“We Found A Fawn”

The telephone rings and I instinctively cringe.  It is mid May and around dusk. The voice on the other end says” “We found a fawn in our yard this afternoon so we brought it in and have been feeding it”

I ask “Why did you bring it in?”

“Because it is cold out and it was all alone and we couldn’t see its mother”

“What did you feed it?”

“We got a baby bottle and gave it some milk” He says proudly

“Cows milk?”  I say as my blood pressure starts to rise

“Is there any other kind of milk?” He snaps

FawnI am getting pretty irritated but try to stay civil “Well, yes, there is mothers milk, which is what the baby needs, not cows milk. He is not a cow, he is a fawn and he needs his mothers milk. Cows milk will make a fawn very ill and could kill him.  When you found the fawn, was he injured, laying flat or was he curled up?”  I ask.

“He was curled up in the front yard. We found him about 2:00 PM and brought him in.  it is cold out there. What should we be feeding him?”

I take a deep breath, because I will once again go through the process of explaining fawn behavior and how does protect their young.  I am mildly irritated by the fact that an obviously elderly couple could not have ever heard about how not to interfere with wildlife and that it is completely normal for fawns to be lying outside by themselves – even in cold weather, even in ones front yard….

“When a doe has a fawn, the fawn is too young to travel with its mother.  It can’t run, so the best protection against predators is to lie very still, since predators hunt by movement.  The doe lays her young fawn down and tells it to stay there. She then leaves.  It may be your front yard, back yard or doorstep. They do not stay by their babies like humans do, or like many of the domestic animals that we know about, such as cows and horses do.

The does leave the area so as not to attract predators to the spot where the baby is. They are watching though. The does will come back just after dark, feed and tend the baby and move it a bit, sometimes only a few feet, then lay it down again.  How much the fawn is moved will usually depend on the age of the fawn and the ability to travel  with mom.  Once the baby is two to three weeks old, its ability to run is greater and its reaction may be to get up and run, rather than lie still.

People often expect that if they approach the fawn the doe will come charging out and try to keep them away.  Not so. The does are hoping the human will react like most other predators, not notice the baby and leave.  Unfortunately, many times if a human finds a fawn, they do not leave, they assume the baby is an orphan and take it (kidnap it). Imagine the mothers distress.   So, just because you do not see the doe, does not mean she has abandoned her fawn. Does and other wild animals do not abandon their babies! They are very good, devoted mothers.  Different wild animals protect their babies in different ways. Deer and Rabbits protect their young by NOT being there and only coming back to tend the baby when there is no one around and / or after dark.  So, if you are standing there by the baby outside, I can guarantee that the mother will not be seen as long as you are in the area. To the deer or rabbit you are a predator.

At this time, I would like to dispel a common myth that we were all told as kids…  “Don’t touch baby wild animals because their mother will smell your scent on them and will abandon them”.  Guess what?  Not True! This is nothing but a common wives tale.  They don’t care that your scent is on their babies, after all, they are familiar with human scent because it is all over the area and on everything.  They felt secure enough to have their babies nearby all that human scent.  They don’t care that human scent is on their babies – the mothers instinct is much stronger than the fear of human scent.  This goes for baby birds, baby bunnies, baby everything and of course, fawns. This is NOT permission to touch wild animal babies though.  It just means if you made a mistake and touched it, its mother will still take it back.  A doe will take her fawn back as much as 48 hours after it was kidnapped by humans.  The only reason  it might not be able to be reunited in many instances is because the humans fed it cows milk or something other than it’s own mothers milk. I have successfully reunited fawns that were kept overnight, handled, licked by dogs, etc.. Momma was there within minutes of the return.

There are certainly circumstances that require rescue rather than reuniting. If you can see blood, open wounds, exposed bones or other injuries.  Green Flies sitting on the fawn  are an indicator of an injury too. If the fawn was hit by a car, if a leg or legs appear damaged, if it is caught in a fence or trap or has been attacked by a predator.  If the fawn has been held for days by a finder or fed the wrong foods by a finder(cows milk is a big No NO!).  If the fawn is having trouble breathing or  is unconscious. If a fawn has been walking around and bleating for more than a few hours this may indicate trouble.  If a dead doe is near the fawn.

