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June 11, 2002
Contact: Madonna Luers, 509-456-4073

Give new wildlife families a break

Fawns, fledglings, and seal pups are among Washington's newborn wildlife enjoyed by outdoor recreationists now, and they all need a break from their human neighbors and admirers to thrive.

"This is animal ‘rescue' season for too many well-intentioned but uninformed people," said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Ken Bevis of Yakima. "They see a deer fawn or a baby bird by itself and assume it's been orphaned and needs help," he explained. "So they pick it up and try to feed it, and when that doesn't work, or the animal starts biting or kicking, they bring it to us.

"We turn it over to one of our licensed wildlife rehabilitators," Bevis explained, "who are the only people who can legally hold captive wildlife. But the chance of survival for a young animal removed from its habitat, and probably from its parents, is not good."

Most of the time young wildlife is not orphaned at all, Bevis said. Doe deer often leave fawns alone temporarily to avoid drawing predators with their own body scent. Seal mothers have similar behavior with beached pups. New fledglings often land on the ground where they beg for parent birds to feed them and coach them to safety.

"Baby birds are most commonly picked up in backyards," Bevis said, "but the best thing you could do to help them is put your dog or cat inside so they're undisturbed and a parent bird can safely help." Bevis said that if necessary, grounded young birds might be lifted to a more secure position in a tree where parent birds will find them.

Birdwatchers should give new bird families some space, too. Looking at nests of eggs or chicks too often too closely can disturb parent birds enough to abandon the family. Bevis advises watching quietly and patiently from a respectable distance to get better views of bird-rearing behavior.

Fishers and other outdoor recreationists can also give wildlife families a break with proper disposal of snarled nylon fishing line, plastic beverage six-pack rings, and other non-degradable trash. These discarded items along lakeshores and riverbanks often entangle ducks, geese, raptors, songbirds, and other animals, especially inexperienced youngsters foraging on their own. Many times the entangled animals die from starvation or inability to escape predators.

"Give wildlife a break," Bevis said. "Leave wild babies in the wild where they belong, and leave the wild the way you found it."