During my time in college, I volunteered at the Wildlife Care Clinic in Ames, Iowa. The experience was enjoyable and eye opening.
From American kestrels to woodchucks, we cared for broken limbs, concussions, electrical burns and numerous other ailments. Of course, we also had the babies. People would bring in babies by the droves. The babies, of course, were the most rewarding ... and the most frustrating. At one point in time we were caring for 85 baby bunnies and 40-plus young nestling birds. Since they were so young, their food needed to be warmed up to body temperature and then slowly fed to each young animal every hour.
Not only was this a lot of work, but it was unnecessary work because the majority of the young animals brought in were still being cared for by their wild parents. The people bringing in the baby animals had their hearts in the right place, but did not understand the babies did not need human help.
Growing up, I wanted to care for every animal that I found, so I can completely understand the drive people have to care for young animals. The problem is that most of the time the animals don't need our help. Oftentimes the scenario goes as follows: You stumble upon a nest of baby bunnies. The mother is nowhere to be seen. Sometime in your life you heard that the young would be abandoned if the mother could smell you. Now you have to care for the baby bunnies.
What most people don't realize is that the mother bunny is not far. They are excellent at hiding and will hide until the danger has passed. Also, the parents don't abandon their young because they smell humans. They will most likely move the nest. But that can't be done until the scary human is out of sight. The best thing to do for the baby animals you find is leave them where they are. This is true the vast majority of the time. Animals are much better at caring for their young than humans ever will be.
When I am biking down the Talley Trail I hear the high, thin whistle "phee, phew" call of a Mississippi kite throughout Garden City. Mississippi kites are beautiful grey hawk-like birds that visit us every spring to rear their young. They are voracious insect eaters and devout protectors of their young. Early August brings the traditional fledging time of this well-known Kansas species. When the young is in the nest most people don't notice. It is when they start to leave the nest and are learning to fly that people begin to notice them, especially because this is when some parent kites begin to dive and swoop on what they perceive to be a threat to their young.
Migratory birds like Mississippi kites mature very quickly so they can join their parents on the next trip to the Gulf of Mexico. With fall on the horizon the young must start testing their wings now. Very rarely do they figure out the art of flying on the first try. Because of this you will see what looks like an adult bird flapping around on the ground under a tree or building. Unless they are in immediate danger such as from a cat or dog, don't fear for these young birds. The parents are continuing to hunt for the young fledglings. The devout parents will also protect their young and are perched above them ready to dive at and scare away potential threats. If you encounter a young kite, just leave the young bird where it is and enjoy witnessing the cycle of nature.
Should you find yourself in a situation where you must intervene, be safe. Remember the threat from a raptor is not the sharp beak, but the talons. Wear leather gloves and use a sheet, pillow case or towel to cover the animal to relocate it. Move it to a nearby place where it will be safe but still allow the parents to find the fledgling. Also remember that it is illegal to care for wildlife without a rehabilitators license from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department. This law exists to protect unique species from random collection that may impact populations of wildlife. The nearest rehabilitator is the Great Bend Raptor Center, located at the Brit Spaugh Zoo in Great Bend. Also feel free to contact Lee Richardson Zoo at 276-1250 if you have questions regarding any wildlife.
Lee Richardson Zoo houses many species of local wildlife for you to enjoy. Our extended summer hours are from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (guests may stay until 7 p.m.) through Labor Day. After Labor Day our regular hours take effect, changing to 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (guests may stay until 5 p.m.). Remember to keep up to date on what is happening at the zoo by visiting www.leerichardsonzoo.org.