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Re-nesting Keeps Wildlife Families Together

Cape Wildlife Center celebrates successful re-nesting efforts, getting wildlife babies back in where they belong

The Humane Society of the United States / The Fund for Animals

  • This Great Horned Owl chick was successfully re-nested with the assistance of an arborist. Heather Fone/The HSUS

  • Arborist Alvah Pearsall climbed a tall tree and successfully helped to re-nest a Great Horned Owl chick. Roberto Aguilar, D.V.M./The HSUS

  • Sarah Brooks, an officer with the Falmouth Department of Natural Resources, successfully re-nested this coyote. Roberto Aguilar, D.V.M./The HSUS

Spring is ‘nesting season’ for wild animals. Hallmarks of this time of year are heavy rain storms and occasional high winds that can dislodge a nest or den of young wild animals.

People working their gardens and strolling the woods after a long Cape Code winter often run across these uprooted animals and want to help.

“Many times, the mother or parents wait for a chance to reclaim their young, but the mother is frightened to approach her young if people are around,” explained Kate Rollenhagen, a certified veterinary technician at Cape Wildlife Center, a 4.5 acre facility on Cape Cod, Mass. The center is a facility of The Humane Society of the United States in partnership with The Fund for Animals. “Pets out in the yard may also discover a hidden nest,” Rollenhagen added.

Re-nesting save resources, lives

The wildlife center has always taken in and cared for springtime orphans. But in the last two years, there has been an effort by the staff to reduce the number of orphans by getting young, displaced animals back to their parents using a process called re-nesting.

'Re-nesting,’ is a staple practice in wildlife rehabilitation in which a dislocated animal is placed back into the nest or in the area where he or she is found. From there, animal mothers are given a chance to collect their displaced young. (See a mama squirrel collecting her young in an active re-nest in this video.*)

Cape Wildlife Center's re-nesting campaign seems to be paying off in fewer springtime patients. In 2009, the center's medical team received 1,900 cases—from nestling birds to injured adults of all species—into our medical clinic, but 2010 saw only 1,470 cases. By mid-May in 2010, the CWC had 42 raccoons that needed to be fed, housed, and cared for. This year, only 20 young raccoons—all true, confirmed orphans—are receiving better and more dedicated care thanks to the effective re-nesting of 18 young in the last two months.

If you find an animal in distress

Successful re-nesting of those raccoons, like other animals, hinges on the the animals being handled by a wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian before or as the infant is brought in for rescue.

Although re-nesting is not new to rehab, there are new techniques that make it a practice best left to professionals. A well-trained staff capable of resolving animal issues over the phone before the animal is brought in is critical to success. Staff answer questions from caring and worried citizens by phone, which saves time in getting wildlife back into the care of their parents.

If you do find an animal in distress, Rollenhagen suggests you, “call a licensed rehabilitator for advice. Don’t rely on the Internet or untrained people—there’s a lot of misinformation out there.”

The wrong advice can injure or even kill an animal.

“Don’t handle the animal unless you can do so safely. Don’t chase an animal who is able to get away from you even if he/she is visibly injured. The stress of chasing can make the situation much worse,” she adds.

Fox and coyotes new to re-nesting program 

This month, now only into its fourth week, re-nesting efforts on Cape Cod and Southeastern Massachusetts have seen the effective return to their natural parents of 16 cottontail rabbits, 11 raccoons, 20 squirrels, 4 fox kits, a coyote and a Great Horned Owl chick.

The fox and coyote reinsertions were the first for the the center. In each successful case, the center's staff carefully addressed the situation in its earliest stages—the window of time when a reunion can be initiated—and patiently walked rescuers through what can be a painstaking procedure.

Cape Wildlife Center: always a place for orphans

If the re-nesting fails for any reason, the center accepts the animal as a true orphan. The staff of the Cape Wildlife Center’s excellent record speaks volumes as to how far they will go to ensure an orphan's welfare; making sure that they stay wild and have the best chance at survival.

Further reading

The Cape Wildlife Center has used the recommendations made by Wild Neighbors, a wildlife-human conflict resolution manual put out by The Humane Society of the United States.

*The video was posted the same day Cape Wildlife Center staff spoke to someone about a similar situation, so it may even have been a case the staff assisted with.

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