It’s come around again; the time of year to gear up for the influx of wildlife infants displaced by loss of habitat or loss of parents due to human interference. Excluding the occasional hurricane accompanied by flooding or an unnatural Carolina cold snap blessed with the more northern than southern white stuff called snow or what’s that clear, really slick stuff?, oh yeah . . . ice, Baby Season causes most rehabilitators to endure a sweet exhaustion from March through June. Straggler babies still show up beyond June, but in fewer numbers. Rehabilitators understand the need for high energy, patience and accept that days will start earlier and end later when they take on the tedious task of raising animal orphans. It’s important to get these little critters up and running (or flying) as soon and as wild as possible. I hate to point a finger, but sometimes the babies are truly kidnapped when brought to the shelter. Of course, the human “rescuer” doesn’t know that, but if my words manage to sink in during negotiations with the kidnapper(s) the clutch of plump eastern cottontails will be returned to the tall grassy area they were taken from. Usually, Momma rabbit is frantically looking for them. I always recommend putting a string around their nest area and checking back a few times to see if the string is mussed. If the babies still look plump and healthy, Mom is taking care of them, as it should be. In four weeks or less they’ll be out on their own. Wild baby bunnies become highly stressed in captivity and should remain with their Mom if at all possible. Baby season began for our shelter last week with the admit of three infant doves, two baby squirrels and two injured “with child(ren)” Virginia opossums. With the overuse of clear-cutting by developers we have seen our Baby Season admits grow steadily every year. Although infant wildlife, birds or mammals, would benefit from their bio-mom’s and dad’s care, we rehabbers step in with everything we know to give them the best second chance. After proper diet, cleanliness, safety, warmth and time to grow, we must find new wooded areas, conducive to the species, for relocation when release time comes. Uninjured, but homeless and parentless, infant squirrels are usually fairly hardy and take to a nippled syringe with formula readily until they want to chew solid food.
I have a true fondness for these crazy and frantic little critters. In my opinion, they are the best and most enjoyable babies to rehab until one day when they’re not. Something clicks in their brain, and they let you know it’s over. “Get me to my outside enclosure, I have squirrel skills to perfect.” A slower mammal that gets a bad rap because it’s perceived as quite homely is the opossum. (Personally, I don’t know how anyone could view our only North American marsupial as anything but cute. We all lose a little of our cuteness as we age, even the opossum.) Baby opossums come into the shelter in much larger litters than the squirrels. Stories of how they get to the shelter are quite varied and sometimes bizarre. The one that warms my heart the most is when I hear someone say they stopped along the road to check the pouch of an opossum hit and run victim. Talk about a way above average human being! A young man showed up at the shelter last year with baby opossums in his shirt pockets, his hat and a glove. He brought us eleven. Since they don’t suckle, they have to be tubed (or some say gavaged). Special formula, made for their slower metabolism, is syringed and delivered through a tiny, flexible tube into their stomach for each feeding until they are ready to lap from a dish, then on to solid food. Baby birds require totally different methods of care. They must be hand fed every thirty minutes and based upon the species, diets will vary . . . Ya da, Ya da, Ya da. It would take another posting to explain the uniqueness of baby birds and fledglings. So . . . from my opossums to yours, Have a happy Spring and watch out for our critters! They do good works.
author of Save Them All