Myths Kill Wildlife With Kindness


August 21, 1991|By Marie V FORBES

Here's a true/false quiz to test your knowledge of handling injured or orphaned wild animals:

* 1. If you find a baby bird on the ground and return it to the nest, its parents will reject it.

* 2. An orphaned baby rabbit should be fed twice a day.

* 3. If you find an injured raccoon along the road, pick it up and wrap it in a blanket.

* 4. Wild rabbits make good pets.

* 5. If you rescue an injured bird, you should play with it and give it lots of attention.

If you answered "False" to each of the above questions, youare correct. Patti White of Taneytown, a wildlife rehabilitator, explains the rationale behind each answer:

1. If you see a baby bird on the ground that has not yet feathered, it is all right to return it to the nest. The belief that the parents will reject it is simply an old wives' tale.

However, if the baby bird has begun to develop feathers, the parents probably pushed it from the nest to teach it tofly. As part of this learning phase, there is a four- to five-day period during which the parent birds will feed the baby on the ground. They will also protect it to some extent; mockingbirds are especiallyaggressive parents. Don't interfere if the bird has feathered, although you might want to keep your cats inside.

2. Orphaned baby rabbits require frequent feedings, every three to four hours. Because themother rabbit's milk is extremely rich, she can get by with only a couple of feedings, but it impossible to do this when feeding artificially. Also, too often those who discover baby rabbits assume the mother has abandoned the nest. Generally, this is not true -- the mother rabbit returns at night to feed her young.

Unfortunately, many people attempt to keep infant rabbits alive for four or five days. When they finally realize the animals are not thriving, they call for help. It is often too late by then.

3. Raccoons are among the species known to be rabies carriers. Do not touch an injured raccoon, fox, skunk or bat. Veterinarians and animal rehabilitators are not allowed to treat these animals; if found injured, state law mandates that theymust be destroyed. (Until last year, groundhogs were also consideredrabies carriers, but they have now been removed from the list.)

4. Baby rabbits may look very similar to the domestic ones that are often treasured pets, but their needs and habits are quite different. Although they may be quite docile up to about 5 weeks of age, after that time they become frantic if caged or touched and may beat themselves to death if not released.

Frequently, when mowing, people run over a rabbit's nest with babies in it. If this happens, you should remove any dead or injured ones and make sure you run your hands over each of the remaining ones to leave your scent on them. When the mother returns, she will reject any baby that smells different from the others.

5. There are two reasons not to attempt to handle or domesticate injured birds. First, many birds of prey are extremely dangerous. Even something as small as a sparhawk can lash out with talons or beak and put out an eye or inflict serious wounds.

Second, birds are easily "imprinted"; that is, they become dependent on humans to feed them and protect them. Once returned to the wild, they quickly become prey to predators.

Patti White and her husband, Pat, have established a haven and hospital for injured wildlife on their farm on Babylon Road.

Next week, I'll tell you a little about how Patti Whiteassists injured wildlife.

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