Baby cottontail rabbits at Wildwoods

Baby Bunnies at Wildwoods

Baby Bunnies at Wildwoods

We got seven baby cottontails from two different places in Proctor today.

Bunnies are one of the most challenging animals we deal with; they’re very hard to raise. They don’t suck well from artificial nipples, so we tube feed them with neonatal feeding tubes. They require a special milk replacer, and have very fragile digestive systems. If people feed bunnies cow’s milk, they’re usually doomed.

Remember, cow’s milk is for cows (and humans from northern Europe who’ve adapted to it over many generations). Other creatures don’t handle it well.

Look for Wildwoods staff at HarvestFest in a few weeks, and visit us on the web at
Our unofficial mascot, Delilah, is on the web at



about 11 years ago

What is your policy on non-native species? Do you release animals to the exact location they were found to make ever conceivable effort not to spread diseases you may not be aware of? (white nosed syndrome, anyone?)  Do you contribute money to habitat conservation efforts, which benefit numerous native species and which most conservation biologist believe is a better use of precious resources?

[email protected]

about 11 years ago

I am not an expert nor do I represent Wildwoods;  I simply forward their releases (as I do for other organizations I work with, like ARAC).  

But I can take a preliminary stab and hope that staff will answer.

1.  Non-native species is an important consideration to WW staff and to rehabilitators generally.  These issues often first come to a young rehabber the first time an animal injured by a housecat comes in -- housecats are the poster child, among some rehabbers, for the dangers that a non-native species can bring to local wildlife.  From that painfully obvious example, lessons are learned about non-native species generally.

2.  Wildwoods depends on a web of volunteers to help release animals where they belong.  For example, when an animal needs treatment beyond the ability of the local staff, it is sent 155 miles south to the WRC, where it will be treated, nursed to heath, then sent another 155 miles back north to be released.  (Thank goodness volunteers often cart the animals as they make regularly scheduled trips for other purposes.)

2a.  Certification/license as a rehabber requires substantial training which includes assessing the health of the animal.  While this is no guarantee of catching all diseases that might be of concern, precautions are taken at multiple levels.

3.  In terms of releasing animals "where they belong," migratory birds pose another complication, one that is heavily regulated.  I do not know the regulations, though according to the WRC, "Inevitably each year in November or December, WRC plays host to a number of birds that miss their annual migration to their southern wintering grounds. We arrange to commercially fly these birds to destinations like Florida, Texas and the Chesapeake Bay where they are met by licensed rehabilitators who handle the final release."

Again, raptors and migratory birds are heavily regulated.  I do not know the nuances.

4.  I cannot speak to any habitat conservation efforts on the part of rehabbers at Wildwoods or otherwise.  

I can say that statements about "better use of precious resources" are always local and subjective.  To some, no doubt, working a soup kitchen would be a better use of resources than either rehabilitation or habitat conservation.  

We are lucky to live in a society where good works of all sorts can be seen as complementary rather than in competition with each other, and where resources are adequate to allow each to serve in their own way.


about 11 years ago

Thanks, rhetoricguy, for the posting (and cute photo) and well explained answers to newmanie's post. Thanks to all who are so giving of their time and talent in helping with wildlife rehabilitation.


about 11 years ago

David answered newmanie's challenges/questions very well. Wildlife rehabilitation is not just about saving the individual animals brought to us, but about education, and about being there for people who find wildlife in need.  Each person who cares enough to bring an animal to us is in a very teachable moment when they come.  We can talk about the impact of cats on birds and other species, about using one's yard to create habitat for the wild creatures who visit, (creating/preserving habitat is better than handouts from our feeders, we believe), about ways to mitigate and avoid human/wildlife conflict, etc.  The missions of wildlife rehabilitation and community education go hand in hand for rehabilitators.  And yes, we do our best to return animals to where they were found, etc.  That is part of good rehab.  Also, as individuals, many of us at Wildwoods do contribute to larger organizations concerned with habitat preservation, etc.  We all must work hard and do what we can if we are to address the many problems facing our world.  Wildlife rehab is our hands-on contribution to our community and to the world.  What's yours?

