Spring is wildlife baby season and rehabilitators say they're overwhelmed with baby birds, rabbits, raccoons and other critters. We ask experts what to do when confronted with the creature -- leave it alone or wait for mom? Sweetbriar has many babies being cared for right now. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

At Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, baby animals take up just about every nook and cranny of its wildlife rehabilitation center.

There’s the fluffy young owlet who was severely injured when the tree he lived in was chopped down. Ducklings, who became separated from their moms, learn to swim and preen together in a large sink. A tiny opossum, almost strong enough to hang from its prehensile tail, still needs food and a warm place to sleep and grow before it can venture out on his own.

Spring is baby season and always a busy time for Sweetbriar but this year the calls and rescues started even earlier than usual.

“We’ve all been thrown off by this really warm winter that we’ve had and I think wildlife has also been thrown off by this mild winter,” said Janine Bendicksen, director of wildlife rehabilitation at Sweetbriar. “Squirrels are having their babies much sooner, so are local birds and rabbits. … We’re already inundated where we usually have a kind of slow and steady stream of animals that come in.”

Along with helping orphaned and injured wildlife, Bendicksen and other rehabilitators try to educate Long Islanders about what to do if they spot a young wild animal in their backyard or in the neighborhood. Most of the time, the animals are fine and can be left alone even if mom and dad are nowhere to be seen.

“We live in close proximity to wildlife … chances are you're going to come across a baby animal,” said Bendicksen,  who chronicles rehabilitation of wildlife in Sweetbriar's Instagram posts.  

For example, if you see a fully feathered baby bird, it’s most likely a fledgling that has moved from the nest to the ground, where it can be seen hopping around. Its parents will continue to feed it and there is no reason for people to fear it might have a broken leg or wing, she said.

Rabbits will cover a nest of young bunnies with fur and grass and come back to feed them twice a day. If people find them in a yard, leave the nest alone and keep pets away.

“They are not abandoned,” Bendicksen said. “If we took every single baby bunny call, we would probably have a thousand baby bunnies right now.”

But if you see flies landing on an animal, signs of blood or they appear to be dragging their legs, you may need to intervene and reach out to an expert.

Bobby Horvath, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator at the nonprofit Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation, based on Long Island, said sending photos and videos can help determine whether an animal needs help or should be left alone.

And if you come across an animal you think needs help, never give it food or water without speaking to a rehabilitator, he said.

“It’s not going to benefit and if anything, it could do more harm than good,” he said.

He said for the next few weeks, people should be mindful there could be young animals around before letting dogs out or mowing the lawn.

Bendicksen said people should not leave unused sports nets in their backyards because they can be deadly for wildlife that gets entangled in them.

Most importantly, if you see wildlife, she said, enjoy it from a distance and don’t assume it should be moved.

“Wildlife doesn't belong on a preserve,” she said. “It belongs everywhere.”

At Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, baby animals take up just about every nook and cranny of its wildlife rehabilitation center.

There’s the fluffy young owlet who was severely injured when the tree he lived in was chopped down. Ducklings, who became separated from their moms, learn to swim and preen together in a large sink. A tiny opossum, almost strong enough to hang from its prehensile tail, still needs food and a warm place to sleep and grow before it can venture out on his own.

Spring is baby season and always a busy time for Sweetbriar but this year the calls and rescues started even earlier than usual.

“We’ve all been thrown off by this really warm winter that we’ve had and I think wildlife has also been thrown off by this mild winter,” said Janine Bendicksen, director of wildlife rehabilitation at Sweetbriar. “Squirrels are having their babies much sooner, so are local birds and rabbits. … We’re already inundated where we usually have a kind of slow and steady stream of animals that come in.”

An injured baby screech owl at Sweetbriar Nature Center in...

An injured baby screech owl at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown last week. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Along with helping orphaned and injured wildlife, Bendicksen and other rehabilitators try to educate Long Islanders about what to do if they spot a young wild animal in their backyard or in the neighborhood. Most of the time, the animals are fine and can be left alone even if mom and dad are nowhere to be seen.

“We live in close proximity to wildlife … chances are you're going to come across a baby animal,” said Bendicksen,  who chronicles rehabilitation of wildlife in Sweetbriar's Instagram posts.  

For example, if you see a fully feathered baby bird, it’s most likely a fledgling that has moved from the nest to the ground, where it can be seen hopping around. Its parents will continue to feed it and there is no reason for people to fear it might have a broken leg or wing, she said.

Rabbits will cover a nest of young bunnies with fur and grass and come back to feed them twice a day. If people find them in a yard, leave the nest alone and keep pets away.

“They are not abandoned,” Bendicksen said. “If we took every single baby bunny call, we would probably have a thousand baby bunnies right now.”

But if you see flies landing on an animal, signs of blood or they appear to be dragging their legs, you may need to intervene and reach out to an expert.

Bobby Horvath, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator at the nonprofit Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation, based on Long Island, said sending photos and videos can help determine whether an animal needs help or should be left alone.

And if you come across an animal you think needs help, never give it food or water without speaking to a rehabilitator, he said.

“It’s not going to benefit and if anything, it could do more harm than good,” he said.

He said for the next few weeks, people should be mindful there could be young animals around before letting dogs out or mowing the lawn.

Bendicksen said people should not leave unused sports nets in their backyards because they can be deadly for wildlife that gets entangled in them.

Most importantly, if you see wildlife, she said, enjoy it from a distance and don’t assume it should be moved.

“Wildlife doesn't belong on a preserve,” she said. “It belongs everywhere.”

What to do if you spot young wildlife

Licensed wildlife rehabilitators across Long Island said the warm winter has led to more young wildlife being born earlier this spring.

If you see young birds, rabbits and other wildlife in your yard, it does not mean they need to be rescued. Check with an expert first but chances are it does not need human intervention.

If you do try to help injured wildlife, never give them food or water before speaking with a rehabilitator first. It could cause them more harm.

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