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It’s a great time to leave wildlife alone

June 18, 2010
By DAVE SCHNEIDER Journal Outdoor Writer

This is one of the most wonderful times of the year to be in the woods. The plant growth has fully emerged, your favorite streams and creeks should be in good shape for wetting a line and - hopefully - the danger of wildfire has passed, which makes it much more enjoyable camping and participating in other outdoors activities that include an outdoor fire.

It's also the time of year when the bugs come out in force, a menacing aspect of life in the outdoors but one we learn to live with.

Bugs aren't the only newcomers to the northwoods, though, with all kinds of wildlife busy tending their young. I was reminded of this fact earlier this week as I slowly chugged along on the mudhole-filled, two-track road winding its way into camp.

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As I drove through a thick patch of ferns I suddenly spied a small fur ball dart out of the ground cover into the road. It was difficult to tell what it was at first, as it zigzagged from one side of the rut to the other, but then its concerned mother gave it away.

The hen ruffed grouse boldly stepped into the road and challenged that big noisy beast with four rubber feet that was following its chick down the road. She did all the usual stuff partridge do when they encounter a human or other threat while moving their brood through the woods, including puffing up its neck feathers, faking a broken wing and scurrying into the woods to lead the danger away from the young bird.

At first I wondered if the little chick, which happened to be the smallest ruffed grouse I'd ever seen, was alone with its mother, which was also on the small side. But then the chirping of the rest of the brood began - what a pleasant chorus it was as a half dozen or so other chicks ran and jumped around and after their mother.

Before long the family was gone in the dense undercover and safe once again - until the next danger is encountered, and there are many. In fact, there are so many challenges to the ground-nesting grouse that they have large broods and will have a second one if the first is lost.

Grouse aren't alone, either, as all young wildlife faces a myriad of challenges while attempting to survive to adulthood. While many of those dangers are uncontrollable, such as predators and weather, humans can reduce their impact on young woods residents.

The best adage to follow is "leave wildlife alone," which can be more difficult than it sounds. This is especially true when it comes to "helpless" wildlife such as whitetail fawns.

These lovely little creatures of the woods, which can walk soon after birth, certainly do appear in need of assistance when encountered. This perception is often reinforced by the fact that the mother usually isn't seen when the fawn is happened upon.

However, this is often by design as the doe will leave its young laying quietly in cover while it forages for food away from its young so as not to draw attention to it. The doe returns regularly to nurse its fawn.

The best action to take is to remain quiet and simply walk away. The worst thing to do is handle the fawn in an attempt to move it to a "safer" location or to take it home and "save" it.

For one thing it's illegal to possess wildlife, unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and trying to keep wildlife at home is sure to fail.

If you do encounter a fawn, or any other young animal for that matter, that is clearly orphaned - such as finding the doe dead along a road - you should contact wildlife officials to find out about rehabilitators in your area.

These trained keepers of wildlife have the knowledge and resources to nurture the youngster until it is old and healthy enough to be released back into the wild to once again roam the northwoods and thrill those who encounter it while afield.

Dave Schneider can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His e-mail address is



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