Brent Eagleburger

about 11 years ago

Hey, I don't suck well from artificial nipples either, who can blame?


about 11 years ago

Great, now anybody who finds baby animals will feel compelled to "save" them by bringing them in to you folks. Generally, baby animals are just fine if left alone and not handled by stupid humans bent on some emotional heart tug to help wildlife by bringing them into homes. Just leave the critters alone.

[email protected]

about 11 years ago

Hi, Fred,

I appreciate this opportunity to correct these misunderstandings.  

Wildwoods maintains a website that makes clear:
"Often, baby animals are not really in need of help (their parents are usually nearby), and taking them out of their natural environment actually decreases their chances for survival."

The checklists there will be helpful to anyone trying to decide what to do.

The concerns you have voiced are addressed by every licensed rehabber.

1.  Before any animal is brought to Wildwoods, they make initial contact over the phone or [rarely] email.  At that moment, we take the opportunity to educate the person about animal behaviors -- that if the mom never left the babies, they would never have any food, that animals fall out of nests all the time and, when mom returns, they go straight back in, and so on.  This moment of education helps the individual discern:  does the animal really need help?  Most often, the person learns enough in those interactions to "leave the critters alone" if that is the best response.

2.  Education is one of the primary missions of the center.  Every person who calls with what they think is an abandoned squirrel is someone who, that day, learns more about squirrel behavior and the importance of careful interaction with them.  (Somewhere out there in PDD land, someone reading this post learned for the first time not to feed cow's milk to wildlife.  That is a gain right there.)

In short, the existence of WIldwoods (and its promotion in places like PDD and Fox21) does more to educate people about the best ways to interact (or not interact) with wildlife than it does to "compel" people to bring animals in.


about 11 years ago

Thanks Rhetoric Guy, you summed things up perfectly.  We only take animals who are truly orphaned.  Most of the young animals people call us about are just fine, and we are able to convince our concerned callers to leave them alone.  This comprises 99% of our phone work.


about 11 years ago

Thanks for taking care of wildlife, you guys are awesome!


about 11 years ago

My contributions, since you asked: 
I have a degree in Wildlife & Conservation Biology, work as an environmental educator, and am pursuing a Masters degree in science education. I value nothing more than teaching others about enjoying and conserving nature. 

Of course a question of money allocation is completely value based... your rhetoric is tired, rhetoricguy. But we must put stock in the scientific method and its products. Most conservation biologists of the world have moved on from individual conservation to landscape-scale conservation for a reason.

Wildlife rehab is too unregulated, too unknown. Releasing a rehabbed animal into marginal habitat is, ultimately, futile. Releasing a rehabbed animal without full knowledge of its health (regardless of laws) is negligence. Truly, you are not taking care of anything but your own conscience. 

My question on invasive species was not answered. If I brought you a European Starling, what would you do?

Death- gory, traumatic, "unjust" death- is a part of nature. Let's teach people that, too. We can be humane and be realists. We can teach and practice better conservation.

"Hey kids, our Subaru just hit a fawn! Luckily this place will fix it up!" What is the lesson? That wildlife rehabbers have the ability to save this animal. We need kids to explore their own ability to conserve, to understand ecological cause and effect, and to take ownership of the shitty things humans do to wildlife. 

There's my spiel.

David Beard

about 11 years ago

Hi, Newmanie,

I'll take a stab at answering a few of your questions, ask a few more, and hope to carry this conversation forward.  I appreciate your search for education and your work as an educator.  I'm one, professionally, too.  I hope you'll take an opportunity to answer Peggy's question, too:  "Wildlife rehab is our hands-on contribution to our community and to the world. What's yours?"  It's a good question for all of us to answer, outside our professional lives.

You ask a specific question: I don't know anything about starlings, European or otherwise, so I cannot speak for Wildwoods.  But I have seen them send animals west several states because that was the species' natural habitat;  releasing it in Minnesota would have been contrary to best practices as a rehabilitation professional.  (I worry that what you are really asking is this:  would they kill, rather than relocate, some specific species because it is non-native, the way we yank out buckthorn?  I cannot speak to that.  I have seen great effort to relocate, and that is the only answer I can offer.)