A healthy fawn lays curled up and very still.  If disturbed, a healthy fawn may get up and walk around bleating .  The fawns bleat sounds like “mmma”.   If you have mistakenly disturbed the fawn, leave the area immediately. Let it lay back down somewhere and stay out of the area.  Keep pets and children away.  If you call around for information from a rehabilitator or other animal control person, please beware of anyone who does not ask questions and just says” we will come get it”.  Any rehabilitator or animal professional worth salt will ask a lot of questions about the fawn, how it was found, what it was doing, etc.. ” don’t  allow someone to just take the fawn unless it has been truly determined that it is necessary. Fawns do much better when raised by their mommas.  They can avoid hunters the best in the fall and really need to be raised  by their mothers, not humans.

Simply being in a populated area is NOT reason to take a fawn.  Occasionally we have taken fawns that were found by humans out of  public parks on Memorial Day Weekend. We bring them back to the center and keep them until dusk when the park closes or human activity subsides that day.  We then take the baby back around dusk to the spot where it was discovered and put it back so its mother can take it and hopefully move it to a better location.

There is a wide window of opportunity to return a kidnapped fawn.  Many people believe coyotes are the single greatest threat to fawns.  Not so.  it is humans .  It is humans who do not understand the behavior of wildlife.

Weasels, the Coolest Animals to Rehab!

WeaselLong-tailed weasel, short -tailed weasel, Least Weasel, mink, otter, fisher, martin are just a few of the members of the weasel family found in North America. The family name, Mustelidae, is based on the Latin word for “weasel”.  Anyone who has had the pleasure of raising one of these animals will quickly tell you that they are the coolest animals to raise.

Weasels are usually  born in April or May in underground dens, and it is pretty much a given that any infant of a burrowing or tunneling species found above ground is in trouble and should be taken to a rehabilitator.  The long , skinny neck  is usually a give-away to the fact that one has a weasel, but it can often be difficult to determine what species one has until at least a couple weeks old. But, determining the species of weasel really doesn’t matter when it comes to the care needed, as they are all cared for the same.

WeaselBaby weasels are interesting in many ways, and the fact that I find most interesting is that their eyes don’t open for 26 days.  I am used to fox pups whose eyes are open by two weeks of age. When their eyes open, they are eating soft solid food.  However, weasels are eating solid food WELL BEFORE their eyes open.  One of my pet peeves are rehabilitators who bottle feed animals well past the time that they should. I observed a scrapbook recently that a rehabilitator was using for public display. While flipping through the pages, I saw a nearly adult-sized fully furred, eyes open “baby” weasel” drinking formula from a bottle. EEK! I thought. Surely one must have a better feel for mammals than that?  Eyes still closed and baby fur still on, offer some canned cat food and watch the baby chow down. I always mix the formula with a product called ‘Missing Link for Cats” It comes in a gold foil pouch and is sold through catalogs and outlets, including PetSmart.  Weasels need a basic diet like a cat, not a dog.  I strongly believe that a balanced diet is more easily obtained by feeding a canned and dry cat food that has been manufactures to provide cats with a balanced diet.  The Missing Link should be added to all foods, including the formula.  Feeding just mice is not a balanced diet, as wildlife eats such a variety of things that a single source of food simply doesn’t provide .  Small, dead mice should certainly be offered to young baby weasels (and young fox pups), but only as an enrichment, a prey-identification tool, not as a diet. When raised in captivity, animals simply do not have access to the dirt, insects, minerals, and grasses that they do in the wild.  A diet of dead or live mice and chicks is simply inadequate

Since weasels have such an incredibly fast metabolism, it is advisable to feed them every hour, right around the clock until they are at least 2 weeks old.  I feed a mix of formula, canned cat food, Missing Link for Cats and Pedialyte to help with hydration. I thicken the formula as they show preference for chunks of solid food.  When they are three weeks old, I feed them every three hours. I will also give small chunks of chicken or venison.

WeaselEven before their eyes are open, I am sure to have them in natural surroundings, with leaves, clumps of grasses, rocks and logs.  Of course there is an area that provides warmth and snuggle space. By five weeks old, baby weasels are weaned in the wild – but I find that they are off the milk formula before that in my care, and on to canned cat food, dry cat food, meat, mice.

