Spring has sprung at Lees-McRae and these baby animals have come out to play

Spring has sprung in Banner Elk, and in the mountains, springtime often means more than just warming weather and blooming flowers. This time of year also brings changes for local wildlife. Associate Professor and Veterinarian Amber McNamara says there are actions students, faculty, and staff can take and information to be aware of as spring begins.

“We feel a tremendous responsibility to be good stewards to this environment that we all share. That includes providing care to those species who not only don't have a voice, but who are often victims of human-influenced injury in some way,” McNamara said. “These species provide amazing benefits to us in so many ways and we are fortunate to be able to have a place in their world.”

As the weather warms, McNamara says we may start to see an influx of animals, particularly baby animals, in and around campus. These are typically animals who are exiting hibernation or who have just been born. McNamara lists Eastern grey squirrels, opossums, red squirrels, cottontail rabbits, chipmunks, deer fawn, and bobcats as some of the animals that appear more at the start of spring.

Spring is also the time when many people start clearing out dead foliage on their property, which can disrupt habitats. Avoid causing harm to local wildlife by checking trees and bushes before trimming. It’s a good idea to leave dead trees standing if they pose no property risk, as the trees could be home to cavity nesting birds like the Northern Flicker.

Because wild animals are in a transitional period of their life cycle during the spring, it is not uncommon for humans to come across these animals, and sometimes they may be injured or appear orphaned. Here are some tips on caring for or protecting these injured or orphaned babies and making sure they get back to safety:

  1. Move the baby out of immediate danger if it is safe for you to do so.
  2. Assess the situation. Is there a parent nearby? Is there a nest or habitat close? You may be able to return the baby to its home or parent simply by assessing your environment.
  3. Visually examine the baby for obvious signs of injury.
  4. If the baby is injured, carefully place them in a box or basket in a safe spot while you call the closest wildlife rehabilitation center.

What to do if a baby seems orphaned

“In many instances, babies that appear orphaned may not be truly orphaned, so there are several ways we can give the parents an opportunity to continue providing care,” McNamara said. “If a bird nest has blown down, for example, and the babies are alert and active, finders can reposition the nest in an appropriate place.”

In instances where nests have been destroyed, an artificial nest may be constructed. Plastic containers (such as a Cool-Whip container) with holes poked in the bottom or baskets can serve as nests when placed securely in a tree.

Determining if a nest of baby bunnies has been orphaned can be tricky, as the mama bunny only returns to the nest twice a day. McNamara says that bunnies are very stealthy, and it can be hard to see mom return to her babies. If you begin to suspect that a nest of bunnies has been abandoned, try a little investigation.

“Cottontails make a small depression in soil or mulch and cover their babies with leaves, grass, and fur,” McNamara said. “You can place small twigs in a particular pattern around the nest; check the pattern the next morning to see if mom disturbed them, even if you didn't see her.”

Rabbits are not the only creatures who are known to leave their babies alone. White-tailed deer often leave their fawns while they go forage for food. The doe typically does not travel far, so McNamara said unless you see signs of injury, a fawn on its own is typically not a sign of concern.

While it’s true several of our furry friends may not be truly orphaned, there are other creatures who may be particularly vulnerable if found on their own. Virginia opossums, for example, are known to be a bit more careless  with their young.

“Some species, like squirrels, are able to pick up their youngsters and put them back in the nest if they have fallen,” McNamara said. “Virginia opossums won't retrieve babies that fall from the pouch, so if you find an opossum the size of your hand or smaller, he or she probably needs help.”

McNamara encourages anyone who finds a baby wild animal, injured or not, to contact the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center or another closer rehabilitator. This is the best way to get accurate, up-to-date advice, and ensure the best chance of survival for these creatures. You can contact the center at (828) 898-2568.

“Baby care is expensive. Babies can be labor intensive and eat and poop a lot,” McNamara said. “Keeping them clean, feeding them an appropriate diet, and keeping up with medical needs such as splints, bandages, and wound care is a big job. Our students, staff, and volunteers are very busy during the late spring and summer months to keep up.”

By Maya JarrellMarch 21, 2022
Campus LifeCommunity