Taking a Walk on the Wild Side

4 mins read
A baby opossum gets a calming bath. Photo: Cleo Watts

Although spring is still officially a few weeks away, signs of life are everywhere.

For Pasadena wildlife rehabilitator Cleo Watts, this means 24/7 care of animal mothers as well as their neonates. Watts is our area’s only small mammal-licensed resident go-to for help with wildlife (non-domestic) critters. She partners with veterinarians and rescuers in our area and far, far beyond our foothills.

Global warming is now believed to impact breeding cycles. Shorter, warmer winters lead to earlier vegetation growth, and the greater availability of food may trigger earlier and more frequent litters and broods of wild animals.

With this in mind, it’s almost inevitable that you will encounter some evidence of wild animal babies while walking your dog or watering your petunias. Before you contact Watts, here are a few basics to keep in mind.

Not all who wander are lost

When you encounter an animal baby alone or with littermates on the ground, do not automatically remove them from the site unless they are injured or in obvious distress. Yes, any creature on the ground is easy pickings for predators, but hesitate and observe before intervening.

“Before scooping the baby up, try to figure out its level of development,” says Watts. “A fully feathered fledgling or a fully furred baby squirrel may stand a better chance of survival if you allow its parents to feed it while it’s on the ground. Leaving the baby alone can pull on your heartstrings, but it may be the best thing for the animal.”

Concerning a baby that is no longer a “pinkie” – meaning newly born /hatched, with no epidermal protection — Watts suggests watching from a window, checking for visits from a parent animal. By dusk, or if the weather turns harsh, then scoop up the baby and contact a rescuer.

For more details on handling wild babies, keep reading.

“For bunnies, if they are found in a shallow cup-like nest on the ground, that’s where they are supposed to be. If you’re concerned that the baby has been abandoned, but the baby is warm and not crying out, place a few strands of grass over the baby and the nest area and leave it alone. Return in about an hour, and if the grass has been disturbed, this suggests that Mom has been there. Mother rabbits usually don’t hang out with the nest and the babies because they don’t want to attract predators, but they do check on their babies throughout the day. If the baby is cold, and the grass has not been disturbed, then the baby will need your help,” explains Watts.

If you employ gardeners, please share this information with them. Rabbits, in particular, are often discovered when mowing lawns.

Pinkies” are another story

True neonates look like raw meat. The fact that they don’t have any hair, fur, or feathers means that they are at great risk for hypothermia, even if the temperature seems tolerable to you. A general reminder is that among warm-blooded creatures, smaller body mass usually equates to higher body temperature. A healthy cat typically reads between 100F to 102.5F. A rabbit’s ideal body temperature is 100.5F to 104F. An average hummingbird’s body temperature is usually a toasty 106F degrees.

If you discover a buck-nekked baby with no fur or feathers, do intervene. Although a parent animal may be watching, a featherless baby bird cannot fly back up to its nest. And cold-exposure alone can stop a baby rabbit’s heart.

“The best practice is to cover the baby, keep it warm, and call a rescuer immediately,” says Watts. She discourages inexperienced animal lovers from attempting to feed newborns since improper feeding techniques can cause trouble.

“Rescuers and rehabbers use specific nipples and specific formulas for different kinds of babies. Using the incorrect type of nipple can cause the baby to aspirate the formula, which can irritate the lungs and lead to pneumonia,” says Watts.

A “drop-by-drop” technique is used by rescuers to safely dispense tiny amounts — “flow control” — of the formula as the baby swallows.

Doing what we can for wildlife

While you’re connecting with a rescuer or rehabber, Watts advises to keep the baby warm. Line a small box or plastic container lined with a clean towel or washcloth as the baby’s temporary crib, and use another soft, clean cloth as a cover.

“You need a heating element of some kind. But be sure to test it on the inside of your arm,” says Watts. “It should not be hot.! Just comfortably warm to the touch, just very slightly warmer than your own skin.”

A hot-water bottle wrapped in a washcloth or sock works, as does a sock filled with rice, microwaved. The ideal temperature is about 100F.

Squirrels, skunks, rabbits, raccoons, mice, rats, opossums and occasional parrots are Watts’ constant companions year-round. In addition to orphaned babies, injured adults may also come under her care. Head trauma is sadly common, usually the result of being hit by a car.

Watts says she is not a veterinarian but maintains working relationships with a broad network of vets, clinics, rescuers and rehabbers who treat animals not covered in her licensure, including raptors (owls, hawks, falcons, eagles), deer, coyotes, bears, bobcats and mountain lions.

Remember that few, if any, of our region’s overworked shelters have the resources to care for newborn or severely injured wildlife.

Check out Watts’ Web site if you’re interested in attending her nonprofit fundraiser on March 10th, and to view other opportunities to donate and support her work.

“We always need blankets, towels and medical supplies,” says Watts.

Additional resources

Jim Second Chance Wildlife Rescue
(909) 599-4893
[email protected]

Jennifer Opossum Rehab
(626) 347-7704

Coyote and Bobcat Rehab
Anna Reims
(805) 428-7105

California Wildlife Center
(818) 222-2658

Squirrel Rehab
Glenn Ellis
(818) 825-4676

The short URL of this article is: https://localnewspasadena.com/dqsl

Victoria Thomas

Victoria has been a journalist since her college years when she wrote for Rolling Stone and CREEM. Victoria describes the view of Mt. Wilson from her front step as “staggering,” and she is a defender of peacocks everywhere.
Email: [email protected]

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