Let wildlife be wild

If you happen upon baby rabbits either in their nest, or even hopping around the yard, there is a very good chance the mother is hiding somewhere nearby just waiting on you to leave. (Photo: Richard Simms)

There is no telling what drove the little bird to my front porch one night. Possibly high winds combined with the plummeting temperatures. But for whatever reason, the tiny house finch and refused to leave. Like an actor blinded on the stage by a spotlight, the finch would not abandon the well-lit porch to fly away into the darkness. I captured it with a landing net, knowing my two little girls would like to see it "up close."

I knew better. I once was a game warden. I spent many years spreading the message of conservation and that it is best to leave wildlife alone - that their best chance of survival is to fly or roam free. I even knew capturing it was against the law.

I did it anyway (thankfully, I think the statute of limitations has passed now).

Right now, springtime, is the time wildlife professionals say such scenarios occur with frequency. Sometimes it's a baby bird fallen from a nest or a baby rabbit, a baby squirrel or even a raccoon.

But this is the time of year when the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency receives an increase in calls regarding abandoned wildlife. In almost every case, bar none, their advice is to just "leave it alone."

Kirk Miles, TWRA Region III Wildlife Program Manager said, “Many people believe young wildlife to be abandoned, when they’ve simply been concealed by their mothers. If an animal isn’t obviously sick or injured, please leave it alone. This concealment strategy in the animal kingdom works. The mother will tend to her offspring when the area is safe.”

Examples include whitetail deer fawns that people come across and believe they’re abandoned. Miles said, on the contrary, whitetails leave fawns hidden and only approach them to allow feeding. If a fawn is accidentally spooked and runs, don’t follow it. The doe will find it. Furthermore, does behaving oddly in a backyard are sometimes aggravated when humans or pets are close to their hidden fawns. Never approach an adult deer. Leave the area and keep pets away.

He said sometimes people uncover cottontail rabbits nests when doing yard work. He hopes you will simply cover the young rabbits back up and leave them alone. Should they run from the nest, leave them. If they can run, they’re old enough to be on their own and they’ll eventually make their way back to the nest. The mother will return.

The same with squirrels and even baby birds. Miles said their best hope of survival is to keep your pets away and leave the baby wildlife alone.

"It is a myth that human scent will deter parent birds," said Miles. "If the young bird flies again, then it is fledging and ready to leave the nest. Parent birds will continue feeding young, even out of the nest."

Miles said folks should especially avoid raccoons, foxes and skunks and they are often carriers of rabies. The laws against keeping wildlife in Tennessee are strict and every year wildlife officers have to visit homes to confiscate illegally held wild animals.

There are properly licensed wildlife rehabilitators in our area (although most CANNOT accept skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes and coyotes). They are the folks to call if you come across wildlife that you TRULY believe is in need of care (list below).

Back to my captured wayward bird. Daddies are suckers. The next morning, before the bird came out of the box, I knew I would likely be making a trip to the store to buy a bird cage. I probably knew it because that is what I wanted. Factor in bright, shining eyes of two little girls, full of wonder and anticipation of caring for a cute, fluffy little cotton ball of a bird, and the bird cage man was already counting his money.

The girls would have to pay for the privilege by listening to one of daddy’s speeches.

“Now it is fine with me if we keep the little bird for a while, but you girls have to understand that wild animals do not make good pets and that the little bird could even die if we do not let it go,” I lectured.

Of course they claimed to understand, yet believed the benefits were well worth the risk. They beamed with joy over their new baby. Each was taking her turn holding the house finch that fit perfectly in the palm of a 6-year old hand.

Suddenly the hand opened ever-so-slightly. I really could not see it, but the bird could sense it. Like a flash, the finch flew forth. Speeding like a bullet across the kitchen it headed straight for the window.

House finches do not know much about glass.

“Thump.”

The tiny bird hit the glass and settled, completely unharmed, on the window sill. The dash for freedom lasted less than a second, but in that very short flight, ending with a very big “thump,” my little girls grew wise beyond their years.

In an instant they witnessed, and understood, what makes wild animals wild. They experienced the sense of fear and urgency. Suddenly they understood perfectly the little bird’s overwhelming desire to be free, to fly through the sky untouched by the hand of man.

Sure, out there beyond the window pane are cats, hawks, snakes, cold weather, starvation, and disease. Inside there is nothing but warmth, food, and loving hands. But to a wild creature, those things are as foreign and as frightening as the glass that abruptly ended the freedom flight through my kitchen.

In an instant, and with a few tiny wing beats, that little bird taught my girls far more than hours of daddy’s speeches.

Sometimes, if you love something, you really do let it go.

LICENSED WILDLIFE REHABILITATORS

HAMILTON COUNTY

  • Chattanooga Zoo at Warner Park. Adam Borchardt. 301 N. Holtzclaw Avenue Chattanooga, TN 37404, 423-697-1322. Licensed for Class II wildlife excluding skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes and coyotes
  • Tish Gailmard. 955 Ravine Road Signal Mountain, TN 37377. 423-886-6224, Licensed for foxes and Class II wildlife excluding skunks, bats, raccoons and coyotes
  • Kate Harrell. 2606 Corral Road Signal Mountain, TN 37377. 540-392-5428. Licensed for Class II wildlife excluding skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes and coyotes
  • Jerry Harvey. 3936 Churchill Road Chattanooga, TN 37406. 423-255-6460. Licensed for Class II wildlife excluding skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes and coyotes
  • Alix Parks. 423-847-5757 Licensed for Class II raptors (hawks, owls, etc.)
  • Sherry Teas. 9122 Hundley Road Chattanooga, TN 37416. 423-593-0032. Licensed for Class II songbirds

MARION & GRUNDY COUNTY

  • Margaret Matens, 1114 Red Oak Drive Monteagle, TN 37356, 931-924-2623, Licensed for skunks, raccoons, foxes and Class II wildlife excluding bats and coyotes

RHEA COUNTY

  • Marshall Taylor, D.V.M., 9961 Rhea County Highway Dayton, TN 37321, 423-775-4003, Licensed for whitetail deer and Class II wildlife excluding skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes and coyotes
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