As humans, we have the best intentions trying to help wildlife in nature, man-made areas, trails, roads, and even in our own neighborhoods. Though an animal may look helpless, experts across the board explain that it is almost always best to leave them alone.
I have worked at the Oregon Wildlife Foundation for about 4 years, and majority of wildlife calls I receive are about baby birds being found on the ground. Most of these are ‘fledglings’, meaning they have grown too big for their nest and need room to move around, flap their wings, and learn to fly.
The Fish and Wildlife Service explains that because their parents built the nest, laid the eggs, and fed the babies for a couple of weeks, predators may be homing in on the nest site by now. If the babies leave the nest and disperse into the surrounding vegetation, they can avoid predators. The parent birds keep track of the babies using certain types of calls. When the baby responds, the adults can bring food to the baby.
The best principal to apply to all animals including fawns, baby rabbits, raccoons and opossums, is that if it can move around on its own - leave it alone. It's best to refer to the Audubon for questions regarding birds of prey (hawks, owls, falcons and eagles), or the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for situations involving larger species.
The Fish and Wildlife Service directs you to use gloves, a towel, blanket, sheet, or tarp to protect you and the animal if you must handle a bird or animal. Place in a padded box or crate that can be closed securely; and keep it in a warm, quiet place until you can get the appropriate help. Don't try to feed or water the animal, as it could choke or have a negative reaction.
Most wild animals and birds are not 100% successful in raising a brood each year. Predators often raid nests and dens before eggs hatch or while young are still defenseless. Broods fail because the parents did not properly build the nest or den, or they placed it in an unprotected location. This is why birds usually lay more than one egg, to ensure survival of at least one young from hatch to fledge.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife simply states to "leave young wildlife alone unless you saw its parent die." The point of direct bluntness like this is to preserve wildlife. In most cases, removing young wildlife from nature drastically decreases its chances for survival. Many young animals are left alone while parents hunt or gather food.
In an instance where an animal is visibly hurt or sick, there are three main tips for making a wildlife rescue, according to the Portland Audubon Society:
Prioritize your safety.
Immediately contact proper wildlife resources if you have your phone with you. If not, safely contain the animal.
Keep the animal calm and secure while contacting the proper wildlife care center with as little interaction as possible.
Sources: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, BLM Oregon & Washington, Audubon Society.