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Interacting with Wildlife

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June 11, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about interacting with wildlife. Hello, I'm Amy Myers and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Dr. Leslie Burger, assistant Extension professor in the Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Aquaculture at Mississippi State University.

Leslie, this time of year it's not uncommon to see birds nesting, or young rabbits or squirrels hopping around our yards. I suppose the weather makes this a good time for animals to have young and raise their offspring.

Leslie Burger: Yes it is Amy. Now that the leaves are all leafed out, the plants are all leafed out, and our days are warmer, there's a lot of food out there for animals to eat. So this is when breeding happens for most wildlife.

Amy Myers: In the winter I like to put a bird feeder out to help birds find food when it's cold outside. Should I be feeding wildlife now while they are trying to raise their young?

Leslie Burger: No, people really don't have to feed birds or other wildlife in the spring and summer months. It's always better to let natural habitats provide what wildlife needs.

Right now the green plants are growing very quickly and they provide a lot of food for animals like rabbits, or deer, or squirrels and turkeys, as well as the insects that many birds eat. If you have a feeder up, it's still going to get used, but the food in that feeder is not going to be used by those parents to feed their nestlings. Baby birds need a lot of protein to grow feathers and develop those strong muscles for flight, and that protein comes from the insects that they eat.

So, going easy on spring insecticides in your yard will leave lots of food available for those young birds, as well as help other creatures that like to eat bugs, like toads, frogs and lizards.

Amy Myers: What should people do if they see a baby bird or rabbit in their yard, or they find a family of raccoons, or a fawn, or a family of rabbits?

Leslie Burger: The best strategy to help that young animal is just to leave it alone. I know it appears to be all by itself and maybe orphaned, but in most cases a parent is nearby.

For example, baby birds will eventually outgrow their nest and they'll end on the ground, but the parents will continue to feed it regularly while it is on the ground. And this is though where people get confused and they think it's by itself when they see it out on the yard.

A fawn that's curled up in a pasture is not lost. Its mother put it there and she'll be back to take care of it.

So one thing people can do if they see animals out like this is to shut up any free ranging cats or dogs to keep that animal safe from your pet. That small animal is probably not going to be able to defend itself well from your pet animal.

Amy Myers: Okay. We definitely want to keep them safe and make sure they don't get hurt or injured, or killed. I have heard stories of people who have pet raccoons, or deer, or squirrels that they got when the animal was very young. Often, they'll say the animal was lost or abandoned, so they saved it. Everybody seems happy, but is this okay?

Leslie Burger: No, it really isn't. One thing that's important to remember is that these are wild animals at heart. So they can be very unpredictable, even more so than a domestic pet, and even your house cat or a horse is capable of hurting us unexpectedly. So how much more for a wild animal that just doesn't know us the same way?

So it's just not safe for people to have these animals as pets. Even something small like a squirrel has a big front teeth that are capable of cracking open a nut, so a person's finger is going to be easy to bite open. And it's even worse when people get exotic animals like big cats, or wolf dog hybrids.

I love animals, and we have a number of different furry and feathered pets, but it is unethical to ask any wild animal to give up its freedom just so I can enjoy having it. But it's important also for people to realize that it is illegal to keep most wildlife as pets.

The rules vary from state to state, but those people who have the pet raccoons, or the deer, the squirrels are breaking the law unless they have been granted some kind of special permit from a wildlife agency.

Amy Myers: Okay, and we definitely don't want to break the law. So we can call our Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks with any questions if we find an injured or stray wildlife animal, right?

Leslie Burger: That is correct. And they will give you instructions on how to handle that most safely. Often they'll tell you to leave it alone. If it's a dangerous animal like an alligator, then they will come and handle it, or if it appears sick, that's really important for them to know because some animals have things like distemper that can be passed to pets, or can just make them even more unpredictable. So it's best just to leave it alone and call the people that have the training.

Amy Myers: And always keep your pets and other animals away from it.

Today we've been speaking with Dr. Leslie Burger, assistant Extension professor. I'm Amy Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Wildlife, Fisheries & Aquaculture

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