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posted: 5/6/2013 7:55 AM

Know when to intervene when it comes to baby wildlife

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  • Baby Eastern cottontail rabbits often are found in nests in open areas. The mothers leave during the day but return at night to feed the young.

      Baby Eastern cottontail rabbits often are found in nests in open areas. The mothers leave during the day but return at night to feed the young.
    Courtesy of Willowbrook Wildlife Center

By Bonnie Olszewski
Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

Spring is breeding season for most DuPage wildlife, and the staff and volunteers at Willowbrook Wildlife Center, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County's native-wildlife rehabilitation and education center in Glen Ellyn, remind residents "If you care, leave them there."

Unlike human children, the majority of young wildlife is routinely left alone for hours or an entire day.

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"Fearing that the babies have been abandoned, many well-meaning people bring the young animals to Willowbrook Wildlife Center," says Sandy Fejt, the center's site manager.

However, parents are usually foraging and will return to care for their young.

"The best place for a wild animal to grow up is in the wild," she said.

Before handling or approaching any wild animal that may be injured or abandoned, residents should seek advice from Willowbrook, which is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at 525 S. Park Blvd., Glen Ellyn. Species-specific guidelines are online at

The public can also contact the center at or (630) 942-6200. Staff members answer inquiries between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily, and the phone line offers recorded after-hours information.

While DuPage County residents may encounter many species of wildlife babies, a few of the most common are young songbirds, tree squirrels and cottontail rabbits.

Songbirds pass through several stages of growth before leaving their parents' care. Nestlings are very young birds that have no feathers and cannot fly. Should these young fall from their nests, parent birds cannot move them. In this case, some human intervention is helpful, and Willowbrook recommends carefully placing baby back in the nest.

If necessary, a makeshift nest can placed near the original nest site. Fledgling songbirds have most of their feathers and may tumble to the ground while learning to fly. Parents will continue to care for these young and no intervention is necessary.

Eastern cottontail rabbits frequently make their nests in open areas like lawns and schoolyards. So they do not alert predators to their young, females stay away during the day but return at night to feed the young. If a nest is disturbed, the best course of action is to re-cover the babies with grass. Homeowners should keep dogs and other pets away and help children observe without harming the animals.

Young tree squirrels may fall from their nests during windy weather. In most cases, the mother squirrel will retrieve them on her own. If 24 hours pass and a baby is still alone, it may be appropriate to take the squirrel to Willowbrook Wildlife Center.

An infant squirrel requires a special diet and careful handling in order to avoid human habituation that would ruin its chance of survival in the wild.

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