OLYMPIA - Deer fawns in the woods, seal pups on the beach and fledging birds in backyards are often sighted at this time of year, but observers should keep their distance from young animals, say Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists.
"Many well-intentioned people are tempted to 'rescue' a lone, baby animal because they assume it's been orphaned, but that is usually not the case," said Jerry Nelson, WDFW deer and elk manager.
Doe deer temporarily leave their young to keep from drawing predators to their offspring through their own body scent, Nelson explained. Fawns are born with little body scent of their own-a natural defense mechanism to help hide them from predators.
Seal mothers, similarly, will briefly leave their pups on the beach. Even though they may be bleating piteously, their mothers are usually not far away. And newly-fledged birds often land briefly on the ground where they call for their parents assistance as they learn to feed and fly.
Would-be rescuers actually diminish a young animal's chances of survival by taking it out of the wild. Not only is this hazardous to the animal and human handlers, it also is illegal.
Under state law, licensed wildlife rehabilitators are the only private citizens who can legally hold captive wildlife. But even under ideal conditions, the chance of survival is not good for a young animal removed from its habitat.
The best way to help a baby bird on the ground is keep dogs and cats inside so the bird is undisturbed and its parent can safely help. Birdwatchers also should beware of getting too close to nests, which can disturb parent birds enough to cause them to abandon their family.
Near the water, shorebirds and other wildlife can be helped by properly disposing of snarled nylon fishing line, plastic beverage six-pack rings and other trash. These discarded items along lakeshores and riverbanks often entangle ducks, geese, raptors, songbirds, and other animals, especially inexperienced young foraging on their own. Many times the entangled animals die from starvation or are preyed upon by other animals.