Spring and summer are the times when wildlife rehabilitators, Animal Control Officers and animal caretakers receive the most calls about baby wildlife. In Fairfax County, numerous young, wild animals are frequently found causing residents to seek help from wildlife professionals to treat or raise young wildlife that appear to be orphaned or abandoned.
While these actions are well-intended, it is important to realize that they may be unnecessary and can be detrimental to the wildlife concerned. Survival rates of rehabilitated animals are often low and many do not survive their first year upon release back into the wild. A young animal’s best chance for survival is to receive natural care from its parents and remain wild.
Common wildlife that are frequently found and “rescued” in Fairfax County include squirrels, red foxes, raccoons, rabbits, skunks, opossums, and songbirds, among others. If you come across a baby animal and feel the need to intervene, we offer guidelines below to determine if the animal needs help. If an animal is displaying these signs, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or Animal Control for further assistance and instruction.
Signs that an animal needs help:
- Shows signs of flies, worms or maggots, which look like grains of rice
- Was caught by a cat or dog
- Is bleeding or shows signs of trauma, such as swelling
- If the parents are known to be dead
- Is very cold, thin or weak
- Is on the ground unable to move
- Is not fully furred or feathered
Refrain from handling any baby wild animal unless it’s necessary to transport. Heavy gloves should be worn at all times if handling is necessary. Even small animals can cause injury. Keep your hands away from the animal’s mouth as there is always potential for rabies among wild mammals, even baby animals such as raccoons, foxes and skunks.
Additional information can be found at: http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/injured/ http://wildliferescueleague.org/pdf/does_this_animal_need_help.pdf
It is also common for people to encounter seemingly orphaned or abandoned white-tailed deer fawns, which are born between April and July. Female deer, called does, typically leave their fawns bedded down for extended periods of time while they are away foraging in order to reduce the chances of leading predators to their fawn’s location. Does will return several times each day to move and/or feed their young although this behavior often goes undetected by people.
Often the best way to help is to simply give the fawn space and allow the mother to return to care for it. If you encounter a fawn, do not handle or disturb it to avoid causing unnecessary stress for the animal. Only if a fawn is showing obvious signs of injury or distress, such as wandering and crying incessantly, eyes swollen or has visible wounds, or if there is a dead doe nearby, should you seek help for the animal. More information provided by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries can be found at: http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/news/release.asp?id=446.
If you have questions about whether an animal is in need of help or to locate a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, you may contact the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline toll-free at 1-855-571-9003. This helpline is a collaborative effort between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Wildlife Services and is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Fairfax County Animal Control Services can be reached through the Police non-emergency line at 703-691-2131.