Spring is going to be arriving soon, and with it comes the wildlife babies. Most animals are able to care for their offspring on their own, but sometimes the parents may be killed or the nest disrupted and the babies are left to fend for themselves at too young an age. If they are lucky, they are found by someone and brought to Cape Wildlife Center so we can raise them until they are mature enough to be released and on their own. Whenever possible, these babies will be released back to the area they came from. If you find a baby animal you can call our center or your local Animal Control or Department of Natural Resources officer to help you get the assistance the animal needs. In the state of Massachusetts, it is illegal for anyone other than a licensed wildlife center or wildlife rehabilitator to raise any wildlife. As cute as they are, each species needs specialized care and a specific diet and rehabilitation protocol to give them the best chance at being released back into the wild as a free animal.
Beginning in March we start to see the baby squirrels arrive. Many still have their eyes closed and have not started to grow fur and are completely dependent. Without intervention, they will die. We start our squirrels in incubators where they are kept warm and syringe fed a special formula 4-6 times a day. They need stimulation to pass urine or feces so we do that too at each feeding. They are weighed daily to keep track of their progress, and given fluids if they are dehydrated. It is not unusual to have 40 squirrel babies in our care at one time. These squirrels stay with us for about 12 weeks progressing through the different stages of rehabilitation until they are ready to be moved into an outdoor enclosure in a group. This group will learn how to be wild squirrels and then be released in groups of 3-5 to hand- picked locations that meet their needs.
Foxes, coyotes, raccoons, woodchucks, skunks and most other mammals also begin to have their babies around this time. Their babies can be injured or orphaned through nest destruction or predator attack or death of the mother. These babies need to be properly handled when they are brought to us because they are species that can carry rabies. These animals can never be handled without gloves, and human contact of any kind must be avoided. Never attempt to try and hand feed. It is usually best if you find one of these abandoned babies that you call us or your local animal control officer so they can be safely transported. Our care for these animals is very similar to that for our baby squirrels, except they stay with us until September and are vaccinated for rabies and distemper before they are released back into the wild.
The Virginia Opossum, our only marsupial cares for their young in a very different way. They have up to 13 babies born (jacks and jills) at about 11-13 days. These miniature fetuses (13 can fit in a teaspoon) then crawl up the mothers fur in into her pouch (marsupium) totally by instinct and latch onto a nipple. They stay in this pouch for 2 months as they continue to develop. During this time, if the mother is injured (hit by car is common) or attacked and killed her babies in the pouch may be able to survive for a short period of time. If you find a dead or injured opossum, and you can safely check the pouch for babies, please do so and call us or bring the animal to us if there are babies inside. We cared for 76 orphaned opossums last year. We can hand rear them by feeding them via a feeding tube (they don’t have a suckle reflex) until they are ready to eat on their own and be released. Then can be released when they are 10” long nose to tail base and at an appropriate weight, about 6-8 weeks after admission. Opossums (and squirrels) can have multiple litters in a season.
Bats do not start appearing with their babies until June through August. They usually have only 1-2 pups. We can also care for these babies by assist feeding them until they are big enough and strong enough to fly and hunt. Bats also carry rabies and should not come into contact with humans. If you find a bat in your house contact your local animal control office immediately.
Babies come by land, sea and air. The Songbirds (passerines) which make up half of all the birds lay eggs in the spring and hatch their young from April-July. Their young are born blind and featherless. Totally dependent (altricial) on their parents for food, safety and warmth. If these babies need to be raised, they are extremely labor intensive, needing to be fed sometimes every 15- 30 minutes during the day. They do mature faster than mammals and are released at about 4-5 weeks. At CWC, we focus on birds of all species who have been injured and require medical care. Orphaned birds are usually raised by wildlife rehabilitators.
We do care for injured and orphaned waterfowl (ducks, swans and geese), sea and shore birds, and game birds. These birds are precocial, meaning that as soon as they are hatched, they are feathered, eyes open, can walk and eat on their own. We start seeing these anywhere from April-June. We get a lot of mallard ducklings, and a lot of turkey poults. They grow very quickly, becoming good swimmers or gatherers and are ready to go as soon as their flight feathers grow in.
As you can see, once spring comes we are filled up with animal babies that need us, however not all babies brought to us are truly orphaned. Some babies are “accidentally kidnapped” and really do not need our help and should be left with the mother. If you find any baby animal, unless it is injured or in a dangerous situation, please call us before you remove it from its location, and we will talk to you about the possibility of re-nesting it. (508 362 0111). Re-nesting can be extremely successful and Mother does always know best.
To learn more about the Cape Wildlife Center or to help in our mission, visit www.capewildlife.com or call 508 362-0111. You are welcome to stop by and visit our gift shop 7 days a week. 4011 Main Street. Barnstable, MA