Living With Wildlife Babies In DuPage County

Unlike humans, young wild animals are not constantly supervised by their parents. They spend much of their time alone or with siblings. Because of this fact, people should leave young wildlife alone whenever possible. Willowbrook Wildlife Center receives hundreds of young birds and mammals each year, and although it can often successfully raise them, animals generally fare better if their parents do the job.

If you’ve found a young wild animal on its own, first determine that it is truly an orphan by checking for signs of ill health.

• Does it appear cold, weak or lethargic, or is it strong and alert?
• Are its eyes bright and observant or sunken and dull?
• Is its belly flat or rounded? A round belly means it’s full of milk.
• Is its coat clean, or is it dirty and full of fleas and fly eggs? Females groom their young to keep them clean.
• Is it quiet or constantly vocalizing? Vocalizing can be a sign that it has been hungry for a long time.
• Does it have any obvious injuries such as wounds or broken limbs?
• Is it having difficulty breathing or gasping or gurgling?

If the animal does not appear sick or injured, give the mother time to return. If it does appear sick, call Willowbrook Wildlife Center at (630) 942-6200.

Species-Specific Information

Eastern Cottontails

It’s rare to see the mother visiting the nest. If you find a disturbed nest, return any stray young cottontails to it, and cover it with grass. The mother will return to the nest even if you handle the young or disturb the nest. If cottontails are mobile and over 4 inches long with ears up and eyes open, leave them alone; they’re big enough to care for themselves.

Tree Squirrels

Young squirrels can fall from the nest during bad weather or while playing. If this happens, place them in a shoebox with a baseball-sized hole in the lid, and tape the box to the trunk or a low limb. Leave the area so the female can reach them undisturbed. If the tree has fallen, place the box in a nearby tree; females often have more than one nest.

Raccoons and Skunks

Young raccoons and skunks alone are rarely orphans. Females forage for hours, leaving them to rest in the den or play outside on their own. When foraging with their families for the first time, young may also become temporarily separated. Leave them alone for 48 hours, and watch for signs of the mother. Place them under a laundry basket or inside a pet carrier with the door propped closed with a stick so the mother can retrieve them.

White-Tailed Deer

It’s normal for healthy fawns to curl up quietly alone on the ground. Mothers stay away when they’re not feeding them so they don’t attract predators. Be concerned only if a fawn is moving and vocalizing. Willowbrook Wildlife Center does not have facilities for deer but can refer people to other organizations if a fawn is truly injured or orphaned.

Opossums, Ducks and Geese

Unlike other species, these young should never be without adults. If they are alone, bring them to Willowbrook Wildlife Center for captive rearing and release.

Nestling and Fledgling Birds

If a nestling is on the ground, locate the nest and place it inside. Parents will not abandon their young if you touch them. If the nest is too high or cannot be found, call Willowbrook Wildlife Center for instructions on how to make a temporary one to place on a safe branch. Watch the nest for 24 hours for signs of the parents. If a young bird has all of its feathers (no bald spots) but short wing and tail feathers and can stand on its own, it’s a fledgling that’s left the nest before it can fly, which is not uncommon. Leave it alone and watch from a distance for its parents. If you must move a fledgling, place it in a bush or low tree a few feet from where you found it. Do not move it from general area; the parents are most likely watching nearby. Do not move a fledging because of fear of injuries from pets; closely supervise any pets instead.

Nestling and Fledgling Birds of Prey

Call Willowbrook Wildlife Center at (630) 942-6200 for advice. Do not attempt to put these birds back in their nests; the parents may attack. Birds of prey that have fledged are called “branchers” because they will start to walk and perch on branches instead of going directly to the ground. They may end up on the ground, though, from time to time. If this happens, provide something for them to use to climb onto a low branch of their nesting tree, such as a log, stick or two-by-four.

About Willowbrook Wildlife Center

If you come across a wild animal and are concerned, leave it alone. Call Willowbrook Wildlife Center for advice at (630) 942-6200. Recorded messages provide general information for callers when the center is closed.

The center and its animal admittance area are located at 525 S. Park Blvd. in Glen Ellyn and are open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, when both are closed. On Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day, only the animal admittance area is open.

If You Can’t Get to Willowbrook
• Call Willowbrook or a local animal shelter or veterinary clinic for referrals.
• Visit the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website,, for a list of licensed rehabilitators by county. Click on “DNR A to Z,” and look for “Wildlife Rehabilitators.”
• Visit the Wildlife Rehabber website,, and click on “Find a Wildlife Rehabilitator.”

Get Adobe Reader
©2016 Forest Preserve District of DuPage County