A mother is not just someone who gives birth to a child. A mother represents a complex combination of feelings, behaviors, and sacrifices that occur while raising a child, whether the child is or is not biologically hers. I also believe that we can all agree that the job of a “mother,” whether biological or surrogate or human or animal, is to raise the young in her care to be able to function and survive in the world.
This Mother’s Day while we honor the mothers of our own family, the bonds we share and the influence they have had over us, let us also recognize all the other types and species of moms who display that same tireless dedication to the babies in their care. It is a perfect opportunity celebrate all forms of motherhood.
Just like us humans, moms in the wild will do almost anything to help and protect their young. For them, like us, it means creating a safe home base, locating food, protecting their charges from predators and teaching their young to become self-sufficient. It is not an easy job for any mom, but perhaps we can help ease their burden. We may not be able to take them out to dinner and buy them a bouquet of flowers, but we can make their world a bit safer in ours.
For example, a significant habitat for wildlife and birds is trees. One tree (even a dead one) can provide shelter, be a nesting area and offer an abundance of food. So seriously think before making any decision to remove an existing tree. Consider the impact its removal will have on the wildlife it sustains. In addition, when pruning any branches, take some extra precaution. Those few careful moments may prevent squirrels, raccoons, night heron, songbirds, and those most delightful hummingbirds from losing their young which are nested in those branches.
Fawns born in late spring will remain with their mothers throughout the summer months. The doe will hide her baby in what she deems an area safe from predators to go forage, returning up to 12 hours later to nurse. While you may come across a fawn that is seemingly by itself in the woods, be assured that the fawn’s mother is most likely nearby, being aware and attentive. The best advice is to leave it alone because its mom will return. However, if the fawn appears cold, weak, thin, or injured, and its mother does not return, then please contact a wildlife rehabilitator. They will tell you how to proceed.
Actually, the advice remains consistent with any baby animal you may find, including feral kittens. Babies of certain species may be left alone all day, while others constantly stay with Mom. While it might appear those alone need our intervening help, unless the animal is orphaned or injured there is no need to rescue them. Their mother, like ours, has things handled, even if we do not think so. In these cases, mom really does know best. I included feral kittens because during kitten season (which is now) it is not uncommon to discover a nest of unattended kittens or a single kitten seemingly abandoned. Though it may go against your instincts, do not immediately scoop the kittens up and take them home or to the shelter. The kitten’s mama offers the best chance for their survival. So please wait, observe at a safe distance and see if mom returns and, if the area is relatively safe, leave the kittens alone with her until they are weaned, at which time they can be trapped.
In our own species, not all moms are ‘biological’. Apparently, humans are not the only ones who can become surrogate mothers. It would appear the drive to care for helpless infants is one of the common threads all of us share. Cats, dogs, pigs, and sheep are especially generous when it comes to caring and sharing. For example, some dogs have become surrogate mothers to baby chicks, pigs, kittens, and even squirrels. We have heard of cats caring for rabbits and puppies just like one of their own.
How different species take care of their young is as varied as they are. If you have ever heard the term “mother hen” you know it means a mother who constantly looks after her young. Before chicks are born, hens will constantly turn their eggs and cluck softly to their unborn. A lamb’s mother has a specific language only used with her children, a deep guttural call that is very distinct so that her lambs can recognize her voice. Swans are seen with their babies on their back, so they can feed without leaving the cygnets behind, thus keeping them warm and protected.
Without a doubt, a unique bond exists between mothers and the children in their care. This Mother’s Day, why not take a moment to recognize and appreciate what all Moms do, no matter the species.
Ronnie Casey has been volunteering with the Tehama County Animal Care Center since relocating in 2011. A retired R.N., she strives to help animals in need within Tehama county. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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