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Summer School for Baby Mammals

When school's out for kids it is just beginning for wild neighbor babies

The Humane Society of the United States

  • It is not uncommon for raccoon kits to stay with their mom until spring. iStockphoto.com

  • Foraging for food is just one of the skills taught in beaver summer school. iStockphoto.com

Depending upon the amount of cover available in your yard or nearby parks, in summer you’re sure to see baby mammals following their parents—usually mom—to learn what they need to know to be successful. Some are on their own in days or weeks; others need more time to learn.

Woodchuck moms teach their young to watch for enemies while feeding, sunning, or preening. A loud whistle from mom tells them she is alarmed and to quickly follow her into their den. They will likely enter by a hidden entrance, called a plunge hole, which has a vertical drop of up to two feet before reaching the main tunnel.

Raccoon moms are exclusively in charge of caring for and protecting their young. After ten weeks, the young are weaned, and after another ten weeks, they’ll be out foraging with mom each night. They may stay with her in the den until the following spring.

Chipmunk moms may have already had one litter by June, but a second litter usually soon follows. After about six weeks, mom invites the new babies above ground to get some guidance on food selection and staying clear of predators. Soon afterward she encourages them to scatter from her home range.

Eastern cottontail moms squeeze in up to seven litters per year by mating right after each litter is born. The nest is often in a protected place—such as a hollow log, tall grass, or under a shrub—and is made from grass and lined with fur from the mother. The new babies arrive nearly as soon as the previous litter is leaving the nest, so any lessons they get are few and brief. Mom nurses the young twice a day and weans them when they are 16-22 days old. 

Beaver moms and dads share the work of providing food and protection for their young. Beaver kits can swim within 24 hours of being born, and they follow their parents out of the lodge to investigate. After about a month, they begin to spend longer outside the lodge, searching for solid food and learning skills from their parents. They may stay with their parents for two years before heading off to establish homes of their own.

Don’t let the summer go by without taking time to notice your wild neighbors. Enjoy the free entertainment, and share the fun with someone else!

Create a Humane Backyard

A place that offers food, shelter, water, refuge from toxic sprays, and safety from mowers—it’s what every creature wants, right? They want a Humane Backyard. By making simple changes, you can create that haven of comfort and security for local wildlife. And you can do it anywhere: in the city, suburbs, or country. So look around--at your backyard, balcony, or the park down the street—then let us teach you how to make your own Humane Backyard. Once you’ve learned how, take our Humane Backyard pledge.


  • Heinrich, Bernd. Summer World: a season of bounty. New York: Harper Collins, 2009.
  • Reid, Fiona A. Peterson Field Guides: A Field Guide to Mammals of North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History
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