Department of Fish and Wildlife
Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Young wildlife best left undisturbed
FRANKFORT, Ky. – Encounters with young wildlife increase in
spring as people spend more time outdoors.
An unattended deer fawn curled up in tall
grass. A litter of rabbits discovered alone in the backyard. A baby bird
furiously flapping its wings but struggling to get off the ground.
It’s human nature to want to take matters
into your own hands in such instances. After all, we see and read stories about
firefighters rescuing kittens from burning houses or technical rescue teams
saving horses and livestock that have fallen into icy ponds. In nature,
however, human intervention is not always what is best for wildlife.
“This is the time of year when white-tailed
deer and other animals have their young,” said Gabe Jenkins, deer and elk
program coordinator with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife
Resources. “It’s best to leave them alone.”
The Information Center at Kentucky Fish and
Wildlife’s headquarters fields about 100,000 phone calls and upward of 40,000
emails from the public each year. Invariably, spring brings an influx of communications
from well-intentioned people concerned about young wildlife seemingly abandoned
by their parents.
This coincides with the peak of deer fawning
Newborn deer spend much of their time bedded
down until they are about a month old and strong enough to follow their mother.
Their reddish-brown coat patterned with pale spots helps camouflage them in
“Just like human babies, they’re small, weak
and need time to grow,” Jenkins said. “They eat, they sleep and that’s about
it. The more they venture out and move around, the greater the chances are of
them being preyed upon. Mom puts them in a spot or leaves them. The more she
comes back and spends time there the more she brings her scent to that spot.
The fawns are essentially scentless.”
The mother deer will visit her fawn to nurse
and typically does not stray far from it between feedings. The separation may
alarm somebody who discovers an unattended fawn but it helps divert predators’
attention away from the baby deer.
“Momma didn’t abandon them,” Jenkins said.
“She placed them there. She knows where they’re at, or is very close, and she
will come back.”
In instances where a fawn has been calling
for its mother for several hours with no response, is obviously injured, or where
the mother deer was observed being hit by a car, a call should be placed to a wildlife
“We don’t want you to go pick it up and hold
it or keep it,” Jenkins said. “They are wild animals.”
Orphaned and injured wildlife may be
possessed only by a permitted wildlife rehabilitator. A searchable list of
these rehabilitators is available on Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s website at fw.ky.gov. Click on the “Wildlife” tab and choose “Injured & Orphaned Wildlife” from the dropdown menu. Only persons with
a captive cervid permit may keep deer in captivity.
Landowners who encounter a deer fawn that is
in the way while cutting hay or mowing can be moved a short distance out of the
way. The mother should still be able to find the fawn when she returns to nurse
Encounters with rabbit nests in suburban
settings are fairly common this time of year.
“Rabbits can start nesting as early as
February and they’ll go throughout the spring and summer months,” said Ben
Robinson, small game biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “Maybe somebody
stumbles across a litter of rabbits in their yard or in their field and they
call and wonder what to do. Many times nothing needs to be done.”
Placing a flag or a stake near the area can
help mark the nest site for reference when mowing in the future.
“Unless something traumatic has happened to the
mother, they’re probably close by,” Robinson said. “So they’re going to do just
fine taking care of those babies. So the best thing you can do is leave them
Wildlife have successfully reared their
young for ages relying on instincts that have evolved over time. It’s best to
observe them, not handle them. People are no substitute for natural wildlife