 weeks old.
Last year we found several little ducklings only a few hours old that had been separated from their mother.
Doing a bit of research using the Wildlife Rehabilitator website we found out that:
Ducklings can get separated from their mom for several reasons, including late hatching, stray or too weak during walk back to water, injured, human interference. Ducklings can die from cold (hypothermia) even if the outdoor temperature is warm. Until they are several weeks old, ducklings can not generate their own body temperature without mom nearby for warmth, Ducklings can drown. Until they grow feathers, ducklings get their waterproofing ability from the oils on mom's feathers. Ducklings should never be placed in water. Ducklings can die within 24 hours from lack of proper nutrition. An improper diet can rapidly lead to hypoglycemia. A very young duckling that is staggering or appears "drunk" is hypoglycemic and will die unless it is provided with some source of sugar. Dextrose or a small amount of table sugar mixed with water can be smeared onto the duckling's tongue. It should respond to the sugar within 20-30 minutes. It should immediately be provided with the correct diet to prevent the condition from occurring again. Ducklings can die from overhandling. The majority of the organs in their abdomen are not protected by skeletal structure and can easily be bruised or damaged due to overhandling.
Other ducks will not adopt lone ducklings (and may attempt to harm or drown them), so never attempt to place them with another mother, or try to guess who mom is.
This does not sound like newly hatched ducklings without their mothers have much chance of survival. So what should we do if we find an abandoned duckling?
- First of all, make sure the animal is actually abandoned. In this case the mother (and father we think) returned after 30 minutes or so.
- Second, before you even try to pick the animal up, contact a Wildlife Rehabilitator using this locator. .Most of the time, they will most likely come pick the animal up. But if not, they are a great source of information on what to do next depending on the animal you find.
But this has lead us to find our more information on how we can become seasonal wildlife rehabilitators for ducklings specifically.
What about other animals?
Below is some information on commonly found baby animals that we think MIGHT be abandoned and what we should do according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
- Is the rabbit injured (bleeding, broken bones, puncture wounds, been in a cat's mouth, open wounds, etc.)?
- If YES, take the rabbit to your nearest wildlife veterinarian or rehabilitator.
- If NO, see below.
- Is the rabbit fully furred with its eyes opened?
- If YES, if the rabbit is larger than a baseball and weighs more than 4 ounces or 100 grams, it is on its own and does not need human intervention.
- If NO, attempt to locate the nest (a shallow depression on the ground possibly lined with rabbit fur and/or grass, cottontail rabbits do not burrow) and put the rabbit back. Nests that must be moved (due to construction) may be relocated up to 20 feet away from the original site (scoop up and rebuild the nest with the mother's fur and place the babies inside). Check back briefly once a day for two days. If the rabbits appear to be plump and healthy, leave them alone. Mother rabbits feed at dusk and dawn. You are not likely to ever see the mother. If the rabbits appear thin and weak, have wrinkled, baggy skin, contact a state licensed small mammal rehabilitator in your area immediately. Rabbits may be temporarily moved for mowing if they are returned to the nest before dusk. Do not attempt to mow within 10 feet of a rabbit's nest if there are babies present. If you suspect the nest is abandoned, you can sprinkle the area with flour or cross two twigs over the nest and check back in 24 hours. If there is no sign of disturbance to the nest, you will then need to intervene.
- Is the squirrel injured (bleeding, broken bones, wounds, been in a cat's mouth, etc.)?
- If YES, take the squirrel to the nearest wildlife veterinarian or rehabilitator. (For juvenile squirrels, wear thick leather gloves when handling. Even young squirrels can have a vicious bite!)
- If NO, squirrels whose tails are fully fluffed out like a bottle brush and weigh more than 6.5 ounces or 180 grams, are on their own in the wild and do not need human intervention. If the squirrel does not meet these criteria, see below.
- Is the squirrel fully furred with its eyes opened?
- If YES, and the squirrel weighs between 75 and 150 grams (2.6-5.3 ounces), his tail is flat or not quite full, and may seem "friendly", the squirrel still needs nursing and care from it's mother. Mother squirrels may "rescue" stray babies by carrying them by the scruff back to the nest. For very small squirrels, attempt to locate the nest (big ball of dried leaves at the top of a tree) and try to get the baby to climb up the trunk. Check back several hours later to see if the baby is still there. If the baby has not been fed or attended to for an entire day, contact a state licensed small mammal rehabilitator immediately. If the squirrel is old enough to run from you, it is old enough to be on its own and does not need human intervention.
- If NO, and the baby is not retrieved by the mother for an entire day, contact a state licensed small mammal rehabilitator immediately. Keep predators (cats and dogs) away from the area if the baby is on the ground.
- Is the opossum injured (bleeding, broken bones, wounds, deformity, etc.)?
- If YES, contact your nearest wildlife veterinarian or rehabilitator.
- If NO, opossums that are at least 8" long from tip of nose to the base of the tail (do not include the tail) and weigh more than 7.25 ounces or 200 grams are old enough to survive on their own in the wild and do not need human intervention. If the opossum does not meet these criteria, see below.
- Is the opossum fully furred with its eyes opened?
- If YES, but does not meet the size requirement for release, and is between two and three and a half months old and weighs 40-190 grams (1.5-7 ounces) contact a state licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately. Opossum babies are often found crawling around next to their dead mother and will not survive at this age without human care.
- If NO, the baby needs immediate assistance. Contact a state licensed wildlife rehabilitator or wildlife veterinarian immediately. Babies separated from their mother at this stage have a slimmer chance of survival.
For more information on what to do if you find injured or abandoned wildlife, please visit Wildlife Links for Educators and Teachers for specific contacts in your own state.