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Garden Guru

If you care, leave it there

Jim Boxberger
Posted 5/24/24

It’s time of year in nature when babies are born and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) wants you to learn, “If You Care, Leave It There”. The DEC …

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Garden Guru

If you care, leave it there


It’s time of year in nature when babies are born and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) wants you to learn, “If You Care, Leave It There”. The DEC reminds the public that young wild animals like fawns and baby birds are rarely abandoned. Parents often place their young somewhere safe to keep them hidden from predators while they are off collecting food. That safe place sometimes means close to human activity. Baby birds (nestlings) spend 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. Every year at the store we have a pair of Robins that nest on top of our electrical panel in our garden center. The nest is under the eves of the building so that it is protected from wind and rain. And because it is in our garden center, predators stay far away. But every once an awhile a fledgling will leave the nest too soon and flop around on ground in the garden center while trying to fly. Momma and Poppa robin try to usher their offspring to the back of the garden center where there is much less foot traffic, but inevitability a customer will come in and report to the staff that there is a hurt bird that can’t fly in our garden center. We have to reassure the customer that the baby bird is fine and the parents are taking care of it. Never take a baby bird home and think you are going to be able to care for it. Human interaction with a baby bird is usually a death sentence for the baby bird. 

Baby birds survive on regurgitated bugs and worms fed to them by their parents. Even if you wanted to regurgitate some bugs for them, you could not do it. And even if you could, human stomach acid would kill the bird. So don’t take home baby birds. Fawns are another one of Mother Nature’s creatures that live closer to humans. Fawns are born right about now in 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. 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 and does will leave them in some tried and true safe places. Almost every year we have a customer that will come in for milk replacer because they found a fawn by the roadside in tall grass in the ditch and thinking the mother must have been hit, brings the fawn home. Don’t do this, fawns should never be picked up. 

First off, does leave their fawns in roadside ditches because coyotes don’t go near roads. Second, fawns need more care than most people want to provide, like feedings every two hours at night. Fawns are nocturnal as it is safer for them to nurse at night. Third, it is against the law. Unless you have the proper permits and licenses from the DEC, it is illegal to keep a fawn. Do not even pet a fawn in the wild. If human presence is detected by the doe, the doe may delay its next visit to nurse. 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 start eating my shrubs and are no longer dependent on milk, although they continue to nurse occasionally into the fall.


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