Here is an interesting fact… Females can conceived while they are still in the nest and their eyes and ears are still closed.  By the time they leave their nest, many females are already pregnant. Weasels generally mate in July or August, but the young are not born until the following April or May. The total gestation is roughly 279 days. The young are not actually developing during this period though.  The embryos undergo an initial development of about two weeks, then remain free in the uterus, dormant  until April or May when they are implanted 23 to 24 days before birth.  There are usually 5-8 blind, toothless, pink and naked young.

WeaselThe most common predators of weasels are man, cats, dogs, owls, foxes, hawks and snakes.  Weasels are very susceptible to distemper and it is advisable to vaccinate them with a safe vaccine, such as PUREVAX, a canary vector vaccine made by Merial.  Any other distemper vaccines give to animals especially prone to distemper can actually cause them to come down with the disease.  PUREVAX is a new vaccine that has proved safe in wild animals.

Turkey Season And Coyote “Attacks”

May 1st, Turkey hunting season begins. This is also the time when we start to hear stories of how a hunter was sitting in camouflage clothes, making turkey noises for an extended period of time and then was suddenly approached by a coyote.  Sometimes, the coyote will actually make contact with the camouflaged blob, and then we have a “coyote attack on a human”.  Hmmm…. A camouflaged blob making turkey noises attracts a coyote….. no surprise there.

Because it is the pup season for coyotes, it is perfectly normal for a female with hungry pups to become  interested in a continuous turkey noise coming from a single spot.  It sounds like an easy meal to any intelligent animal.   However, all too many times, the female is then shot for responding to what is a food call for her.  This type of encounter is what creates the orphans we get every year, as well as the illegal pet coyotes that are confiscated by conservation law enforcement from time to time.

Coyotes are attracted by noises, but hunt primarily by sight and movement. A non-moving camouflaged blob is  unidentifiable to a coyote.  If a hunter realizes that he has called in a coyote, the best thing to do if he wants  to let her know that he is indeed a human is to simply stand up and wave his arms and say something, such as “hey, I am a man!” , or whatever utterance he feels is appropriate.  This allows her to realize her mistake and leave, though somewhat embarrassed.  Unfortunately, many of these coyotes will be shot and their babies left to die of starvation.  Certainly a good conservationist wouldn’t wish that upon any living being?

Lets talk turkey. Studies have shown that coyotes do not have a negative impact on the turkey populations. They actually help keep the populations healthy by catching the slowest of the flock. The slowest turkey of the flock is usually the bird that is coming down with a disease that could decimate the entire flock.  It is impossible for a coyote to kill off an entire flock.  It is simply impossible.  Turkeys roost in trees and coyotes can’t climb, so catching them asleep won’t happen.  Any turkey hunter will tell you they are a  very wary bird.  It is the rare coyote that can sneak up on a flock of turkeys, and if he does, as soon as he gets close, they will take off, the slowest one becoming the most likely victim.  The others won’t hang around to watch and become victims themselves, and the experience will make them all the more wary and wise. Some people believe that coyotes will take a hen off a nest of eggs. The more likely  predator is the Great Horned Owl. Hen turkeys sit on their nests very quiet and still.  I have rode two feet from them on horseback without them moving. Because they are quiet they don’t attract coyotes .  Because Hens sit still and coyotes hunt by movement, a coyote could just as easily walk to feet from the hen without noticing her.  The only affect that coyotes have on the turkey population is that they keep it healthy.

Coyotes are often blamed for killing off “all of the fawns”.  Not true.  Fawns lie perfectly still and have no scent. A predator must literally stumble upon them to find them and what are the chances of that? Slim at best.  We all hear tall tales of guys with cameras setting them up near coyote dens and counting high numbers of fawns dragged to the dens, yet so one ever seems to be able to produce these photos. Lots of talk, no authenticated proof.  One would wonder why if these photos are so fantastic  why no one has a copy, or better yet, no one has posted them on the internet.  No doubt, someone will now take the time to create them with Photoshop…

Of course there will be triplet fawns who become weak and are abandoned by the doe, there will be fawns whose doe is hit by a car, there will be ill fawns.  These fawns may become coyote food because instead of lying perfectly still, they will walk about and bleat, attracting coyotes, domestic dogs – and worse yet, humans who will bring them into their homes, over handle them, feed them cows milk, try to raise them as pets, etc.. etc.. So yes, a small percentage of fawns will become coyote meals, but most of them were doomed to die by some other means anyway- something called Compensatory Mortality.

