Gearing up for Baby Season
Wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centers throughout the state have been gearing up for a couple of months now for the busiest time of the year. We call it Baby Season. All centers take in wildlife throughout the year, but it is never as busy as it is in the spring when the newborns start coming through the doors.
Photo by Rachel Griffiths
The animals will all need housing. Some will be tiny and critical enough to go into an incubator. Others will be fine in a small cardboard box with a heating pad beneath it. Still others will go into a crate, and thankfully crates come in many different sizes. Wildlife babies grow rapidly, so as they grow, there needs to be a series of housing sizes available for them to graduate into. They are constantly transitioning into larger and larger housing.
As the youngsters grow, they will need to be introduced to solid foods. We strive to give them as much of their natural diet as possible. That means having acorns on hand that were gathered in the fall, as well as some of the fall fruits. I always have some frozen persimmons in my freezer, as they are a special favorite of many species. It also means having freezers full of various sizes of mice, rats, chicks, and fish. Meal worms and crickets need to be on hand for the birds and bats.
All of these animals will need enrichment. Initially, in addition to a warm bed and bedding, the very young will get a teddy bear or stuffed toy that will substitute for mom. Some of these stuffies even come with warmers in them and a heartbeat! The babies love curling up together on the stuffed toy. Many of the species love hammocks. As they get a little older, we put things that might naturally be in or near their nests, such as small branches, leaves, pine cones, lichen, and small stones in their enclosure. They can get bored pretty quickly, so enrichment needs to be changed frequently.
People always ask me how we get the babies. I think they envision wildlife rehabilitators tromping around in the woods looking for animals that need help. Quite the contrary. These animals are mostly brought to us by caring people. People who spot dead mothers by the side of the road with babies nearby; people who discover a nest of baby birds that their cat pulled out of a tree, or a den of ground squirrels that their dog dug up. Many are orphaned when a tree is trimmed or cut down. Some folks trap the mothers, kill and/or relocate them, only to discover crying babies a day or so later. It is illegal to trap and relocate wildlife in California, but that is a topic for another column.
Spring is just around the corner, and starting right about now, every time the phone rings, we anticipate it will be someone wanting to bring in orphans. Some folks show up carrying a shoe box or basket with tiny critters inside. I once had a woman hand me a sock with five baby opossums in it! Our center has just started getting baby squirrels.
Last year, Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue took in over one thousand animals. Of the ones that got through the first 24 hours – a critical time – 80 percent survived, went through the rehabilitation process, and were released back into the wild. I don’t have the figures for 2014 yet, but the year before that more than 65,000 animals were admitted to wildlife rescue centers throughout the state.
Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.