There are several reasons you might come across a wild baby mammal by itself. Sometimes these animals will need help, and sometimes the best thing to do is leave the animal alone. In every case, if their parents are still alive, the baby will have the best chance of survival if it can be reunited with them.
Before bringing a wild baby mammal to the Wildlife Care Center, check that the animal really needs your help and can’t be returned to its parents. For guidance, start by asking the following questions.
How to know if an animal needs help
Is the baby mammal visibly hurt or sick?
Has it been in contact with a dog or cat (even if it appears uninjured), or has it been in human care for more than 12 hours?
If you answered yes to any of the above, the mammal very likely will need to come to the Care Center for treatment. Please call our wildlife hotline at 503-292-0304 and one of our Wildlife Solutions Counselors will advise you on the best course of action. Learn more on our Wildlife Rescue Tips page.
Is the baby a deer fawn, rabbit, or opossum?
- Rabbits: Rabbits only feed their young at dusk and dawn. The babies are left alone in the nest the rest of the time. If you find a nest and are concerned that the young are orphaned, try placing sticks over the nest in a recognizable pattern (like tic-tac-toe board or “X”). If the pattern has been disturbed in the morning, then the mother has returned. Do not use string; the babies or mother can become entangled.
- Deer Fawns: For the first few weeks of life, deer fawns are left alone most of the time while their mothers forage. Fawns at this age have no scent, and lie motionless hidden in thickets or brush, which keeps them safe from predators. If you find a fawn on the ground and it does not appear injured, do not disturb it and leave the area. The mother will not approach while you are nearby for fear of exposing her young to a possible predator.
- Virginia Opossums: Young opossums who are five to six inches long (excluding the tail) are large enough to be independent from their mothers. If you find an opossum at least five inches long, with its eyes open, and no discernable injury, leave it alone and keep pets and children away from it.
Are its parents deceased?
If not, it’s best to try reuniting the baby with its parents.
Try to locate the den or nest, and if it is intact, replace the baby in the den. Wear gloves and wash your hands after handling any wild animal.
If you can’t find the den or nest, or it has been destroyed, make a surrogate nest by placing an absorbent cloth in a small box. Add a heat source, for example, a sock that has been filled with dry rice or beans and microwaved for 2-3 minutes. Place the baby in the surrogate nest (wear gloves and wash your hands) and put the nest as close to where the baby was found as possible. Place the nest under shelter and if possible, up off the ground in a bush or tree.
Keep all pets and people away from the area, and watch from a distance to see if you can spot the parents visiting the den or surrogate nest. Wild animals work hard to avoid drawing attention to their babies, and can be slow to return to a disturbed nest, so you will need to watch carefully and be patient, sometimes for several hours. Nocturnal animals, such as raccoons, may only be comfortable approaching after dark.
The mother may watch from a distance or approach and retreat several times to test if it is safe to approach the nest. Any additional disturbance may delay her return. In some cases, mom will continue to visit the nest or surrogate nest. In others, mom will transport her young to a secondary nest site she deems safer.
If the animal is ill, injured, or cannot be reunited with its parents:
- Contain the animal in a secure, but not airtight, container. See our Wildlife Rescue Tips page for guidance on capturing and containing animals.
- Do not handle the baby any more than necessary to contain it. This is for your protection as well as for the animal’s well-being. Limit contact and wash your hands after handling, as mammals can carry a variety of diseases that can affect humans. Older baby animals are terrified of humans. They may fight back, try to flee, or freeze. Many people mistake the “freeze” behavior for tolerance or enjoyment of contact, when in reality this is a fear response. Younger infants may not be aware enough to be afraid, but need lots of rest and quiet. Too much handling can deplete critical energy reserves.
- Keep the animal in a dark and quiet space. Keep them away from children and pets.
- Keep the baby warm. Provide a heating pad set on low under half their enclosure, or a sock filled with dry rice and microwaved for 2-3 minutes.
- Do not feed any baby mammal. Wild animal milks are completely different from the milks you might find at a grocery story or the milk replacers available in pet or feed stores. Feeding the incorrect milk can upset the baby’s sensitive system, and may even result in death.
- Do not leave water in the animal’s container. Very young mammals rely on their mother’s milk to provide them with fluids, and do not learn to drink until they are older. Leaving water dishes in with baby mammals is not only ineffective, but also increases the chances they will become wet and hypothermic.
- Bring the animal to the Wildlife Care Center as soon as you can. If you can’t bring it to the center during our open hours, or you believe the animal is in critical condition and needs immediate attention after hours, the Wildlife Care Center has a partnership with the 24 hour Emergency Veterinary Hospital Dove Lewis. To get in touch with them, call (503) 228-7281.