10 Wildlife Myths

Become a better neighbor to our wild friends by knowing the truth

Think you know what to do when you encounter a baby rabbit or worried a bat might get tangled in your hair? Well, think again. Below are 10 commonly held misconceptions people have regarding our wild friends.

Myth #1: If you find a fawn alone, she or he has been orphaned.

Fact: It is quite common to see fawns alone. The babies, lacking any scent to attract predators and incapable of keeping up with the doe in dangerous situations, are essentially "parked" in various (quite often, peculiar) locations. The doe will visit the fawn two to three times a day. Until the fawn is 4 weeks old, you will rarely see him or her with the mother. Instead, the fawn relies on camouflage and lying still for protection during this vulnerable period. It"s always best to leave a fawn alone unless you know with certainty that the mother is dead and/or the fawn is crying incessantly.

Myth #2: Baby bunnies alone in a nest have been abandoned.

Fact: Mothers only visit the baby bunnies two to three times per day to avoid attracting predators. If the nest is intact and there are no visible wounds on the babies, bring any pets back inside and leave the babies there. When the bunnies are as big as the palm of your hand and their eyes are open, they are independent. Mother rabbits are very sensitive to human scent. If you put a baby bunny back in the nest, rub a clean towel on the grass and go over each baby to cover any human odor. Rabbits breed between February and September and have a 28-day gestation period. Consequently, three to four litters of four to five babies are born to each mother rabbit each year.

Myth #3: If you touch a baby bird, the parents will abandon him or her.

Fact: Birds have a limited sense of smell, and are strongly bonded to their chicks. Parents will not abandon chicks handled by humans. The best thing humans can do if a baby bird falls from its nest, and is not well feathered and clearly learning how to fly, is to put him or her back in the nest. The parents will return to feed the baby. If the nest is destroyed, you can use a basket or Cool Whip container. Simply punch holes in the bottom (to avoid drowning the babies when it rains), line the container with grass or the remaining nest, and tack up into the tree. (Be sure the container is not too deep as the parents will be reluctant to fly into anything they can"t see out of.)

Myth #4: Feeding bread to geese and ducks is okay.

Fact: Bread is bad for all birds because it offers little nutritional value. Severe health problems, including a debilitating condition called angel wing can be caused by feeding birds a bread diet. Feeding can also lead to dependency in ducklings and goslings who fail to learn how to find native foods on their own. Some birds can even become aggressive about being fed, which often leads to a tragic outcome if humans decide to remove them from their habitat.

Myth #5: Canada geese stick around because they forgot how to migrate.

Fact: Geese who live in one place year-round do so through no fault of their own. Our "resident" birds are descendants of captive-bred geese introduced by wildlife agencies over several decades to restore "huntable" populations. Geese were also released by people who thought they would simply look nice on their ponds. As a result, transplanted geese never learned to migrate from their parents, but still thrive in our suburban landscapes.

Myth #6: If you see a raccoon during the day, he or she must be rabid.

Fact: Raccoons are opportunistic and will appear whenever food is around. Although normally nocturnal, it is not uncommon to see them during the day foraging for food, especially in spring and summer when the mother"s energy levels are depleted by nursing cubs. However, if the animal is acting disoriented or sick, such as circling, staggering or screeching, contact a local animal control officer.

Myth #7: If you get close to a skunk, you"ll get sprayed.

Fact: It is actually pretty difficult for a person to get sprayed by a skunk. These animals only spray to defend themselves, such as when a dog runs up and grabs them. Skunks cannot "reload" quickly and do not waste their odiferous weapon unless necessary. Instead, they will stamp their front feet as a warning to get you to back off. Skunks are also quite nearsighted, so if you encounter one, simply talk softly and back away.

Myth #8: Bats get tangled up in your hair if they fly near you.

Fact: The last place a bat wants to be is in your hair. Bats navigate using a complex sonar-like system called echolocation, which allows them to "see" their world with precision. The misconception about bats flying in hair is based on a bat"s swooping flight patterns when trapped in a confined space like a house. The reason they swoop is not to fly into your hair, but to stay airborne.

Myth #9: Opossums are vicious and rabid.

Fact: Opossums are the only marsupials north of Mexico and have more teeth (50 of them) than any other mammal in North America. The average female lives only about a year. Opossums are highly resistant to rabies, most likely due to their low body temperature. Opossums are also relatively benign creatures who defend themselves by hissing, baring their teeth and drooling. These are not a sign of rabies but rather a bluff to scare off potential predators. When their act doesn"t work, they play dead.

Myth #10: Live trapping and relocating wild animals is humane.

Fact: The majority of relocated territorial mammals do not survive. In fact, in Indiana, for the protection of the wildlife, a person who wants to relocate an animal must obtain permission from the property owner prior to release. Additionally, live-trapping can be indiscriminate and often fails to target the actual "nuisance" animal. Baiting a trap also attracts other animals to any given area - even animals who don"t typically frequent that location. It also causes orphaning of any youngsters who are inadvertently left behind when their parent is trapped.

  • Have a wildlife emergency? Call Best Friends Wild Friends 24 hours a day, seven days a week at (435) 644-2001 ext. 4460.

Photos by Laura Nirenberg

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