Awwww, babies! Who doesn’t love the little ones? Whether it is baby humans or baby animals, for most, tiny tots are hard to resist cooing over and cuddling. Animal babies run the gamut from cute to creepy. Shakespeare knew there was something in a name, and names can impart a warm fuzzy or less-than-loveable feeling even for babies.

Thinking of kittens, puppies, cubs, calves and fawns likely make us all smile. Then, there are lots of ‘-lets’ and ‘-lings’ including owlets, eaglets, piglets, goslings, fingerlings and antlings, that may impart mixed feelings depending on the beast and your affinity for their kind.

But some baby names might elicit a more negative response. Spiderling, neonate, pinkie, and maggot describe spider, snake, rat and fly offspring. Other names may simply confuse. Consider spat, leptocephalus, pluteus or ephyna, which refer to oyster, eel, sea urchin and jellyfish progeny.

Spring is nature’s baby season. Now is the time that mothers of all types are growing, raising and nurturing their offspring. Wild mothers (and sometimes fathers) know their stuff and can be trusted to do what is necessary for their brood’s survival. The instinct to protect and nurture is strong, and most animals do not need any help.

Lots of calls have been coming into the sanctuary about baby animals (perhaps in trouble, perhaps not), and behind each call is someone that wants to help. Sometimes help is needed and other times it can be best to let nature take its course. No matter how cute and cuddly wildlife may be, not every animal can and should survive.

In general, most wildlife calls can be divided into two categories: injured and not injured. The first question I always ask is if the animal is injured (can you see blood, broken bones, lacerations, etc.). If the answer is yes, the animal may need help, but sometimes there may not be much that can be done. 

Consider the gull with a broken wing. There is not a lot that can be done for this type of injury, and it is a very survivable one. Many folks remember the gull at the Chappy Ferry that survived very well for years with a maimed wing. Other injured animals need assistance, but per law can only be helped by trained and licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Though this may sound cruel, well-meaning folks often try to feed or take care of injured wildlife and can end up prolonging the animal’s suffering or making them sicker by feeding them inappropriate food and exposing them to disease.

If the animal is not injured, perhaps a found baby, remember these young’uns are usually not abandoned or in need of help. Parents are often nearby waiting until the coast is clear and they can retrieve their babies. In the case of wildlife, remember the advice of one very notable Island naturalist: “If you care, leave it there.”

Sometimes, though, you can help. Baby birds can be put back in their nests; your scent will not cause parents to abandon them. Young squirrels can be left at their natal tree to climb up or be retrieved by mom. And there are facilities with licensed staff such as the Turtle Rescue League, Wildcare of Cape Cod, Cape Wildlife Center and other local rehabilitators that can help.

So Mother’s Day is now in the rearview mirror, but we are reminded that the trials and tribulations of motherhood continue all year long (it isn’t all just flowers and brunch!). There is heartbreak and joy. And for humans and animals the most difficult part is sometimes just letting go.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature.