If you see a baby wild animal while you’re out and about on Utah’s trails and open spaces this summer, don’t be surprised — and don’t interact with it.
Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources warns that disturbing baby animals can be dangerous to both you and the animal. Just because you may not see the mother doesn’t mean she isn’t nearby, or that the baby has been abandoned, especially in the case of elk and deer.
“Newborn fawns are actually alone and isolated during their first weeks of life — and that’s on purpose,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Big Game Coordinator Covy Jones said in a news release Monday. “The mother knows that leaving the fawn alone is the best way to protect it from predators.”
Mother does leave their newborn fawns in a hiding place during the day to help protect the baby from predators, according to the DWR. She’ll return to the baby for a little while every day to care for it, then leave again to find food for herself and rest.
The DWR shared these specific tips on what to do if you happen to see a baby deer or elk:
Don’t approach it. You can take a photo or watch from afar, but don’t get too close, or you’ll scare it. A frightened baby animal might run away from its hiding place, so the mother may not be able to find it again later, or a predator might catch it.
Don’t touch or pet it. You could leave your scent on the baby, which could attract predators.
Don’t try to move it or take it home. It’s potentially fatal for a baby wild animal to be moved to captivity by someone who isn’t a professional, and it poses a public health risk. It’s also illegal to keep wildlife in captivity.
The rules for interacting with baby birds are much the same, according to Wild Aware Utah, which partners with the DWR. Depending on which stage of life it’s in, a baby bird probably doesn’t need your help if you see it outside its nest.
Fledglings will have most of their flight feathers and will be able to hop around on the ground. If you see a fledgling on the ground, don’t worry too much — many species at the fledgling stage will leave the nest before they fully learn how to fly, and will spend a few days wandering around on the ground. Usually, the fledgling’s parents are still nearby taking care of it, so don’t get involved.
If you see a nestling on the ground, though, you may be able to return it to its nest. A nestling is a very young bird, and may have fluffy feathers or few feathers at all. If you see a nestling on the ground and find its nest nearby, you can safely pick it up and return it to the nest. It’s an urban myth that parent birds will smell your human scent on their baby and abandon it — most birds don’t have a sense of smell.
If you see a duckling or gosling in your yard, generally leave it be, Wild Aware Utah advises. One exception is if you find one alone in your pool or another body of water. Baby waterfowl aren’t able to swim for long periods, so it might need help getting out of the water so it doesn’t drown.
In any case, if you see an injured animal, contact a wildlife official; don’t try to help it yourself. Visit wildlife.utah.gov for a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators and animal control officials in Utah.