Biologists with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission get calls each year from worried conservation-minded individuals who happen across young, helpless-looking deer, rabbits and birds that have apparently lost their mother.
Moving those animals may be one of the worst actions people can take to help it. In the case of white-tailed deer fawns, taking it home can even land you in trouble with the law.
Most fawns found that seem abandoned aren’t alone. Lying perfectly still and quiet is part of a young deer’s survival instinct while its mother is away. Once a doe gives birth, she still needs to feed to maintain her health while nursing her young. She will go a short distance and eat, leaving the fawn alone during much of the day. By reducing the amount of visits she makes, she’s reducing the amount of attention brought to its hiding spot and the amount of scent left to alert predators of her young.
The fawn’s job is to stay as still as possible so that it remains hidden. Their spotted coat blends into the background, and they just lay there. In some cases, a person can literally push it along with a foot without it jumping up to flee.
In most cases, the mother deer is often just out of sight, waiting for you to leave so she can tend to her young.
Rabbits, birds and many other wild animals have a similar plan for survival. Their parents leave the young sometimes for long periods of time to gather food or eat to maintain their health while nursing.
Moving “orphaned” wildlife works against this plan. Instead of rescuing them, a person may be moving them from where the mother will return. It also leaves the good Samaritan struggling to figure out what to do with the animal. Wildlife rehabilitation experts often are overwhelmed by kidnapped young owls and other birds that were mistakenly “rescued” by well-meaning people.
If someone has taken a young animal from an area, the best practice is to place it back where he found it as soon as possible. If a baby bird has fallen from the nest, place it back or move it as close to the tree as possible. Forget the wive’s tales about the mother rejecting the young because of your scent. When she returns, she will take care of her young. In cases where the spot may have been unsafe because of a nearby road or predator, you can move the animal slightly and its mother will find it.