Keep an eye out for infant critters as you do yardwork
URBANA — Be careful as you head out to do spring yard work, a local veterinarian urges.
This is the time of year when wildlife infants can be hidden in back yard nests, and easily be injured when people start cutting down tree branches, clearing out brush and raking up piles of dead vegetation.
Baby squirrels and cottontail rabbits are already around, and some songbirds will be nesting soon, says Dr. Julia Whittington, director of the University of Illinois's Wildlife Medical Clinic.
If you need to clear brush, she urges, do it in the next week or so, or consider leaving it until about mid-June to avoid disrupting the nests that may be tucked away in bushes or low bramble, she urges.
The UI clinic has already received some injured or seemingly abandoned baby wildlife that people have brought in for care, Whittington says.
The clinic's goal is to get the animals healthy enough to get them to a licensed facility that can eventually get them released back into the wild to survive on their own, but some wildlife babies are brought in mistakenly, Whittington says.
It's a person's instinct, when finding an infant animal alone, to think it's been abandoned, but that's often nature's way of protecting these tiny critters and drawing as little attention to the nest as possible, Whittington says. To avoid being a kidnapper, it's best to leave them alone if they don't appear sick or injured, at least until you're sure the parents aren't coming back, she advises.
Another common mistake is to think wildlife parents will reject an animal that's been touched by humans, Whittington says.
Uninjured birds can often be put back in nests and baby animals that have been picked up and moved for a short time can often be put back and the parents will reclaim them, she said.
"Many birds have a lousy sense of smell and can't even tell you've been there," Whittington says.
This is also a good time of year to make sure areas of your home — eaves, foundations, chimney caps and gutters — are secure and don't provide openings for animals to get inside.
"A lot of animals are looking for dens right now, and our urban structures provide them with that, so take precautionary measures," Whittington says.
Once an animal has babies in a nest somewhere inside your home, you'll have tenacious wild animals on your hands and removing them will require a professional, she says.
"The better way's to keep them out in the first place," she adds.
— The UI Wildlife Medical Clinic, 1008 Hazelwood Drive, U, accepts ill, injured or orphaned native wild animals (except for skunks and bats) around the clock, and offers hands-on training for veterinary students.
— It operates on fund-raising and donations.
— A clinic fundraiser called Walk on the Wild Side is set for Friday at Pear Tree Estate, Champaign. Tickets are $80.