By Melanie DeStefano
This photo of a baby fox, known as a kit, peeking out this week from a den made under the photographer’s back porch, proves that spring has sprung and spring babies and their anxious parents are abound. Remember to always give babies and their parents a wide berth (this picture was taken through a window). You should never approach or feed a wild animal, even if it is the cutest animal you have ever seen.
Though humans have a tendency toward helicopter parenting, remember that many animal parents leave their babies alone for extended periods of time, and just because a baby is alone doesn’t mean its mother doesn’t know where it is.
If you believe an animal baby has been abandoned or is injured, the first step is to call a local rehabilitation center. As Blairstown-based Wild Baby Rescue points out on its website: “Unnecessarily removing an animal from its environment – particularly a baby – can cause more harm than simply leaving it be. Staff of a rehabilitation facility can determine whether the animal needs help, and explain how to safely transport it to a treatment facility.”
Babies, and fawns especially, know to stay put where they’ve been left and hikers can attest that sometimes you only know a well-camouflaged fawn is there when it springs into action when you have all but stepped on it! Advice I always try to remember each spring: Check under the car before heading out the driveway. The cool, dry undercarriage may seem like a perfect protected spot for a mother to leave her baby and I know several Warren County residents who have discovered fawns and other animals under their cars just in the nick of time.
Signs of distress in a fawn include wandering and vocalizations, being unaware of its surroundings, or being covered in dew or insects. To help determine if that fawn you’re seeing is in need of help, you can refer to this handy guide from Second Chance Wildlife Center in Maryland.
A misconception I hear each year is that foxes and coyotes are nocturnal and that if seen during the day they must be sick or rabid. According to the Wildlife Hotline: “It is actually not unusual to see a coyote or fox out during the day. Coyotes and foxes will venture out during daylight hours in search of food. Both animals are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will hunt for food as the opportunity presents itself – regardless of day or night.” Additionally, parents and creatures that are easily frightened may be spotted at “odd” hours, so again, reach out to a professional if unsure what constitutes as healthy behavior. The Humane Society’s “Understanding Rabies” also includes a nice set of guidelines and common misconceptions about the deadly disease.
One last thing to note is something that has stuck with me since a conversation with the director of Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary in Newton years and years ago. Mother opossums, marsupials like kangaroos, carry their young in pouches for 2-3 months. When you pass a dead opossum on the side of the road, there may in fact be several babies alive in the pouch. If you discover a dead female opossum in spring or summer, leave any babies in the warmth of the pouch and call a local rehab center asap to find out what to do next.
Need advice on whether the animal you’re seeing, be it a baby or full-grown, has been abandoned, injured, or may be a danger? See below for a list of several local New Jersey rehabilitation centers, with the types of animals they reportedly care for, that you can contact for professional advice. (If there are any readers across the Warren County-PA border in Monroe County, you may want to check out the Pocono Wildlife Rehab and Education Center.)
Wild Baby Rescue
Blairstown, Warren County
Facilities for fawns, foxes, bats, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, chipmunks, opossums, groundhogs, bunnies, and other small mammals.
The Raptor Trust
Millington, Morris County
Facilities for hawks, falcons, eagles, and owls of all ages.
Woodlands Wildlife Refuge
Pittstown, Hunterdon County
Capable of caring for larger mammals, including bear, coyotes, and bobcats, as well as fawns, foxes, and smaller mammals, including porcupines and otters.
Antler-Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary
Newton, Sussex County
Specializes in fawn and small mammal rehabilitation, including raccoons, opossums, and squirrels. Patients in 2014 also included turtles, birds, and a bat, as well as domestic and farm animals.
Avian Wildlife Center
Wantage, Sussex County
Specializing in feathered friends, including but not limited to hawks, eagles, owls, turkeys, water fowl, migratory birds, and song birds.
If an animal is exhibiting signs of rabies, which according to the Humane Society can include overly aggressive behavior, including biting at real and imaginary objects OR overly tame behavior with a lack of fear of humans, and the well-known symptom of excessive foaming at the mouth, please call your local animal control office.
Don’t forget, many wildlife rehabilitation centers are non-profits, so if you or someone you know is looking to help out, visit their websites for opportunities to donate time, money, or supplies to help keep them going.
Updated 3/29 to include a link to “Do you know how to tell if that fawn really needs your help?” alongside common signs of distress in fawns.