Bountiful Baby Wildlife; Let Them Stay Wild

Springtime is here and that means warmer temperatures, frogs calling, Virginia bluebells, and baby animals.

Animal Protection Police, wildlife rehabilitators and animal caretakers receive the most calls about baby wildlife in spring and summer. In Fairfax County, residents frequently find young, wild animals that appear to be orphaned or abandoned and seek help from wildlife professionals to treat or raise them.

While these actions are well-intended, it is important to realize that they may be unnecessary and can actually be detrimental to the wildlife concerned. Most wild animals are dedicated parents and do not abandon their offspring. Many wildlife species hide their young for safety nestled in grass or bushes and leave them alone for extended periods of time to look for food. Most of the time, the mother is nearby and will return to her offspring.

When humans intervene to “rescue” them, their survival rates decline. Many rehabilitated animals do not survive their first year upon release back into the wild. A wild animal’s best chance of survival is to stay in the wild.

Common wildlife 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, veterinarian or the Animal Protection Police 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

Before intervening, please learn more about which wildlife species and situations you are most likely to encounter and ways to determine whether an animal needs help at:

Attempting to capture wild animals can result in human injury when animals feel threatened or are in pain. Human handling may do more harm than good and may cause unnecessary stress on the animal or result in trauma. Please:

  • Refrain from handling any baby wild animal unless it’s absolutely necessary to transport. If handling is necessary, heavy gloves should be worn at all times.
  • 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. Even small animals can cause injury or carry disease.
  • Never give food or water to injured or orphaned wildlife. Inappropriate food or feeding technique can lead to sickness or death.
  • Do not attempt to treat or raise the animal yourself. Call a rehabilitation facility and follow their instructions.

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 Protection Police can be reached through the Police non-emergency line at 703-691-2131.