It’s summer and there’s wildlife everywhere! All of our breeding birds have migrated back, mammals have multiplied and are now on the move, and amphibians have assembled in their ancestral abodes. With this seasonal abundance, we unfortunately see many more human-wildlife interactions so it seems like a good time to have a refresher on minimizing impacts on wildlife and reviewing when to, and especially when not to, help.

If this is as far as you read, remember that nine times out of 10, wildlife doesn’t need your help.

The first human-wildlife interaction to cover is when people find animals that they think “need help.” In my experience, people instinctively want to rush to help wildlife that they perceive is injured or abandoned, but without properly assessing the situation first. At this time of year, there are lots of young mammals out on their own, or left on their own by their parents (especially fawns right now), and despite their apparent lack of supervision, they rarely need our help.

The same can be said for many young birds that are fledging right now. When they leave the nest for the first time they often appear very awkward. Remember that a bird nest is really just meant to keep eggs from rolling out and is otherwise a pretty risky place for a bird to hang out. As soon as the chicks can leave, they will, and they are often shadowed by the parents for several days afterward. In many of these cases, your inability to detect the animal’s parents is most likely because they are scared of you and are waiting for you to leave before returning to their young.

Another human-wildlife interaction worth mentioning here is how to live with wildlife which is sometimes perceived as a nuisance. Thanks go out to Martha Simpson of Harpswell, who wrote to us about a skunk that took up residence under her shed last fall. Long story short, the skunk has become accustomed to repellents and now lives there care-free. The question around this scenario was “can I leave it alone and just let it be happy?” and the answer is absolutely, yes. This is the dream scenario really, being able to find some degree of balanced separation. The key here is that you are not coexisting with wildlife, which implies some level of dependency, but that you are both existing with as limited interaction as possible. Another way to think of this is that we want to “keep wildlife wild” and not change the way that they act around humans, maintaining some sense of fear and distance.

A final important concept to reinforce is the problem with translocating wildlife. I’ve written about this here before, but it is far too common to see people moving animals long distances, out of their home range, in an attempt to rid themselves of backyard wildlife. There are two major problems with this:


• Survival rates for translocated wildlife are very low. In most studies of mammals moved out of their home ranges, survival rates were well below 50% within the first few months of being moved. Being put in new areas where they can’t find resources they need, and will have to compete with established individuals there, is a recipe for disaster.

• You need to change the carrying capacity of your yard to actually affect the animals that occur there. If you are having a conflict with a groundhog in your garden, you need to install fencing to exclude it from the garden or change the species of plants you are growing. Removing that individual without changing the resources will only invite a new individual into your yard and you’ll continue to have the exact same problem on your hands.

There may be times, when you find sick or injured wildlife, that contacting a licensed wildlife rehabilitator is the right and necessary choice. You should never try to care for a wild animal yourself and sometimes providing what seems like basic care – even water – can be harmful. Contact rehabbers first and follow their instructions for care before transporting to them. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has a full list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators in the state and more details on dealing with human-wildlife interactions.

Have you got a nature question of your own? Email questions to and visit to learn more about birding, native plants, and programs and events focusing on Maine wildlife and habitat. Doug and other naturalists lead free bird walks on Thursday mornings, 7 to 9 am, at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Sanctuary in Falmouth.

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