Where’s Mama?

The Great Outdoors | May 1, 2019

By Jackie Scharfenberg, Forest Naturalist, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Though they may look cute and harmless, young wild animals don’t know that you only want to help. They may instinctually try to bite or scratch to protect themselves when you get close!

It’s very important to protect yourself: wear leather gloves and do not handle wild animals needlessly or directly. For example, use a cardboard box to scoop up the animal rather than pick it up by hand. Even if you wear gloves, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or hand sanitizer after handling wildlife. Most importantly, ask an adult for assistance before attempting to go near a wild animal.


The White Tail Fawn

A whitetail deer fawn bleats, “Where’s mama?” The doe shields her fawn from predators by staying some distance away, except when nursing. When finished nursing, she often moves her fawn to a new site.

For up to three weeks after birth, a fawn lacks the strength and speed to escape from danger. During this time, they move very little and rely on their spotted, camouflaged coat and lack of scent to protect them. Next time you’re in the woods, check out the sun spots on the ground. Look familiar?

If you find a fawn lying alone, leave it, walk away, and keep your distance. Do not touch the fawn or bring other people, or dogs, to look at the bedded fawn. This endangers the fawn by giving away its location to a predator, and its mother won’t return to nurse while people or dogs stand nearby.

Cottontail Rabbit Kit

“Where’s my mother?” squeaks the kit cottontail rabbit. The doe usually returns only at dawn and dusk to feed her babies. She spends a lot of time nibbling on green plants not too far away.

To repair a damaged cottontail nest, look for a shallow depression lined with dried grass and fur. Place babies in the nest and cover them with a light layer of dry grass. Place several twigs or strings in a “checkerboard” pattern over the nest. Leave the area, or the mother won’t come back. After several hours, check to see if the material was moved indicating that the mother returned.

If you find healthy, hopping bunnies measuring 4-5 inches long with eyes open and ears up, they are old enough to survive on their own. Leave them alone!

Baby Birds

“Mommy?” squawks the baby bird. If the bird appears naked with no feathers, find the nest and put the bird back into the nest. If the nest blew down, create a substitute nest out of an old berry box or plastic container with holes punched in the bottom. Either line the container with dried plant materials or place the old nest in it. Attach it securely close to the spot you found the original nest.

If the bird is covered with feathers and hopping on the ground, it’s a fledgling. If it’s not hopping, place the fledgling in a shrub or on a nearby tree branch. Mom and dad are close by and still feeding it.

For more information, go to and search “Keep Wildlife Wild,” or contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

Responsive Menu Pro Image Responsive Menu Clicked Image