O’Rourke: Leave wildlife wild, please, for their sake
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
As trees and flowers begin to bloom, Colorado’s wildlife is experiencing new life and growth as well. Bears are coming out of their winter dens to find food, and the next generation of young wildlife is being born.
Through the end of June, wildlife will become more visible in backyards, open spaces and on trails. Some young wildlife you may see include deer, elk, pronghorn, moose, rabbits, foxes, skunks, raccoons, bats and birds. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) reminds the public to respect wildlife and their space, especially this time of the year.
Every spring, CPW and local parks receive an increase in office visits and calls from people that report they “rescued” young wildlife. Many people wrongly believe they are “helping” young animals by picking them up, bringing them to a CPW office or even taking them home to feed them. People routinely orphan young wildlife by essentially kidnapping them from their natural environment.
The best practice is to leave young wildlife untouched in their natural habitat so they can grow and thrive in the wild.
How can humans help young wildlife?
- Do not approach, touch or feed wild animals.
- Enjoy wildlife from a safe distance.
- Keep your dog on a leash on trails.
- If you find a wild animal that appears sick or injured, leave it alone. Call your local Colorado Parks and Wildlife office and consult a trained wildlife officer for guidance.
“If you see a newborn fawn without its mother nearby, that is normal,” said CPW Area Wildlife Manager Jason Duetsch. “Deer, elk and pronghorn mothers hide their young for long periods of time while foraging. Young that have been removed cannot be successfully returned to the wild, as the mother will not continue searching for a missing baby or reject it because it was handled by humans and may no longer smell like her fawn. We have a human responsibility to keep wild animals wild and leave young wildlife alone to support their natural growth in the wilderness.”
CPW also urges the public to refrain from feeding wildlife on trails, in backyards or on decks. Under Colorado law, feeding wildlife is illegal because it puts wildlife’s health and safety at risk. Those in violation are subject to fines, and even worse, can cause the animal to become sick and die.
In addition to humans causing harm to wildlife, wildlife can also pose physical danger to humans. Wildlife is just that, wild, and can act in unpredictable ways. Animals such as elk, moose and deer with newborn calves and fawns can become aggressive to defend their young.
“Wildlife will be exhibiting normal protective behavior of their young,” said Duetsch. “Give wildlife extra space this time of year. Be sure to keep dogs on leashes. Dogs can trigger aggressive behavior and both moose and elk will chase a dog right back to their owner, presenting a dangerous situation.”
Other dangers of approaching and feeding young wildlife include exposure to rabies, Salmonella, fleas, ticks and other parasites, bacteria or viruses that may be present in or on the animal. Likewise, humans can also inadvertently expose diseases carried by people to baby wildlife.
What should you do if you see a baby bird out of a nest?
Every year, baby birds are picked up by people, but the animal’s best chance of survival is to be raised by its parents. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is a major concern for wild birds, especially waterfowl and scavenging birds, and also carries a possible risk to human health. Although rare, some strains of HPAI can infect people.
- If a nestling baby bird (eyes closed and featherless) has fallen from a nest that you can easily see and safely reach, it is ok to put that bird back into the nest but wear gloves and a mask to prevent transmission of diseases between you and the bird.
- If you find a fledgling bird (eyes open, feathered, can hop around but cannot fly) on the ground, do not pick up that bird. The parents will continue to care for it on the ground and it will soon be able to fly. Keep cats inside to prevent them from killing birds.
- If you find a sick or dead bird, do not touch the bird. Please contact CPW to report the sick or dead bird.
Colorado has a robust wildlife ecosystem, a valuable reminder that we are just a part of the animal world around us. If you see unsafe human behavior such as feeding or harassing wildlife, report it to your local CPW wildlife office.
Bridget O’Rourke is the statewide public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. She can be reached at 720-219-2919 or firstname.lastname@example.org