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Wildlife Commission Advises to Leave Fawns and other Young Wildlife Alone

  • 10 May 2019
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Wildlife Commission Advises to Leave Fawns and other Young Wildlife Alone
That fawn or baby rabbit you found is probably not abandoned. More often than not, the mother is nearby so leave it be. Download a high-resolution version of these images from the links below.

RALEIGH, N.C. (May 10, 2019) — “Look but don’t touch.” That’s the advice the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is giving to people who find fawns, baby rabbits or other young wildlife and think they’ve been “abandoned” or otherwise need help from people.

In almost all instances, young wildlife should be left alone. Chances are good that the mother is nearby and will return when she feels it is safe to do so. Deer, in particular, use a “hider” strategy to protect their young, which means the female will hide her fawn in vegetation during the first two or three week of its life as she wanders away to feed, often for hours.

When left alone fawns have an improved chance of survival. Dappled with spots and lacking scent, they are well camouflaged from predators as long as attention is not drawn to them. Fawns are also well-equipped to protect themselves. By the time they are 5 days old, they can outrun a human. At 6 to 10 weeks of age, fawns can escape most predators.

Rabbits, too, try to hide their young, often digging their shallow nests in clumps of thick grass,  under low-growing shrubs, or in the middle of a yard. Nests can be hard to see and often look like piles of messy grass or even dead patches of grass. The female leaves her young alone while she wanders off to forage, only visiting the nest a few times a day. In the nest, the young rabbits, called kits, are easily found by people who mistakenly think the young have been abandoned. If the kits appear uninjured, cover the nest and walk away, no matter how tempting it might be to “help” them.

“We know that people mean well when they want to help what they think is an ‘abandoned baby.’ However, handling a wild animal, particularly a young one, can stress it, sometimes fatally,” said Falyn Owens, the Commission’s extension biologist. “The chances that a young wild animal will survive for long in the care of humans is pretty slim. Even those that stay alive long enough to be released usually lack the skills to survive on their own.

“When people take in a wild animal, such as a fawn, and try to keep it as a pet, or even just to nurture it temporarily, not only are they being biologically irresponsible, they are also likely breaking the law. Taking a fawn — or most wild animals for that matter — out of the wild and into your possession is illegal.”

Owens also stresses the importance of never feeding the young animal, which can often do irreversible harm to the animal by providing the wrong food or feeding it in a manner that causes injury.

If you find a fawn that is calm and appears uninjured, leave it where it is and check on it the following day. If it is still there and bleating loudly, appears cold, weak or thin, or is injured —it might truly be orphaned. In this case, do not take it out of the wild, but rather contact a local licensed fawn rehabilitator.

“If you do take a fawn out of the wild, as we know people do sometimes, and it has been less than 48 hours, please take it back to where you found it,” Owens said. “A doe will usually try to find her missing fawn for about 48 hours before she gives up. If more than 48 hours have passed, or you have tried to feed the fawn, contact a local, licensed fawn rehabilitator as soon as possible.”

Kit rabbits also can be observed from a distance to see if the mother returns. Female rabbits will avoid approaching the nest if they think a threat is nearby, including people, so don’t stick around waiting. Instead, place some thin twigs in a tic-tac-toe pattern over then nest and check back in 24 hours.

“If the pattern is disturbed, you know the mother has visited,” Owens said. “Nests that have not been visited for 24 hours may be abandoned. Obviously injured, cold, or bony kits may need help as well.”

Juvenile rabbits that have left the nest and are learning to survive on their own are often mistaken as needing help. These young rabbits are alert and can hop around, though perhaps awkwardly. They should be left alone, or if in a dangerous location, moved to the nearest safe place. When in doubt, and before you intervene, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

And don’t worry if you touch a fawn or a baby rabbit, Owens says. “It’s a myth that mothers will reject their young if they smell human scent on them. As long as the young are returned to where they were found within the maximum time frame, they should be fine.”

Anyone who has questions about human-wildlife interactions can call the Commission’s N.C. Wildlife Helpline toll-free at 866-318-2401. The call center is open Monday through Friday (excluding holidays) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about co-existing with wildlife, visit the Commission’s Tips on Co-Existing with Wildlife page (

Media Contact:

Jodie Owen


Download white-tailed fawn image. Please credit Jeff Hall

Download Eastern cottontail rabbit image. Please credit Jodie Owen



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