I worry that you have little idea of how rehabilitation works as a practice and a profession, given your statements here: "Wildlife rehab is too unregulated, too unknown. Releasing a rehabbed animal into marginal habitat is, ultimately, futile. Releasing a rehabbed animal without full knowledge of its health (regardless of laws) is negligence. Truly, you are not taking care of anything but your own conscience."  I worry that you are unaware of the regulations and the training that go into rehabbing, both at the state and federal level.  Further, we live in the state with the most professionalized wildlife rehabilitation community imaginable, anchored by the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in St. Paul, which serves some 8,000+ animals a year with 600 volunteers and a seven-figure budget that includes a professional staff of veterinarians.  To presume that the staff at Wildwoods have anything less than the best knowledge of an animal's health before release into the best possible, most viable habitat, is, frankly, diminishing the work that they, their partner veterinarians, and their partners at the WRC do.  

Perhaps your impressions of rehab come from experience in other states.  I understand that the rehabilitation community varies state-by-state, and that what we have here in Minnesota is special.  More the reason to celebrate it.

I worry, too, that you've never worked with the public at intake.  When you assert that "Death- gory, traumatic, 'unjust' death- is a part of nature. Let's teach people that, too... 'Hey kids, our Subaru just hit a fawn! Luckily this place will fix it up!' What is the lesson? That wildlife rehabbers have the ability to save this animal," you've never worked with someone at intake.  You don't know that this is the teaching moment to talk about the issues you value:  that most of the damage to wildlife comes from human activity, that human encroachment on wildlife does more damage than we see.  And, sometimes painfully for the person who brings the animal in, rehabilitators must explain that they have no magic cure.  The animal will likely not recover -- death, gory death.  And the key to preventing these tragedies in the future is to respect wildlife.  Rehabbers do not hide death or the consequences of human activity.  We help people understand them.

I promise you, more learning comes from those conversations than from leaving the faun by the side of the road as "roadkill," making "death by Subaru" just one of the categories of "natural death" available to deer.  Rehabilitators work with people who see and feel these tragedies and we help convert that feeling into educated action, which includes respect for habitat.  

It is my personal belief, as an educator in a nonscience field and as a nonrehabilitator [so caveat emptor], that teaching works best with the specific, resonant example.  Discussions of habitat preservation, it seems to me, function best when motivated by that specific resonant example (whether we speak of the duck hunter's motivation to preserve the lands on which they hunt or the city kid's motivation to respect the habitat that, unrespected, gets turned into strip malls or industrial agriculture).  Without that resonant example, little action will happen.  Rehabilitation serves as that resonant example. That's my quasi-professional opinion.

As to whether my rhetoric is tired, I assure you, its fresh!  [Note to all future PDD posters:  making comments about rhetoricguy's rhetoric is now officially played out.]  As noted on this thread (maybe you only read my reply), this is not an either-or solution.  Wildlife rehabilitation is in no way contradictory to the goals of conservation biology, and a local rehabilitator spoke to this: "Also, as individuals, many of us at Wildwoods do contribute to larger organizations concerned with habitat preservation, etc. We all must work hard and do what we can if we are to address the many problems facing our world."

I feel a little like I'm in my old public speaking class, and students are arguing whether it's better (a) to operate free hot meals in K12 schools for the poor or (b) to work to eliminate poverty so that we don't need to offer hot meals anymore, because there will be no more poor.  The first feels like a band-aid that fails to fix the problem.  The second feels impossibly large.  The trick is, properly structured, (a) enables (b) -- a hot lunch for kids whose folks cannot afford proper nutrition at home ensures better learning in school, and better learning in school contributes to decreasing poverty.

I'd like to think that a similar dynamic can exist between conservation and rehabilitation.


about 11 years ago

Hi Newmanie,

There is a lot we agree on.  I will do my best to answer your questions/concerns.  

