PULLMAN, Wash. — The Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital currently is caring for several juvenile wildlife species that should have been left in the care of Mother Nature.

The official census today reads as two barn owlets, four screech owlets, two coyote pups, one mink kit, three raccoon kits, two pigeon squab, and one great-horned owlet.

While wildlife’s young-of-the-year may tug at people’s heart strings, they don’t usually need help, according to WSU veterinarians.

They advise the public the same way each year.  “Leave all young wildlife alone regardless of whether or not you think they are orphaned or abandoned,” explains veterinarian Nickol Finch, head of the WSU hospital’s Exotics and Wildlife section. “Do not touch them and do not pick them up. Take a photo if you must but do not disrupt the natural process already underway.”

Most young animals do not need human help unless they are obviously injured.  In the case of the great horned owlet, it has a minor head injury.

“Birds getting displaced from nests happens commonly due to the wind and rain,” said Dr. Finch. “In all cases nature copes with this but maybe not in a way humans like. For some like this owl, even on the ground beneath the nest, the female great-horned owl mom will often still come feed the young until they can fledge.”

A coyote pup
A coyote pup

Yes, some young will die and that too is part of the natural life cycle.

“As sad as it may be, when young-of-the-year die, they feed other animals, fertilize plant life, and provide vital nutrients for soil and water microorganisms,” Finch said.

The ability to produce an abundance of offspring by some species such as upland game birds and rabbits for example, is an evolutionary adaptation because they are prey for other species.

Seeing a young animal like a fawn alone on the forest floor can become a great concern to some. They put themselves in the position of the young animal and they extend to the animal human feelings of what it would be like to be left alone in the woods. They also often think, there surely must be something wrong if a person can walk right up on them.

“Actually, fawns are left alone for long periods of time while the doe goes out to feed so she can maintain her milk supply. She always knows right where her fawns are and can often see them and you without revealing her position,” Finch said. “Protectively, she conveys to fawns to remain motionless no matter what happens. A young animal that jumps up and runs from a hungry predator becomes an instant target and soon a meal. And if a doe sees a threat, she usually tries to draw the threat away from the young.”

A mink kit

The owlets, mink, and pigeons currently at WSU can be returned to the wild after being bottle and hand-fed by humans. The coyote pups are questionable. Most zoos and wildlife parks already have coyotes and after being hand fed they may seek out humans behaviorally.

Wildlife are owned by the state in which they are found and concerned citizens can find more information on their state’s game agency websites.

Media contact:

  • Charlie Powell, public information officer, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, 509‑595‑2017, charlie_powell@wsu.edu