When an animal is truly an orphan, that’s almost always a good reason to bring it to a rehabilitator. But please be careful to make sure that you aren’t kidnapping babies who still have a parent caring for them! Many baby animals are taken from the wild because an adult was found dead nearby. Often, the adult isn’t the mother or the animal would do fine raised by a single dad!
For some species, like rabbits or squirrels, dozens of adults can frequent the same yard, so a dead adult is likely to be unrelated to the babies you’ve found, even if it’s on the same property. A rehabilitator can help you determine whether the babies you’ve found appear well-fed 12-24 hours after the adult is found. If you’re able, you can also check the adult’s body for lactating teats to determine if it was a mother at all.
Other animals sometimes thrive when a widower raises his young alone. Most birds raise their children together, and a father will continue caring for his young after losing his mate. Finding a dead bird doesn’t mean that babies nearby are orphaned. Again, rehabilitators can often help you determine whether the little ones are orphaned (or if they’re even the same species as the adult).
Foxes and coyotes raise their young cooperatively as well, but dads, of course, can’t make milk. After about 6-10 weeks of age (depending on how fit the babies were to begin with and how well they’re eating solid food), most fox and coyote youngsters can be raised by a single dad. Keep an eye out to see if they still have an adult caring for them before taking the little ones.
Some species do raise their young alone and tend to dominate one territory. If you’ve found a lactating female deceased very close to the known den of a skunk, raccoon, or groundhog, that’s always a reason to bring the babies in for help. Opossum joeys found on a dead mother also always need help.
When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to touch base with a rehabilitator for advice, but please don’t rush to take babies from the wild simply because you’ve found a dead adult. We try to keep wild babies with their families whenever possible.