All Keel Kemper needs to do is look at his office phone log to know wild animals and birds have started having their young. The regional biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has been fielding calls for several weeks from concerned people reporting baby animal sightings and asking what they should do.
For the overwhelming majority of these sightings, the answer is nothing, Kemper said.
“We have a saying ‘If you care, leave them there,’” Kemper said. “That can be a real struggle.”
Often the animal’s mother has deliberately left her baby alone and will return. Any human interference can actually harm the animal.
“There is that ‘Disney’ notion of wild animals that is very prevalent in the public,” he said. “But there are times we just have to say maybe nature needs to take its course in the name of larger public health and wildlife health.”
Here are the animal babies you are most likely to find in Maine and what to do when you do.
Unless there is an obvious clue a fawn is an orphan, like the mother’s body laying nearby, it should not be disturbed.
“Fawns are designed to be left by their mothers for long periods of time,” Kemper said. “They don’t have any scent, and they are well camouflaged.”
This allows the mother deer to leave her baby and go feed for 24 to 48 hours. She will often return after dark to tend the fawn and move it to a new location.
If there is strong evidence the mother is not returning, Kemper said that is the time to call his office or one of the licensed wildlife rehabilitators in the state.
“I generally say if you have gone 48 hours and the fawn is in obvious distress, make a phone call,” he said. “The thing not to do is to handle it — just observe.”
Rehabilitators around the state are often swamped with baby raccoons, Kemper said.
That does not have to be the case.
When raccoon mothers go to feed, they often leave their young tucked away in a den. These dens can be anything from a hole in a tree to a dark corner of a barn or abandoned building. Even if something happens to spook the mother into running away, Kemper said odds are she will return.
“Last week we had a case where a man cut down a tree and when it fell to the ground, out ran the mother raccoon and in the hollow of the tree there were the babies,” he said. “He backed off and by the next morning she had come back to get them.”
Red, gray and flying squirrel babies can look particularly vulnerable if they are seen without their mother.
If the baby has somehow wandered away from, or fallen from, its nest the mother squirrel will come for it. If you see a baby squirrel on the ground, Kemper said to observe it and, if possible, protect it from any predators until the mom returns and moves it to a new nest.
Even if she does not reappear, Kemper said it is not always the best idea to take the baby to a wildlife rehabilitator because like other wild animals, it could be infected with rabies.
“As compassionate as we want to be, we simply can’t have these rabies vector species transported long distances,” he said. “We know that can leave some awfully bad feelings with people.”
The nearest wildlife rehabilitator can be hundreds of miles away from where a baby squirrel was found. Taking it that far runs the risk of transporting rabies into a new area.
Skunks are another carrier of rabies that shouldn’t be taken away from where they are found.
There are also not many rehabilitators in Maine who want to deal with baby skunks, Kemper said.
If you do see baby skunks without their mother, keep your distance and observe. Often they have simply wandered off and the mother will return for them.
If the mother does not return, watch to see if the young skunks appear capable of taking care of themselves. If they are digging, look healthy and their eyes are fully open they are likely mature enough to forage on their own.
Young foxes — called kits — will often be observed playing or running around with their parents in sight. If you see one or more kits, keep your distance and watch them. If they look energetic and healthy leave them alone because their parents are probably close by.
But if they look sickly or weak, they could be orphans and then you should call a licensed rehabilitator.
“We rarely recommend any kind of trapping and release of fox kits,” Kemper said. “You can never catch all of them at once but if you actually see a dead [fox] parent use your good judgment about calling a rescue.”
Until baby porcupines are big enough to climb, their mothers will leave them alone while feeding in trees. The babies are born with a full set of defensive quills that become fully operational within hours of their birth.
If you come across a baby porcupine in the woods and it looks healthy and uninjured and if there is no dead adult nearby, it is safe to assume the mom is nearby and the baby does not need to be rescued.
Sadly, many baby porcupines become orphans due to humans, according to Kemper.
“Good old Maine people don’t like them,” he said. “Porcupines are known to eat the terminal buds on trees and damage the trees, so folks shoot or trap them.”
Because of that, Kemper said he fields a fair amount of calls about orphaned baby porcupines in the spring.
Despite a healthy population of rabbits in Maine, Kemper said seeing the babies is very uncommon.
If you do come across a nest of baby bunnies, avoid touching them and as gently as possible place some twigs or grass over the nest. Keep all pets away from the nest and watch for any disturbance to the grass or twigs. If they are moved around, it means the mother has returned to tend her babies.
If more than 24 hours goes by, she is probably not returning and it’s time to call a licensed rehabilitator or simply leave them alone.