Don't feed wild animals

Allow me to tell you a little bit about me. I am a charter boat operator, who has fished the east coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean and the waters around Ponce Inlet and the Lagoon for over 35 years. I am also an avid conservation-minded outdoorsman and hunter and will be honored to write Fish, Feathers and Fur (and sometimes articles relating to general wildlife) for NSB News and In this initial column, I will address some recent announcements by the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) that may or may not have reached you. This is the time of the year when the FWC receives calls about abandoned fawns and other animals that folks may believe may be in need of rescue. However, the rescue could more harm than good. After giving birth, the adult wildlife must forage to provide food not only for themselves but also their young, which means they must leave their newborns for brief periods of time. Having some knowledge of wildlife and the survival skills these animals employ can help avoid misdirected rescue attempts of animals that do not require rescuing. One of the most common targets of misplaced rescues is baby deer, which are temporarily left in a safe place, while the mother's feed nearby. Many people, who come along, mistakenly assume that the baby animal has been abandoned, when in reality the parent is in the process of ensuring the survival of the infant. In most instances, it is absolutely not in the fawn's best interest to try and rescue it. Typically, what happens is that someone finds a young deer which had been placed by its mother for protection usually hiding in a patch of palmettos or in an area of recently burned woodlands that are relatively bare. The mother uses these areas to cover the scent of the young animal to hide it from the keen noses of the predators. The rescuer comes along and sees the parent is no where in sight so the animal must be abandoned. Fearful that the young fawn will perish they gather it up and tale it to a wildlife rehabilitation center. Unfortunately actions of this kind have the opposite effect of a rescue. The stress created by changing the baby's diet and surroundings are often fatal. Should the animal somehow survive its "rescue," its return to the wild becomes impossible because of human imprinting and/or lack of survival skills. Had the deer not have been removed from its environment, the young deer would have learned the necessary survival skills from its mother. If you find a fawn or other baby animal, the FWC and I recommend that you do not touch it and quietly leave the area. Touching the animal may cause the mother to reject the baby because it is contaminated with human scent. However, when dealing with songbirds, which have little to no sense of smell, the young bird may be returned to its nest without much chance of rejection. The discovery of young songbirds this time of year is common. Frequently they are dazed or confused and may be trying to hide in tall grasses or bushes to avoid becoming a meal for a predator. Most of these little birds get on the ground while fledgling, a process wherein the young birds are trying to learn to fly and fend for themselves. Although the young bird may be on the ground the parent bird keeps an eye out, feeding it, and helping it learn the needed survival skills. The best thing you can do is making sure your domesticated animals are indoors, when the flight lessons are occurring. The only time a baby songbird truly needs rescuing is when it is on the ground, has almost no feathers or has been injured by pets, or its tail is less than a half-inch long and cannot hop along the ground on its own. If you find a baby songbird in that condition, several things will enhance its chances for survival. Place the baby bird in a tissue lined box that has air-holes in the top of the box in a warm spot away from air-conditioning or drafts and out of direct sunlight. Do not give it food or water! After you have secured the bird's safety, please call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area. If you do not know where to find one, call the local FWC office, a veterinarian, or the Halifax Humane Society. Some veterinarians work closely with wildlife rehabilitators and can be a good source of advice. Finally please remember that, in most cases, removing an animal from the wild to save it often results in the opposite effect. With little exception, it is better to leave wildlife in the wild. In other news, the FWC encourages families to enjoy the pleasures of fishing in Florida this April. The FWC is proud of their designation as the fishing capital of the world and hence has designated a free fishing weekend to occur on April 5 and 6. Residents and non-residents can fish in public fresh waters across the state without a license. All other fishing rules will still apply. This Free Fishing weekend is an opportunity for families to reconnect with nature and share quality time with each other. As the weather starts to warm back up again and the seas subside, this weekend is looking as the right time to go offshore. Just offshore there may still be cobia and rays. (I have heard that they are catching some of them off Flagler and some suspect that they got by us during the past two weeks of windy weather and SCA’s. Reportedly a few bailers and gaffer dolphin are being caught. On the piers whiting, a few drum, a few sheepshead, a few bluefish and pompano have been landed. Capt. Fred Robert says the water is in the high 60s. Action in the inlet has been slow with reds, snook, trout (all being small ones) have been caught using Gulp baits. Trout are continuing to give action around the docks at night. Reports from the Tomoka Area parrot those of the inlet. In the lagoon, it seems to be the same with some bigger reds being near Turnbull Creek. The Halifax Sport Fishing Club will hold a free seminar on trolling with Capt. Ron Neff on April 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Riverside Pavilion, 3431 S. Ridgewood Ave., Port Orange . Capt. Neff is a excellent speaker and was one of the best students I taught on the subject of trolling. It has been written – “One of the turning points of my life was the day my grandfather bought me my first fishing outfit” So whether you charter, ride a head boat, run your own vessel, stay in the river, surf fish, or fish from shore or a bridge - there are fish to be caught. Fishing is not a matter of life or death, it is so much more important than that.