Recently, a disabled Leominster resident called to report that during a thunderstorm, a tree had snapped off in his neighbor’s yard and catapulted some young owls on to the ground. He was desperate to help the young birds. My colleague, Tom French, suggested putting up a bird box as there was a good chance the adults would find and feed the young ones. We went out to the pile of MassWildlife’s collection of old wood duck boxes (please see right), made a couple of modifications and then I drove it up to Leominster. Three young Screech Owls were curled up in a cat carrier. A fourth chick was perched in the 25-foot tree stub. A neighbor carefully climbed a ladder on the tree and extricated the owlet. My husband, a veterinarian by training, felt that the lethargic birds needed some additional help before returning them to the wild.
We took the owlets to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, Dr. Carl Flinkstrom of the Lunenburg Veterinary Hospital. He took them in overnight and I picked them up the next morning. What a difference some fluids and TLC make—the owlets were alert, hopping around and clacking their beaks at me while I tried to photograph them. I whisked the birds and the bird box back down to Leominster, left the birds and box with the original caller with instructions on where to mount the box. All of our fingers are crossed, hoping that the new housing will work!
So what if you find some young wild things? It’s not easy for people to understand, but in most cases it’s best to leave them alone. Most young birds can be placed in a nearby tree or shrub. (It’s a myth that the adult wildlife abandons their young if handled by humans.) For bunnies, the adult rabbit visits only a couple times a day, to protect them from predators. Fawns (young deer) should be left alone as well—the doe leaves them for hours at a time. Keep pets restrained or indoors and advise other pet owners in the neighborhood.
If an animal is sick or injured, calling a wildlife rehabilitator for advice first before handling any animal is best. Rehabilitators are swamped with wildlife rehabilitation requests and have to set limits (Dr. Flinkstrom only handles five animals at a time.) in order to give them proper care. If you do end up bringing a wild creature to a wildlife rehabilitator, please leave a donation—rehabbers cannot charge for the animal’s care—every bit helps.
FAQs on young wildlife http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/wildlife/living/young_wildlife.htm
Information on wildlife rehabilitators http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/wildlife/rehab/wildlife_rehab.htm