The other morning I listened to a female fox in distress for hours because a turkey hunter was sitting near her den.  She squalled from 5 am until 11 am, and obviously the hunter didn’t notice or care that  that he was causing such a disturbance with his presence.  Would have it been so difficult to get up and move to a different spot?  I, the fox, and her babies I am sure thought him quite inconsiderate.

Orphaned Wildlife Calls Are Upsetting

Spring is here and there are a lot of new babies about.  Many of these babies are very close to humans, often in their sheds, garages, barns and summer homes.  Raccoons and squirrels are the most common animals who might have their babies in such a human dwelling. I am reminded each spring about how important wildlife education for the public is and of the need for people like wildlife rehabilitators.  I have received two of what I consider the most upsetting types of calls in the last two days.

The First, a man found a nice warm nest of baby squirrels in his shed.  Rather than  encouraging momma squirrel to move her babies elsewhere, which is very easy to do with a little direction, he  took all the babies out and put them in a box.  Then he called around for someone to “come and get them”.  He was completely unwilling to do the right thing, and give the mother a chance to move her babies, and was also unwilling to pay a nuisance control agent to come get them.  The responsibility then falls on the rehabilitator not only to raise these babies but to drive over to his house and pick them up.  People really think that we are paid for this and don’t realize that many of us are single mothers, working full time jobs, or have lives too.  Simple action and willingness to try to reunite the babies with their mothers is all that is needed, but the general public tends to be quite selfish when it comes to wildlife.

The second call, I received by a man who just said “call me” on his message, and didn’t give a reason why.  This is one of my pet peeves, and am all to familiar with the fact that this usually means that it involves baby raccoons.  Of course, this guy did indeed have two baby raccoons in his possession and I could hear them in the background.  He had taken them from a box in his summer home and brought them home.  I told him that if he had simply set them outside and given momma an opportunity, she would have taken her babies elsewhere.  This man didn’t care, he wanted me to take them, rather than allow their mother an opportunity to retrieve them.  He refused to do anything to correct his own irresponsible actions.  This story reminds me of another one, involving a man who found a coyote den in the woods while turkey hunting.  He grabbed a pup, and then kept it for a couple days, let the kids play with it and then surrendered it to a vet. I asked him to take me to the den so I could return the pup to its family and he refused, saying ” they don’t belong out there”.

Calls like these are common and the responsibility seems to have fallen on the wildlife rehabilitators who are not paid or reimbursed for our work.  Everything we do, from spending hours on the phone educating people, to going to schools to educate children, to spending all night awake to feed young animals “orphaned” by  uneducated  humans is volunteer, and unpaid work.  But this work is important.  We educate people one at a time.  Some are intelligent enough to “get it”, others aren’t.

Wood Thrushes are back!

Ahh.  The ethereal sound of the Wood Thrush.  Hylocichla mustelina. Ee-o-lay!  My favorite bird song,  and this morning, May 2, 2006,  they are back. This is the first morning that I have heard this plain brown bird with the flute-like voice and the rusty head in 2006. Wood thrushes prefer mainly deciduous woodlands and I am fortunate to live in such surroundings.  I can hear their liquid call echo gently from the woods surrounding my home.

The arrival of the wood thrush means that the Veery, catharus fuscescens,  another thrush will be back soon too.  This small plain bird also rivals the most beautiful calls in the world with a breezy, flute like downward spiral made with dual voice boxes that harmonize with each other.

Another one of my favorite songs is the song of the Eastern Wood Pewee, a small sparrow-sized flycatcher with a sweet and slow plaintive whistle. Pee-o-wee that slurrs down and then up the follows it with pee-ow. We often connect songs that play on the radio with places and times in our lives. I make mental connections with favorite times and settings and the bird songs I heard.  The Pewee I connect with deep woodlands, warm still mornings,  many of these coupled with the gentle sound of hooves on the forest floor as I ride my horse through the deep woods.  It is times like these that make me glad to be alive, as well as glad to be an early riser.