DEC cautions New Yorkers against disturbing young wildlife

A young white-tailed deer peers out from behind a woodpile in a residential yard in Saranac Lake, N.Y. on Wednesday, June 1, 2011.

ALBANY — New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos on Wednesday reminded New Yorkers to appreciate wildlife from a safe distance and resist the urge to touch or pick up newborn fawns and other young animals.

Human contact with wildlife can carry unintended consequences detrimental to the creatures people intend to help.

“In an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, New Yorkers are spending more time at home than normal, and some are seeing more young birds and other wildlife as a result, Seggos said in a press release. “At this time of year, people are more likely to see a young rabbit or a recently fledged bird in their yard and mistakenly think it needs help to survive. I encourage you to enjoy encounters with wildlife from afar and avoid approaching or touching the animal. Remember, if you care, leave it there.”

During the spring months, animal sightings and encounters are common. Young wildlife quickly venture into the world on wobbly legs or are unable to fly on their own. While most young wildlife learn survival skills from one or both adult parents, some receive little or no care. Often, wild animals stay away from their young, especially when people are present. For these young animals, the perils of survival are a natural part of life in the wild. Well-intentioned humans may attempt to care for young wild animals they believe to be abandoned or in need of assistance, but the DEC says these human interactions typically do more harm than good.

For example, white-tailed fawns are born during late May and early June. Although fawns can walk shortly after birth, they spend most of their first several days lying still in tall grass, leaf litter, or sometimes relatively unconcealed. During this period, a fawn is usually left alone by the adult female (doe), except when nursing. People occasionally find a lone fawn and mistakenly assume it has been abandoned, which is rare. If human presence is detected by the doe, the doe may delay its next visit to nurse. Fawns should never be picked up. A fawn’s best chance to survive is to be raised by the adult doe. Fawns nurse three to four times a day, usually for less than 30 minutes at a time, but otherwise the doe keeps her distance. This helps reduce the chance that a predator will follow her to the fawn. A fawn’s protective coloration and ability to remain motionless help it avoid detection by predators and people.

By the end of its second week, a fawn begins to move about and spend more time with the doe. It also begins to eat grass and leaves. At about 10 weeks of age, fawns are no longer dependent on milk, although they continue to nurse occasionally into the fall.

DEC also reminds the public that young wildlife are not pets, that keeping wildlife in captivity is illegal and harmful to the animal, that wild animals are not well-suited for life in captivity and may carry diseases that can be transferred to humans. Anyone who observes wildlife that appear to be sick or behaving abnormally should contact their DEC regional wildlife office. For more information and answers to frequently asked questions about young wildlife, visit DEC’s website.


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