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Look but don’t touch:
Young animals are rarely orphaned so leave them where they belong—in the wild

May 9, 2014

Fawn in Monroe, Ore. (Benton County) last spring. Photo by Keith Kohl.
Click to enlarge

SALEM, Ore.— Taking a fledgling bird, a deer fawn, a seal pup, or other young animal out of the wild often doesn’t help the animal and can lead to its early death.

This is the time of year Oregon’s wildlife rehabilitators and ODFW offices are inundated with calls from people who have picked up perfectly healthy young animals. In spring, birds will spend some time on the ground as they learn to fly. Deer fawns, elk calves and other animals may be left alone for several hours while their parents feed elsewhere.

Peggy Cheathem of Umpqua Wildlife Rescue in Roseburg has been rehabilitating deer fawns for 18 years. She usually discovers that people who have picked up fawns just assumed that the animal was orphaned. She urges them to put the fawn right back where it was found so it can be reunited with its mother.

“I explain to them the natural process of mom and baby in the wild and that taking the fawn was a mistake,” she says. “I ask them to put it back exactly where they got it or close by, and to follow up in the morning. Nine times out of 10, the fawn is gone by morning because mom has picked it up.”

Any animal taken away from its natural environment misses the chance to learn important survival skills from its parents like where to feed, what to eat, how to behave as part of a group and how to escape from predators. Oregon’s licensed wildlife rehabilitators work hard to care for truly orphaned or injured animals and get them back to the wild with special methods that limit human interaction and mimic the animal’s natural lifestyle as much as possible.

Removing or “capturing” an animal from the wild and keeping it in captivity without a permit is against state law (OAR 635-044-0015), as is transporting many animals. Holding some birds and marine mammals without permits are also violations of federal laws. 

Doe and fawns
Doe and fawns in Monroe, Ore. (Benton County) last spring. Photo by Keith Kohl.
Click to enlarge

Follow these tips if you encounter young animals in the wild:

Deer, elk and other mammals:

  • Never assume an animal is orphaned. Don’t remove it from the forest, including your backyard. Female deer and elk and other mammals will often leave their young temporarily for safety reasons or to feed elsewhere. They will return when it is safe to do so (when people, dogs, or predators are not present).
  • Call your local ODFW office, Oregon State Police office, or a local licensed wildlife rehabilitation center when: 1) you see an animal that you know is orphaned because you observed the dead parent animal, or 2) the parent hasn’t returned for several hours or even up to a day, or 3) if the animal is clearly inured or in distress.
  • Bunnies are rarely orphaned; mother rabbits only visit den sites at dusk and dawn to feed her young.
  • Keep your dog or cat away from young wildlife, especially in the spring.
  • If you see a seal pup, young sea lion, or other marine mammal that appears stranded or in distress, contact OSP’s hotline at 1-800-452-7888.


  • 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, leave it alone and keep your distance. Bring your pets under control and indoors if possible. The mother bird will feed it for several days 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 nest made from a small box, out of the reach of children and pets. Leave the area so the parent birds can return.
  • Bring your pets indoors. Cats are a major cause of injury and death for all birds, killing millions of birds in the US annually. Keep your pets away from fledgling birds learning to fly.
  • Be careful when pruning trees as there may be a bird nest in the branch. Wait until birds are out of the nest.
  • Beware of cavity nesters. Barn owls and other birds could be nesting in hollowed-out trees or logs and in haystacks.
  • What if a bird flies into a window and appears hurt? Birds can be confused by reflective surfaces and mistakenly fly into windows. If you find a bird that has been stunned as a result of a window strike, 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

For more information and tips on how to help young wildlife, see Living with Wildlife

Photos of young wildlife:




Michelle Dennehy
(503) 947-6022

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