Growing Up Wild

Every spring brings with it the arrival of new life. This miracle of nature comes in shapes big and small, and always right on time. Nature photographer David Olson has spent many years capturing the innocent moments between animals and their tender young, and here he displays some of his favorite aww-worthy scenes.

Spring always carries the promise of newborn animals. This is a time of renewal as the last signs of winter disappear and new flowers, leaves, warm air and local wildlife start anew.

Just like human children, wild animals grow up in stages. When they are newborn, they cling tightly to their mother’s side. As they grow older, they may seek distance from their parents to roam around, step out on a branch or swim by themselves. The distance and freedom become greater until they can support themselves.

It is during this time that humans can disrupt the natural process of learning, and that can be detrimental to wild babies. Baby animals need time to grow, get strong and learn on their own. They also need to learn how to find food and avoid predators.

Behaviors that are known at birth are called instincts. These are hardwired into the brain and cannot be learned. Most, if not all, animals have certain instincts that help them survive this crucial time. Most young, whether hatched or born alive, are able to survive on their own with little help from their parents.

In mammals, on the other hand, we see fewer instinctive behaviors and more learned behavioral traits, just like human babies. During this time, the parents help feed and protect the young as they learn to survive.

If you happen upon a wild baby animal, it’s best to leave it alone. If you have found an injured animal, call a certified animal rehabber, such as Hoo Haven in Durand, Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation in Barrington and Fox Valley Wildlife Center in South Elgin. They are the experts who can help rescue the critter.

From a distance, enjoy this wonderful miracle of our wild baby neighbors this spring. They deserve privacy, peace, freedom and a safe place with food and water.

My time behind the camera documenting and photographing in spring has taught me so much about my wild subjects. I have witnessed so many loving and caring moments from wild animal parents that it reminds me of the same joys humans experience in the first months of a new life.

When David C. Olson isn’t in the studio, he can be found in some of North America’s wildest locations, photographing elusive creatures and gorgeous landscapes. His images of our natural world have been seen worldwide in books, calendars, National Wildlife Federation and National Geographic. For more on David Olson, check out

It was both humorous and stunning when this black bear cub spotted his reflection in a little pool. The curious bear came to a halt and reached his paw to touch the other bear, who vanished under the agitated water.
Colts of sandhill cranes graze under their very tall parents in Illinois.
Bobcat kittens attempt to leave their home in a hollow log.
Canada geese young emerge from their mothers to see if the freezing spring showers have stopped.
These little stinkers are skunk kits. Believe me, life doesn’t stink when you’re this cute.
Great Blue Heron food is airmailed to the nest by the parents. The little ones won’t leave their treehouse home until they can fly.
A protective gray fox female calms and reassures her youngster to stay near the den.
Eastern screech owlets and other newly hatched birds rely on their parents for food and instruction.
Loons are wonderful parents and providers, as I’ve learned over many years of photographing them. Both parents put in a lot of effort to keep their children safe from predators – both above and below the water.
Sandhill cranes are 3-5 feet tall as adults, yet their colts are only a few inches tall. At only 6-8 months old, they will grow quickly and move hundreds of miles.
Gray wolves are making a comeback in the Midwest, yet they are being unfairly hunted. Wolf pups are born blind and helpless, and they subsist on regurgitated foods after nursing. To nurture them properly, much like people, it takes the entire society. I use super-telephoto lenses and hides to camouflage my human appearance when photographing wolves and other wild babies for my books and wall art. It can take days to months to record the normal behaviors of our vulnerable wild babies.
Young groundhogs are called pups. Woodchucks are about the size of a matchbox car when they’re born.
Once opossum babies are born, they will crawl into a pouch on their mother’s front, similar to a kangaroo’s pouch, and stay there until they are weaned, which can take up to 2 months.
Keep in mind that baby wood ducks, painted turtles, pileated woodpeckers and other wild babies require a wild habitat, isolation and serenity this spring. Observe from afar and savor the sight of fresh life. If you merely watch these parents and children, you’ll see that they have a lot in common with our own families. On the trails, I’ll see you there!