LIBERTY, Ill. -- Chris Murphy isn't certain what made him abruptly hit the brakes on his tractor and raise the mowing deck as he rolled toward a patch of grass already laying down.
"Instincts I guess," he said. "When you see something like that, you expect something has been bedding down there."
Typically, he'd expect young deer to pop out of the grass.
"We don't see as many fawns as we used to," said Murphy, who was tidying up some family property near Siloam Springs State Park. "Plus, it wasn't a big area."
Still, it was big enough to get his attention.
"Something about it told me to stop," he said.
Luckily, he did.
Murphy downshifted the tractor, turned off the engine and cautiously walked toward the odd-looking spot. Nestled in the tall grass was a rabbit's nest with seven kits that he could see. A wild rabbit can have anywhere from one to 14 kits in a litter, and the average size of a litter is six.
"I didn't see the mother around, so I made sure not to disturb anything," Murphy said. "I got back on my tractor and made a wide path away from the nest. We weren't going to upset anything."
Murphy has checked the nest once and can see growth in the kits already.
"It's the true sign of spring," Murphy said. "Animals are starting the circle of life all over again."
It can be an equally awe-inspiring and tenuous time.
There's beauty in birth of wild animals and the care provided by their mothers. Watch a covey a quail follow their mother in single file line and try not to be mesmerized. Watch a fawn nurse and then clumsily follow its mother deep into the woods and you'll want to capture that image.
The concern is getting too close for comfort.
Wildlife biologists from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Missouri Department of Conservation warn outdoorsmen to avoid disrupting or gathering wild baby animals. Some conservationists will make the mistake of picking up baby animals for fear they have been abandoned. although that's rarely the case.
"Baby animals are rarely abandoned or orphaned," said Sherri Russell, state wildlife veterinarian for the Missouri Department of Conservation. "The wildlife parent is afraid of people and will retreat when you approach. If the baby animal is left alone, the parent will usually return.
"Also, parent animals cannot constantly attend to their young. So often they spend many hours each day gathering food for the offspring."
That is certainly the case with baby birds.
Often pushed from the nest by their mothers, birds may not be able to fly immediately, but they remain under the watchful eye of adult birds.
"If you see a baby bird on the ground hopping around and it has feathers, leave it alone because it is a fledgling and the parents are nearby keeping an eye on it," Russell said. "If you find one that is featherless, it probably fell out of nest. Return it to the nest if you can, or at least near the nest."
In other words, don't adopt a bird, rabbit or squirrel you believe has been abandoned.
"Animals are better off in their natural habitats where they are free to reproduce and carry on their species," Russell said. "If a wild animal is broken to captivity, it will probably die if returned to the wild.
"Also, many wild animals are nocturnal. This means they are not active until after dark. They sleep during the day and can be quite disturbing at night while people sleep."
Murphy knew that was the case with the nest of kits he found. He didn't touch them or move them, but he is hoping to watch them flourish.
"I want to see them bouncing around chasing each other in the field one of these days," Murphy said. "Let them grow and let them prosper. That's the life they need."