1)  Would I rehab and release a European starling, if it were brought to me?  Yes.  If people care enough to bring an animal to us, we will care for it.  Our job is not only caring for the animals brought to us, but caring for and educating the people who bring them.  I use the starling as a bridge to talk about invasive, introduced species (starlings, house sparrows, house cats, etc.).  

Should starlings and other non-native birds have been introduced by the idiot who thought that every bird mentioned by the Bard deserved a place in the New World?  Of course not.  Do the few starlings and pigeons we rehab and release make any conceivable difference in the general population?  No, just like none of the other birds we rehab and release make a real difference in their general populations. 

On the other hand, if we tell people that we will be euthanizing these perfectly healthy birds, we lose any chance of educating them on larger issues, as they will hate us and close their minds to us and to the DNR and conservation efforts if it means the death of the little nestling in whose future they are so deeply invested.   Many people who bring animals to us are disgusted/disenchanted with the DNR, because the DNR often doesn't seem to care about the individual animal.  People often won't care about the science behind species management and conservation until we show them that we care about the individual animal, I find.  

2)  By caring for an animal that a human has messed up in some way, do we let the human off the hook for his or her direct or indirect effect on wildlife/nature/habitats, etc.?  Great question, and it depends how we manage the situation.  

We do our best to take advantage of the teaching moments that present themselves when people bring us an animal, so that they learn something, and leave equipped to be better stewards of the Earth.  We constantly address 1) lead and its often fatal effects on wildlife (fishing gear on loons and trumpeter swans, lead ammo on eagles and other scavengers), 2) the devastating effect house cats on native birds, small mammals and on the predators that depend on these prey animals, 3) window strikes and how to minimize their frequency, 4) how to tell when a baby animal is truly in need of help, vs. when it should be left alone, 5)  how to coexist with and appreciate the wildlife in our yards and neighborhoods, including the less popular animals like skunks.   

Many people are not particularly tuned into or connected with nature anymore, except through wildlife they observe in their yards.  People don't push to save something that has no value for them.  Sometimes their concern for the wildlife in their yard may be the only passage into caring about larger issues threatening our environment.  We must take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to get people to care about environmental issues, both local and global, that threaten our world.  This is what makes wildlife rehabilitation such powerful tool, in my opinion.  I'm happy that you are on the frontlines as well, Newmanie, teaching what you are teaching.  Environmental degradation is one of the greatest problems we face, and we all need to do everything in our power to address it if we are to stave off catastrophe.  

Wildlife rehab puts an individual and loved face on nature as a whole for people, and that is incredibly important and powerful.  

2)  Releasing animals into inappropriate environment.  Honestly, give us some credit.  You seem to imply that we are doing this for the feel-good moments of raising up a cute and fuzzy baby animal.  If that were the case, we would've quit this path long ago, as it is incredibly difficult.  Are there rehabbers out there who are only in it for that reason?  Sure.  Every profession has people in it for the wrong reasons, and every profession has people who do a lousy job.  

We are highly educated, intelligent people with many resources at our disposal, including several Ph.D. biology friends (mammalogists, mostly) and a few very knowledgeable ornithologist friends.  We don't just release an animal where it's convenient for us to do so.  We research best habitat.  Our animals are also in the best possible health before they leave us, and if they are orphans we raised, they recognize and forage for (or hunt) their natural foods successfully.  We put a lot of time, effort, and thought into our work, and care deeply about doing it right.  Doing it wrong is far worse than not doing it at all.  

I strongly underline what rhetoricguy says about the "resonant example" and about the dynamic that can and does exist between conservation and rehabilitation.  I could not have said it close to as well as he has.

We have many friends who volunteer their time/money for humanitarian causes--building hospitals and training doctors in 3rd world countries, working for social justice in others.  Despite the fact that we are working for animals and not humans, they totally support what we do.  You and I are working on different facets of the same issues, Newmanie, and I whole-heartedly applaud and support what you do.  We all need to contribute, and I'm very grateful for your work.  Degrading each other's efforts accomplishes nothing positive.

Peggy Farr
Wildwoods Rehablitation

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