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Keep young wildlife wild: Itís best for the animals and itís the law

June 23, 2010


SALEM, Ore.— This is the time of year when Oregon’s wildlife are raising their young, teaching them what to eat, where to take shelter, and how to survive in the wild. During this time, parents will temporarily and naturally leave their young to feed elsewhere.

Unfortunately, well-intentioned people sometimes mistake young animals temporarily left by their parents as orphans and remove them from the wild. Doing so reduces the animal’s chances at long-term survival in its natural habitat. Last year, of 732 “orphaned” animals admitted to licensed wildlife rehabilitators, 81 died, 15 were euthanized and 65 may never be released back to the wild.

Never assume an animal is orphaned and remove it from the wild without further consultation. Only if you are certain an animal is orphaned because you saw the parent die should you interfere. If you see a truly orphaned animal or one that clearly is in distress, is being disturbed by people or pets, is in a situation that endangers the animal (such as lying near or on a road) call your local ODFW office, OSP office, or a local wildlife rehabilitation center. If you see a seal pup, young sea lion, or other marine mammal in distress or stranded, call 1-800-452-7888

Removing or “capturing” wildlife from the wild and keeping them in captivity without a permit are considered Class A misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $6,250 fine. Holding marine mammals or migratory birds, or disturbing the nests, eggs, and young of migratory birds, are also violations of federal laws.

Bear cubs
Two orphaned bear cubs are being rehabilitated at PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynwood, Wash.
-Photo courtesy of PAWS -

Bear cubs and elk calf removed from wild

In late May, Oregon State Police cited an individual that removed two bear cubs from the wild, keeping the cubs in his home for over 12 hours before contacting police. “While the bears’ mother was dead, the individual should have called Oregon State Police, ODFW or a wildlife rehabilitator, not removed the animal from the wild and held it,” said Trooper Marc Boyd, Oregon State Police. 

“The longer you keep a bear or other animal, the more it becomes habituated to people and the less likely it is to survive in the wild,” explains Brian Wolfer, ODFW district wildlife biologist in Springfield. “Bears and other wildlife are difficult to rehabilitate and only certain places are licensed to do so.”

Luckily, ODFW was able to place the two bear cubs at PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynwood, Wash., one of very few wildlife rehabilitators in the Pacific Northwest that work with bears. Bear cubs that go to PAWS are kept within a structure where they do not see humans. “We feel strongly that the best defense the bears will have when they are returned to the wild is a healthy aversion to humans,” says Kevin Mack, a naturalist at PAWS Wildlife Center.

In another incident, an elk calf was left at the U.S. Forest Service office in La Grande on May 26. ODFW returned the calf to an area with another elk herd, in hopes that another cow elk will foster it.

“We would like to have known where the calf came from,” said Leonard Erickson, ODFW district wildlife biologist in La Grande. “The calf’s best chance for survival would be to return it to the area where its mother was.” 

Elk Calf
An elk calf was discovered at the U.S. Forest Service office in La Grande on May 26.
-Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service. -

Rehabilitating deer fawns and elk calves that have been removed from the wild is very difficult. Most don’t survive long in the wild after rehabilitation because they are deprived of the chance to learn important skills, like escaping from predators.

“In the spring and early summer, calves and fawns are young enough that they can struggle to keep up when adults are fleeing danger,” explained Wolfer. “It’s not uncommon for elk to flee at the sound of an approaching vehicle and the calves may drop down and bed right on the side of the road.  In these cases the mother will return for her calf when she feels it is safe to do so.” 

Below are more tips on how to help young wildlife.


Leave fledgling birds alone. It is natural for fledgling (mostly feathered) birds to be awkward while learning how to fly. If you see one on the ground, turn around and walk away, and bring your pets indoors. The mother bird will feed it on the ground until it “gets its wings.” 

Return nestling birds to the nest. Nestlings (baby birds not fully feathered) found on the ground can be gently and quickly returned to the nest. If the nest is out of reach, place the bird on an elevated branch or fence, or in a sub-nest like a small box, up high out of the reach of children and pets. Leave the area so the parents can return.

Bring your pets indoors. Cats are a major cause of injury and death for all birds, especially young birds. Keep your pets away from fledgling birds learning to fly and other small animals. Indoor cats live longer and won’t impact birds and small mammals.

Be careful when pruning trees. There may be a bird nest in the branch. Leave off pruning branches until birds are out of the nest.

Beware of cavity nesters. Barn owls and other birds could be nesting in haystacks or logs.  Farmers can put up nest boxes near their haystacks so young owls can continue to be raised by their parents.

What if a bird flies into a window and appears hurt?

Birds don’t recognize glass and are confused by reflective surfaces, causing then to occasionally fly into windows. If you find a bird that has been stunned as a result of hitting a window, put the bird in an uncovered box with a towel on the bottom. Keep it in a quiet place away from pets and check back in a couple of hours. If the bird has recovered, it will have flown off. If not, contact a local ODFW office or your local wildlife rehabilitator. 


Remember “nuisance” animals nesting in your house may be caring for young. Don’t move a wild animal from an attic, barn or crawl space in the spring or early summer without considering it may have young nearby. Once all animals move out or are removed, avoid future problems with wildlife by tightly sealing all vents and openings and covering chimneys with a screen. Call ODFW, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or OSU Extension Service for advice. If you are certain that the animal does not have young, and you would like it removed, contact a licensed wildlife control operator.

Leave fawns, elk calves, and other young wildlife alone. By instinct, their mothers will leave for extended periods to feed and so they don’t draw attention to their newborns. Unless you witnessed the death of a parent, never assume a fawn or elk calf is orphaned, and leave young alone. Fawns and calves are very difficult to rehabilitate for release into the wild and their survival rate following release is usually low.

Leave marine mammals on the beach. Young seals are often left on the beach while mothers feed in the ocean.  Don’t touch, feed or try to move it. Stay back at least 100 yards and make sure dogs are leashed. If you see a baby sea lion, seal pup, or other young marine mammal stranded or in distress, contact OSP’s special hotline for marine mammals at 1-800-452-7888. Visit the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network for more information.




Michelle Dennehy (503) 947-6022
Fax: (503) 947-6009

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