Spring is the time for renewal. Trees push forth their new leaves (and unfortunately the pollens that go with them), grasses start growing (necessitating the emergence of lawn mowers), and the local wildlife population expands with the births of offspring. Even in this rural area, many of these animals live in very close proximity to our homes and it is important to understand the nature of the babies we will find.
Deer are quite prevalent in this area, as they are all over North Jersey. Typically, deer would have just one fawn a year, but twins seem to be the norm and triplets and even quadruplets are not unheard of. Newborn fawns are able to stand within minutes and can walk and run within hours. However, their main mode of defense is to be still. They have essentially no scent so they are difficult for predators to find. The mother hides them in tall grass or thick brush where they stay curled up while she goes to forage for food. The instinct to stay still is very strong, which is why you can often get very close to them. My horse has almost stepped on them sometimes when we go out riding. It is important to remember that these fawns have not been abandoned just because you don’t see mom around. Rest assured, she remembers exactly where she left her young. The best thing to do if you run across one of these babies is to grab your camera, snap a few photos to show your city-folk friends and leave it alone.
Another animal you will frequently see are rabbits, because they breed like, well, rabbits. Mother bunnies make a nest in the ground and line it with their hair. It is usually quite well camouflaged and the most common way you find one is when you uncover it with the lawnmower. Newborn rabbits are hairless and helpless. If you do expose a nest, don’t fret. Just replace the grass over top and remember to go around it next time. The mom only feeds them twice daily, at dawn and dusk, so this is another case where just because you don’t see the mother, it doesn’t mean she has abandoned them. When they get hair, the babies have a white spot on their head that fades as they mature. Usually when they are a solid brown on top, they are on their own.
On occasion, you’ll find a baby bird which has fallen from its nest. The first thing to do is to look up and see if you can find the nest. If you can, just replace the nestling in it. It is not true that if the chick has a human scent on it, the mother will not take care of it anymore. Later in the spring, you may find fully feathered young birds on the ground. If they can flutter away when you approach, it is a fledgling — which means it has gone out of the nest and the mother is usually still feeding it on the ground. These little guys will be airborne soon, so leave them be so they can practice those first few flights and get some strength in their wings.
Bears have become regular guests at our feeding stations — otherwise known as garbage cans. Sows have their young in dens over the winter and emerge in the spring. Like deer, singletons used to be the norm, but litters of three or four can now be seen. The state has made a concerted effort to educate the public about living with bears so we all know to make our garbage cans bear-proof, and not actively feed them. We also know that in general, bears would rather not have a confrontation. Most will run away or climb the nearest tree rather than go on the offensive, but the exception is a sow with her cubs. If you see a baby bear, do not approach but do check to see where mom is — she will not be far and you do not want to get between them.
Cute as they are, wild animals are still wild animals, no matter how young they are. Raccoons, groundhogs, foxes, bats and skunks all can carry rabies. In addition, even baby skunks are perfectly capable of spraying. The best care all young can receive is from the parent of the same species.
The most important thing to remember is that if you do feel that a baby animal is truly in danger (for example, you see the mother killed on the road) you cannot take it in yourself. It is illegal to keep wildlife without a special permit to do so. There are a number of excellent wildlife rehabilitators in the area who are experienced in their care. In the case of bears, you need to contact the State Department of Fish and Wildlife as only they can deal with these large and potentially dangerous bruins. If you find yourself in one of these situations, you can call our office and we can put you in contact with the right person.
So get out and hike the Appalachian Trail, ride your bike on the Paulinskill or take your dog for a walk in your neighborhood and keep an eye out for the adorable little critters that are all around you. But admire them from a distance and let nature take care of them.