Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Please Don’t Touch The Babies!

In addition to our many fascinating exhibit animals, Pacific Science Center is also home to many wildlife species. While most of these animals are rarely seen, the birds become very conspicuous in spring, as hatchlings outgrow their nests and begin the difficult process of learning to fly. The recent influx of wildlife on our grounds this spring had us thinking about some tips that can help humans to interact with these animals in a way that’s safe for both people and the creatures that share our city habitat.

At different times, staff have reported seeing or hearing evidence of tree frogs, newts, several types of native butterflies, bumble bees, dragon flies, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, bats and a wide variety of birds ranging in size from the occasional Canada goose or bald eagle down to hummingbirds.

In general, Animal Care does not feed, tend or interact with the wildlife. But in one very strange exception: A sea star was found outside Pacific Science Center’s main gates. At first we thought it had been taken from our touch tank, but a staff member reported that a gull had dropped it there. It was still alive and joined our Tide Pool exhibit.

Spring is baby bird season, and in the coming weeks we will start to see fledgling birds of many kinds, often looking cute but bedraggled as they develop from hatchlings to fully feathered young. Our landscape, with seeds and flowers in many seasons and trees of various heights, invites nest building and safely harbors young birds. After a few weeks in the nest, baby birds are large enough to stretch their flight muscles, but still not fully capable of flight. They flutter down from their nests and take up residence on the ground.

At this time, well-meaning people pick up the babies and either put them back in the nest, or bring them to animal care facilities. Please do not do this unless you are certain an animal is in danger. A young animal’s parents will give it better care and protection than any human is able to.

Most baby birds look nearly as large as their parents. They need long wings and big feathers to fly, and their bodies are racing to reach that size. Young gulls are a good example of this. They are grey rather than white, perhaps so their parents can spot them better. A grey gull that cannot fly but is otherwise alert and healthy looking has probably left the nest but is still being tended by its parents.

In addition to harming the animal, moving baby birds is potentially risky to the person doing it. The parents may be nearby and will often fiercely defend their young. Even small birds have sharp claws and beaks, and a cut or scrape from them is not clean, and liable to infection. Birds can also carry a variety of germs and parasites, some of which can be passed on to people.

Young wildlife faces many challenges, from temperature extremes to predators to disease and parasites. But their parents are uniquely adapted to care for them, and if there is ever a choice, they should be left to the best caretakers possible. Here’s wishing all our human and animal friends a happy Mother’s Day!

The photograph of the juvenile gulls is in the public domain.

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