At birth, all animals have innate behavioral traits that help them to survive. Some animals are precocial, which means they are mobile, fairly independent at birth and able to feed themselves. Others are altricial and are fully dependent on their parents for care and feeding. Many animals are semi-precocial or semi-altricial, fitting somewhere along the spectrum between the two extremes. Precocial animals, like many shorebirds, ducklings, horses and cows, are typically born with their eyes open and fully covered in downy feathers or fur. These birds leave the nest within two days of hatching. Altricial animals are born with their eyes closed and little or no feathers or fur. Most raptors and songbirds are altricial or semi-altricial, as are rodents, cats, dogs and wading birds.
Regardless of their level of dependency, most mammals and birds require some attention from their parents, either for feeding, brooding and/or protection. Therefore, when we embark on viewing or photographing these young animals it is critical that care is taken to prevent any disruption. I once went out on a cliff to peek in at a Peregrine Falcon nest that was 60 yards away and contained three young nestlings. I looked up to see the adult male flying in carrying a dead bird as food for his nestlings. When he saw me he immediately stashed his catch and flew in my direction while chastising me with his alarm calls. My presence was preventing those nestlings from being fed and I was causing the adult to expend unnecessary energy. I made a quick departure and only returned infrequently and under the full protection of a camouflage blind. If I had been unable to remain fully hidden and undetected, I would have abandoned any thoughts of photographing this nest. Their well-being is far more valuable than any images I might produce. Furthermore, all respectable photo contests will disqualify images that feature any animal that appears to be in distress.
In this week's blog we feature five adorable young animal species, each with a unique story to tell and recommendations for viewing.
1. Bald Eaglet
This Bald Eagle feeding her newly hatched, altricial eaglet was photographed by Daniel Dunn. Dan writes, "This is an eagles nest on the Susquehanna River just south of our border in northern Pennsylvania. The nest produced three eaglets being hatched on April 8, 10, and 12, 2018.
Here is one of the little hatchlings being fed at first light. What do the hatchlings eat? Same as the adults, a primary diet of fish and small mammals that are usually scavenged from along roadways. Here the hatchling is being fed a breakfast of skunk!
Although this nest looks like it was photographed up close, this image was captured from a long distance using a very large telephoto lens. It is important with any nest not to stress the birds in any way. I always follow Audubon’s guide to birding and nest etiquette to ensure I am not causing any stress or harm to the eagles or other birds."
2. Fox Kit
It is very important to drive cautiously along roads located near undeveloped areas, especially during springtime. During the warmer months, there are a number of animals raising their young that could run out into the road and be hit by a car. In July 2017, William Thomas Quinn encountered a family of foxes on Mount Rainier. The den was situated within 25 feet of a heavily used road with a 50 MPH speed limit.
In most national parks, there is an enforced distance that must be kept from wildlife to protect you as well as the animal. The distance is typically 25 yards for Foxes. When he saw the kits, William found a safe place to park and sought out a spot 35 yards from this family. According to William, "My intent was to shoot without posing a threat. I did not move in and try to fill the frame which allowed me to shoot for about 30 minutes .... I would crop close in post processing. I could have stayed longer. The light was fantastic, but I noticed the kits were working closer the longer I stayed. I had some great shots and it was time to move away. I backed away and mom apparently called them back." William saw that the kits were becoming comfortable with his presence and knew that it was critical to make his exit. If they became used to humans they would be even more likely to run toward them and out into the road. This is also one reason why feeding wild animals is not permitted. It acclimates wildlife to humans which leads to human and wildlife conflicts.
Special offer: For the next two weeks, William has generously offered to donate 10% of the proceeds to Waterman Center along with a 5% discount for prints sold to anyone using the code Waterman10 at checkout. For purchases after May 10th, please send to e-mail William with code Waterman10 and he will honor the 10% gift to Waterman.
3. Raccoon Kits
Raccoons are another altricial species. They are cared for entirely by their mother becoming fully weaned at about 16 weeks old.
Gina Vaughan photographed this image of two Raccoon kits. She writes, “When I was first learning to find photo opportunities I would take the back roads and look around. At this this time I was driving home on Lower Fairfield Rd. I saw two little baby raccoons that had been hit by cars. Then I saw [these] two little babies on the side of the road.” She saw no signs of their mother. Having no cell service, Gina parked safely and watched until she saw the two young Raccoons disappear into the safety of the tree. Because raccoons are a Rabies Vector Species, meaning they are at high risk for rabies, it could have been dangerous, and potentially unlawful, for Gina to attempt a rescue. If you ever encounter a situation like this and you are uncertain about how to proceed, do your best to note the location and when you return home contact a wildlife rehabilitator. See the New York DEC website for more information about animal rescue.
4. White-tailed Doe and Fawn
Female White-tailed Deer give birth to up to three precocial spotted fawns in a season. For the first few weeks of its life, the fawn will depend on its mother for nursing. Chari Campbell photographed this doe and young fawn at Brick Pond Wetland Preserve.
For the first four weeks of its life, a fawn will remain hidden in vegetation while its mother forages. Seeing the young fawn seemingly unattended often mistakenly leads people to think it is abandoned. If you are not a licensed rehabilitator and encounter an animal that you think may be orphaned, it is critical that you first contact someone before removing an animal from the wild. These well-intentioned acts can, and often do, lead to the death of the young animal.
5. Juvenile American Coots
Our final featured photo for this week is a family of juvenile American Coots. Like most waterbirds, Coots are precocial. They are dabblers that feed primarily on vegetation and some insects at the water's surface.
Gina Vaughan photographed this young group of siblings at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. There are several Montezuma locations and the main wildlife drive is located north of Cayuga Lake in upstate, NY. Throughout much of the refuge, Montezuma imposes viewing restrictions. Many of the species found at Montezuma are migrants, stopping for rest and refuel during their long trip to their nesting grounds or back to their winter homes. Visitors are required to view from within their cars to prevent undue stress on the visiting animals.
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