Two days after Easter, I spotted a bunny in my neighbor’s yard through my kitchen window. She stood still as a sentry for several minutes, staring in the general direction of my front porch. As the pan I washed scraped against the sink, she flinched slightly, but didn’t budge, so I called the kids to the window to have a look. I imagined she was scoping out a safe place to have her babies, but Ashley Flint, director of the Fox Valley Wildlife Center in Elburn, suggested that she may already have had them.
Flint explained that since baby cottontails don’t have a scent they’re less vulnerable to predators, but mama cottontails do, so after they have their litters mama bunnies will typically leave their nests each day from dawn until dusk during the approximately two weeks it takes for their babies to become independent. Clever bunnies keep their distance in an effort to protect their young.
This may seem counter-intuitive to us human mamas, who might decide to “help” apparently abandoned babies that we – or our doggies – discover in our yards – by bringing them indoors and attempting to feed them, unwittingly putting the little ones’ lives at risk. I’ve never stumbled upon such a scenario, but if our mama-bunny sighting is any indication, it’s only a matter of time. (I do recall the former owner of my house reporting that bunnies burrow under the front porch, now that I think about it.)
“Really, they need to stay on the ground where their mothers can find them,” Flint said.
She dispelled the myth that a mama bunny will refuse to care for her young if they are touched by humans (a myth that is simply untrue no matter the species) but discourages human interaction, nonetheless. She recommends simply keeping pets and kids away from nests altogether. It might be a little inconvenient, but we’re only talking about two weeks, folks.
“Those baby bunnies will start to hop away from your yard at that point,” she says. As for attempting to hand-feed wild babies of any species – “Feeding them improperly, without training,” warns Flint, “can cause them to aspirate their food, develop pneumonia, and die.”
This process can happen very quickly and is why center volunteers who wish to feed the huge numbers of babies that come in are not allowed to do so unless they’ve been trained and make a commitment to reinforce those skills during regular visits. Flint encourages people with questions or concerns about the welfare of wild animals to call the center.
Folks who call after hours should simply keep animals needing assistance in a quiet, contained, warm place until they are able to reach a staff member who can offer instructions.
I’m so glad we have a resource like the Fox Valley Wildlife Center to turn to when we have questions, but unless something is done, it won’t always be there.
“We’ve run out of room, and our building is literally falling down,” admitted Flint.
Holly and I could see that the center is already loaded to the gills with all sorts of woodland creatures when we visited it two weeks ago for a volunteer training session, and that’s before the typical summer baby-boom that stretches its space and resources even further.
Since 2000, the center has operated out of an old ranger’s house leased from the forest preserve, “But we really need a donation of about six acres,” said Flint. “Our goal is to build a facility that’s open to the public, so we can offer more education.”
“We’re Kane County’s only [wildlife] rehab center, so we’d really like to stay here, but [otherwise] we’re not too picky about where.”
The work the center does is critical to the thousands of creatures who pass through its facility every year. In fact, Flint reported in her lecture during our orientation that over 2,800 woodland animals made pit stops there in 2012 alone, 90 percent of which needed assistance as a direct result of encounters with humans.
That figure is staggering, considering the center’s shoestring budget (it is completely donation-funded) and the virtual shoebox the staff have to work in.
Flint and her staff are undaunted; however, and just keep on keepin’ on.
I am extremely impressed with their devotion to their work, and just know that we all can help!
Their next fundraiser is from noon to 4 p.m., Sunday, April 7, and features all kinds of family fun, including crafts, a mini petting zoo, a bake sale and the musical stylings of Steve Keefe and his ukulele.
Admission is free with a donation from the center’s wish list, which can be viewed online at foxvalleywildlife.org. The center’s most pressing needs are for dry kitten chow (for older birds and opossums), dry puppy chow (for raccoons), unscented laundry detergent and 1cc and 3cc syringes (without needles), which the center uses to formula feed the babies.
And the center gets lots of babies, of every fathomable stripe, including fawns and Sandhill cranes. Holly’s favorite critter at the center is Lucy the goose, who “imprinted” on humans as a young gosling raised by a little girl (read her story on the center’s website), and now can no longer be released into the wild.
Instead, she remains at the center as an ambassador of sorts, along with Yodi the coyote, with whom she rather comically chimed in during the tail end of our training. What a hoot! (Yes, the center rehabs owls, too.)
When we learned that the animals’ cages are cleaned daily, Holly grabbed my pen and hastily scribbled something on the back of our volunteer training manual.
“We need to clean Roy’s tank!” she wrote.
Sure, I replied, suggesting that we clean her hermit crab’s tank as soon as we returned from her soccer game in a few hours, but that just wouldn’t do.
She was determined, and I could see that it was important to her that we do right by Roy.
We texted her coach and made a pit stop at Petsmart for some coconut-bark bedding (where, somehow, we also managed to spend another $20 on new water bowls and treats), and before long Roy was exploring fresh digs again.
It’s a tough parenting call, sometimes, to know whether or not to push a kid to follow through on her commitments to others, but she’d also made a commitment to her pet.
As her Dad observed, she prioritized Roy over the game, a choice we’re proud of.
As for the bunnies no doubt burrowing under the porch? We’d best keep our big red dog at bay. Oy vey.
The next volunteer orientation session at the Fox Valley Wildlife Center is from 1 to 3 p.m. April 28. Call the center, 45W061 Highway 38 (one mile west of Route 47), at 630-365-3800.
• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.