DEC urges New Yorkers to respect wildlife by leaving young animals alone

Albany /
| 20 May 2024 | 10:01

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Interim Commissioner Sean Mahar reminded New Yorkers to appreciate wildlife from a safe distance and resist the urge to touch or move young wildlife.

“Spring’s warmer weather brings with it more sightings and encounters with New York wildlife, especially young birds and other animals,” Interim Commissioner Mahar said. “While some might think these baby animals need assistance, human interactions with wildlife typically do more harm than good. Please remember: if you care, leave it there.”

Avoid interactions with young wildlife

Human interaction with young wildlife can be problematic. When young wildlife venture into the world, for a brief time they may have limited ability to fly or walk on their own. While one or both parents teach survival skills to their offspring, some young wildlife receive little or no care.

DEC reminds the public that young wild animals like fawns and baby birds are rarely abandoned. Parents often place their young somewhere to keep them hidden from predators while they are off collecting food.

Bird nestlings can have closed eyes and can be featherless, spending approximately two weeks in the nest until they begin to outgrow the space. Once they outgrow the nest, nestlings become fledglings, a bird with developed feathers, and begin to flap their wings and learn how to fly. In both stages (nestlings and fledglings) the adult birds are nearby and care for them.

If a nestling is found on the ground and cannot be easily and safely returned to the nest, the public is advised to refrain from approaching and instead should call a wildlife rehabilitator.

Fledglings, on the other hand, can hop and flutter on their own, and spend short periods out of the nest on the ground or in low branches. If attempting to return a fledgling to its nest, New Yorkers are advised to remember to stay below the nest so that the other babies do not hop out. If a young bird is alert, fully feathered, and moving around, people are encouraged to watch from a distance and not intervene.

Fawns are born during late May and early June, and although they can walk shortly after birth, they spend most of their first several days lying still in tall grass, leaf litter, or sometimes relatively unconcealed. During this period, a fawn is usually left alone by the adult female (doe), except when nursing. Fawns are vulnerable to predators during this period. If human presence is detected by the doe, the doe may delay its next visit to nurse.

Fawns should never be picked up. A fawn’s protective coloration and ability to remain motionless help it avoid detection by predators and people. By the end of a fawn’s second week of life, it begins to move about, spend more time with the doe, and eat on its own. At about 10 weeks of age, fawns are no longer dependent on milk, although they continue to nurse occasionally into the fall.

Sick or injured animals

The more serious cases of animals seemingly abandoned are due to injury. Anyone who encounters a young wild animal that is injured or orphaned should call a trained and licensed DEC wildlife rehabilitator.

Rehabilitators are the only people legally allowed to receive and treat distressed wildlife, and have the experience, expertise, and facilities to successfully treat and release wild animals.

Additionally, the public should note the increased risk of rabies in raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats and are reminded not [to] handle these species directly. Anyone who observes wildlife that appears to be sick or behaving abnormally should contact their DEC regional wildlife office. For more information on wildlife health, visit the DEC webpage.

Additionally, DEC reminds the public that young wildlife are not pets. Keeping wildlife in captivity is illegal and harmful to the animal. Wild animals are not well-suited to life in captivity and may carry diseases that can be transferred to humans. DEC also advises the public to keep domestic pets indoors when young wild animals are present. Many fledgling birds cannot fly well when they first leave the nest and are easy prey for house cats.

Most people have the best intentions when they find wild animals, but if a fawn, baby bird, or other young wildlife is found, please remember, “If You Care, Leave It There.”

For more information and answers to frequently asked questions about young wildlife, visit DEC’s website.