Spring is finally arriving in New England! As the weather warms up and the days get longer, everyone seems more active, including our local wildlife. As a result, encounters between pets, their humans, and wildlife go way up at this time of year. To help you and your pets stay safe while enjoying this wonderful time of year, we've put together a few fun facts about commonly spotted wildlife, and what to do if you encounter them.
The Cute and the Cuddly
Baby rabbits are born in the spring and stay in the same nest for 3-4 weeks. The mother does not stay at the nest during the day, so if you encounter what appears to be an "abandoned" nest, leave it alone. If the babies in the nest are alive, the mother is definitely feeding them twice a day. If you have children interested in the nest, a single quick peek is ok by lifting up the overlying grass and sticks and then replacing them. It can be tempting to touch or hold these tiny creatures, but baby bunnies are very fragile and should not be handled unless absolutely necessary. While it is not true that the mother will reject the babies if they smell like humans, if the mother senses that the babies have been disturbed, she will move the nest to a safer location. If your pet (or lawnmower) has found the nest and disturbed it, replace the babies into the nest and cover it back up with grass, sticks, or rabbit fur. If you know for certain that the mother has been injured or has abandoned the nest, please call the New England Wildlife Center for assistance. They are a wonderful resource who will help you decide whether to leave the nest alone or bring the babies to a wildlife hospital.
Like rabbits, squirrels stay in their nest for a few weeks before they head out on their own. Unlike rabbits, though, their nests are often high up in trees, making them safer from dogs and cats but also posing the risk of a fall. If you find a baby squirrel on the ground, first determine if it still needs to be in its nest. If it is running around, active and chattering, it is probably just learning to climb. Mom or Dad will help it climb back up the tree once the big, scary human departs. If it is not able to walk, has thin fur, or if its eyes are closed, it is still a nestling and its parents are capable of bringing it back to the nest if it is kept safe and warm in the meantime. Place these nestlings in a small box or basket and leave it at the base of the tree. If the baby is still in the box 4 hours later, it may not be near the nest. Without parents nearby, these babies need to be cared for around the clock and should be brought to a wildlife hospital.
Bird nests have always been an exciting treasure to find, especially for children. If you or your kids encounter a nest with eggs or baby birds, leave it alone if possible. Bird parents rarely leave their nests, as the eggs and hatchlings require constant warmth. If they have left their nest, birds will not return to the nest if a giant human is lurking nearby, so try not to linger near a nest for too long. Quick looks into the nest once weekly will not disturb the nesting parents, but prolonged visits are a bad idea. If you find a songbird nest that has fallen onto the ground, gently place it back into the closest tree or bush. It is very likely the parents are nearby watching their nest.
Baby birds are adorably ugly and very tempting to handle, however their fragile skin and sensitive temperature needs make handling them dangerous for their health. For this reason, look, but don't touch if you see a baby bird in its nest! If you find a hatchling on the ground, there are a few things you will need to determine. First, does it still need to be in a nest? If the baby bird in question still has bare skin visible or no tail feathers, it is still a nestling and should be returned gently to its nest. Look for the nest in trees, bushes, sills, and overhangs just above where you find the baby, because these nestlings can't go far on their own. If the baby bird is fully feathered but can only walk, hop, or flutter, it is a fledgling. Fledglings are older babies that are learning to fly. They no longer stay in the nest and should be left alone to explore. If you can't find the nest of a hatchling or a fledgling, and the bird appears injured, contact the New England Wildlife Center for help.
The Big, the Bad, and the Stinky
Unlike the cute babies we associate with spring, turkeys pose an entertaining but intimidating wildlife encounter. It is rare to find turkeys in distress or injured by pets. In fact, we more frequently hear about pets and people being bullied by turkeys! If your walking route is plagued by turkeys, consider carrying a large, brightly colored umbrella. Nothing intimidates a male turkey more than another "turkey" with a bigger, brighter tail!
Skunks can leave a lasting impression on your dog! Obviously, avoidance is the best strategy, but if your pet does get sprayed by a skunk, there are a few important steps to take. Besides being very malodorous, skunk spray is extremely abrasive to the eyes. If your pet has been sprayed in the face, immediately flush out their eyes with eye wash or lukewarm water. What works for the eyes, however, does not work for the fur, and attempting to rinse the stink off of your dog's fur will only spread the smell further. Instead, make up a batch of the following recipe:
- 1 qt Hydrogen Peroxide
- 1/4 cup baking soda
- 2 tsp Dawn liquid soap
Work this mixture into your dog's fur, being very careful to avoid contact with your dog's eyes, and leave in contact for 15 minutes prior to rinsing. If you need to use the skunk recipe on your dog's face, be sure to pick up a protective eye ointment from your veterinarian prior to the bath.
Some dogs just can't resist these prickly creatures, but they can present a very painful encounter for our canine friends! If your dog gets quilled by a porcupine, sedated quill removal by a veterinarian is the best treatment option. Until you can reach a veterinary hospital, place a cone on your dog to prevent him from biting off the quills. This will protect his mouth and throat from quills and also make removal easier with the quills intact.
If your pet gets into a scuffle with any carnivorous wildlife such as skunks, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, or opossums, or has any encounters with bats, they should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. These species are the most common vectors for rabies in Massachusetts, so even if no wounds are found on your pet, close proximity to these species requires a rabies booster.
If you have any questions related to your pet's encounters with wildlife, please never hesitate to call us and ask! If you have questions directly pertaining to wildlife, the New England Wildlife Center can also help by phone to point you in the right direction.
Have a wonderful spring!
The CVH Team