Put it back. That’s the advice you’re likely to hear if you bring a young wild animal home to “take care of it”—and you might get a warning or citation from the Oregon State Police (OSP), too.
Oregon’s deer and elk give birth from May through July. Many other wildlife species also bear their young at this time of year.
It’s natural for mother animals to leave their young alone for extended periods of time while they go off to feed, so never assume a young animal is orphaned when you see it alone. The mother will return when it’s safe to do so … when people, pets or predators aren’t around.
Unfortunately, every year around this time, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offices, licensed wildlife rehabilitators and even the Oregon State Police are flooded with calls from people who have picked up a deer fawn, elk calf, fledgling bird learning to fly, or other young animal they assumed was orphaned because it was alone.
Animals taken away from their natural environment miss the chance to learn important survival skills from their parents, such as where to feed, what to eat, how to behave as part of a group and how to escape from predators. Usually this leads to a shortened life span for the animal.
Removing or capturing an animal from the wild is a violation of state law. Doing so is considered a Class A misdemeanor and a court could impose a maximum $6,250 fine and/or one year in jail.
Last year, Oregon State Police issued several warnings and at least one citation to people who had picked up deer fawns, baby raccoons, coyote pups and other young animals and brought them home.
If you’re certain a young animal is orphaned because you saw its mother die, or if you see an injured animal or one in distress, call one of Oregon’s licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Wildlife rehabilitators have the training and facilities to properly care for young wildlife and eventually return them to the wild.
You can also call your nearest ODFW office during regular business hours, or Oregon State Police dispatch if an animal is in distress.
Meantime, young marine mammals are also rarely orphaned and it is common to see them alone on the beach in early spring and summer. Marine mammals in distress should be reported to OSP’s hotline at 1-800-452-7888.
As for fledgling birds, leave them alone. It is natural for fledgling (mostly feathered) birds to be awkward while learning how to fly. If you see one on the ground, leave it alone and keep your distance.
Bring your pets under control and indoors if possible. The mother bird will feed it for several days on the ground until it “gets its wings.”
Return nestling birds to the nest. Nestlings (baby birds not fully feathered) found on the ground can be gently and quickly returned to the nest.
If the nest is out of reach, place the bird on an elevated branch or fence, or in a nest made from a small box, out of the reach of children and pets. Leave the area, so the parent birds can return.
When it comes to turtles, let them cross the road. In May and June, females begin searching for suitable nesting grounds to lay their eggs. If you see a turtle on the ground, the best thing to do is leave it alone and let it continue on its path.
It’s fine to move it off a road, but put it on the other side, where it was headed.