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Leave wild animals alone in forests, fields and coastal beaches

Published on 04/05/24 at 11:05 PM
By Andre’ Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Oregon Coast) – ‘Tis baby season in the wild around Oregon: Spring is birthing season for all kinds of creatures and critters across the state. Sweet fawns, moose calves, pups and other types of young should be left alone, says the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife — and not just the cute baby seals you find on the coast. (Photo ODFW)

“Just finding a young wild animal does not mean it needs to be rescued,” the agency said. “In fact, the best course of action is to leave them where you find them.”

Any advice you’re likely to hear when you get your hands on ODFW is to “put it back.”

There is often a misconception in the game that leads people to believe that a young animal left alone in a forest, riverbank or field can get into trouble or be abandoned. They are not orphans, and no matter how well-intentioned the urge to intervene is, it is a very bad choice.

According to ODFW’s wildlife veterinarian Julia Burco, people can sentence a young creature to death by picking it up and trying to “save” it. It turns out that you are taking him from his natural environment and his parents.

“Never assume that a young animal is orphaned unless you have witnessed the parent being killed,” says Buco. “In almost all cases, the parent returns as soon as it is safe, for example when there are no people or dogs around.”

You hear this all the time about baby seals on the Oregon coast, but it’s true for little ones everywhere in the wild.

In the rare cases where an animal is truly injured or orphaned, it will require special care from recognized rehabilitation organizations and/or people with actual knowledge of these animals.

Besides being a bad idea for the animal, it is also illegal. “Capturing” or removing wild animals from their habitat and keeping them in captivity is against the law (OAR 635-044-0015), as is transporting many animals.

Aquarium photo by the sea

In 2023, seven people were charged with such crimes, says ODFW’s Michelle Dennehy.

Before picking up a wild animal, call the ODFW, Oregon State Police or a wildlife rehabilitation center for advice.

If an animal is injured or truly orphaned, it needs special care. Oregon’s licensed wildlife rehabilitators have the knowledge and facilities to provide this care. They use special methods that limit human interaction and mimic the animal’s natural lifestyle as much as possible, hopefully allowing the animal to be returned to the wild.

Before picking up a wild animal, call the ODFW, Oregon State Police or a wildlife rehabilitation center for advice. Removing or “capturing” an animal from the wild and keeping it in captivity without a permit is against state law (OAR 635-044-0015), as is transporting many animals. Last year, seven people were summoned for such violations (no permit for keeping wild animals/taking young wild mammals).

Mammals, of course, are the largest group of creatures you’ll encounter in the region’s forests – as well as in the natural areas along the Oregon coast. However, baby birds are also another problem.

Deer, elk and other mammals:

– Never assume that an animal is an orphan. Don’t take it from the woods, not even from your backyard. Female deer, elk and other mammals often abandon their young temporarily for safety reasons or to feed elsewhere. They will return when it is safe to do so (when no people, dogs, or predators are present).

– Call your local ODFW office, Oregon State Police office, or a locally certified wildlife rehabilitation center when: 1) you see an animal that you know is orphaned because you observed the dead parent animal, or 2) the parent has not returned for several hours or even a day, or 3) if the animal is clearly injured or in distress.
Bunnies are rarely orphaned; mother rabbits only visit the burrows at dusk and dawn to feed her young.

– Keep your dog or cat away from young animals, especially in the spring.

– If you see a seal pup, young sea lion or other marine mammal that is stranded or in distress, contact the OSP hotline at 1-800-452-7888.


– Leave young birds alone. It is normal for young (usually feathered) birds to be uncomfortable while learning to fly. If you see one on the ground, leave it alone and keep your distance. Keep your pets under control and indoors if possible. The mother bird will feed it on the ground for several days until it “grows wings.”

– Return nestlings to the nest. Nestlings (baby birds that are not yet fully feathered) found on the ground can be gently and quickly returned to the nest. If the nest is out of reach, place the bird on an elevated branch or fence, or in a nest made from a small box, out of the reach of children and pets. Leave the area so the parent birds can return.

– Bring your pets inside. Cats are a leading cause of injury and death for all birds, killing millions of birds in the US every year. Keep your pets away from young birds that are learning to fly.

– Be careful when pruning trees, there may be a bird’s nest in the branch. Wait until the birds are out of the nest.

– Beware of cavity esters. Barn owls and other birds may nest in hollowed-out trees or logs and in haystacks.

– What if a bird flies into a window and appears injured? Birds can be confused by reflective surfaces and accidentally fly into windows. If you find a bird that is stunned due to a window smash, place the bird in an uncovered box with a towel on the bottom. Keep it in a quiet place, away from pets, and come back in a few hours. When the bird has recovered, it has flown away. If not, contact a local ODFW office or your local wildlife rehabilitator.

– Allow turtles to cross the road. In May and June the females look for suitable breeding grounds to lay their eggs. If you see a turtle lying on the ground, it is best to leave it alone and let it continue on its path. It’s fine to take him off the road (if it’s safe for you to do so), but put him on the other side where he went.

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