The majority of our calls at this time of year are from concerned citizens who have found a baby squirrel, raccoon, rabbit, opossum, or some other mammal. More often than not, those babies are actually fine and have just been separated from mom. When people find baby mammals, it is their instinct to scoop them up and start raising them. However, the first step should be to try and get them reunited with mom. Below are some instructions on how to reunite various mammal young with their mother.
First, though, check for any injuries to the baby. If there are, or if a deceased adult is nearby, then the baby needs to get to a wildlife rehabber. You will also want to make sure the baby is warm to touch. Mom will not come back to a cold baby; she will assume it is deceased. You can slowly warm up a baby using a heating pad on low, heating up a filled water bottle and wrapping in a T-shirt or soft blanket, or putting uncooked rice in a sock and warming it up in the microwave. Once the baby is warm it is time to attempt a reunite.
For a squirrel, try to locate the nest it fell out of - it might be really high up in a tree. If it is not within reach even with a ladder, then just put a stand-in nest as high as you can in that same tree. If you can’t locate it at all, then just put it in the tallest spot possible next to where you found it. If your dog or cat brought it to you and it does not have puncture wounds, pick a good spot and still attempt it. Baby squirrels, like most baby animals, have a very loud scream to call for mom. When making a stand-in nest, consider the weather, sturdiness, and the size of the animal. A small plastic tub, food container, or crate is usually a good option for a squirrel. You want the sides to be tall enough so the baby does not roll or wiggle out, but short enough that mom could get in there and retrieve her baby easily. You also want to use natural bedding and have small holes on the bottom of the tub for rain to drain out. You then want to leave the area for several hours, sometimes for the whole day. Give mom a chance to feel safe to return.
For a raccoon, you want to do the same thing as for a squirrel, but start the process at dusk. Keep in mind that raccoons can be carriers of rabies and should be handled minimally, with caution, and with safety wear (such as gloves).
Both deer and rabbits tend to their young minimally throughout the day, feeding them only a couple of times. They do this to not attract predators to their vulnerable young. They are usually hidden by their mom for safety. Occasionally people stumble upon that safe spot and think they are orphaned. The best thing to do is to leave them alone. A fawn’s instincts are to lie still and not attract attention to itself; that does not mean it is injured. If the fawn has already been removed, just simply put it back. At times, a fawn might get confused and start to follow you. Force the fawn to lie down and then leave the area. For a rabbit, put it back as well. If the rabbit is the size of your fist or a tennis ball, it is old enough to be on its own.
Opossums are the exception to the rule of reunite and renesting. An opossum will not return to look for its young. If the mom is still in the area, you can place it on her back, but be careful because mom will be scared of you. An opossum about 7 inches or longer, not including tail, is old enough to be on its own. If smaller than 7 inches, give us a call.
Hope these little tips help! If you still aren’t sure about what to do, call us first before intervening. The majority of the time, intervention is not needed. All of these animals are quite cute at this stage and you might be contemplating keeping it as a new pet. This is illegal and not in the animal’s best interest or yours: as they get older, they get more aggressive and are very challenging to handle. Let’s keep the animals wild and with mom! She can do a far better job than we ever could.
Orange Beach Wildlife Center hotline phone number: 844-303-WILD (9453).