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Wildlife Rescue — What You Need to Know

Do you have a wild animal in need of assistance? We are here to help. Wild animals require specialized treatment and diets to recover from injuries or to develop into healthy adults so please do not attempt to care for or raise wildlife yourself. Remember, wildlife is often protected by special laws that make it illegal to possess a wild animal without a permit unless you are transporting that animal to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

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Wildlife Rescue — What Not to DoPicture of a ring billed gull
Bird Rescue
Baby Songbird
Baby Duck or Goose
Baby Rabbit
Deer Fawn
Fox Cub
Baby Squirrel
How to Rescue Wildlife
How to Make a Surrogate Nest
Find a Wildlife Rehabilitator

Wildlife Rescue — What Not to Do

Picture of cattle egret in a cage with wing at odd angle.
Photo: Beka Weiss. Cattle egret that was kept by the public and treated for a broken wing.

Do NOT attempt to care for wildlife yourself.

Wild animals require specialized treatment and diets to recover from injuries or to develop into healthy adults. The wrong medical care or diet can have deadly effects. Remembers in many parts of the world it is illegal to attempt to care for wildlife without a special permit or license. The most important principle in being a wildlife rescuer: Do No Harm!

Do NOT attempt to keep wildlife as pets.

Wild animals can be cute and cuddly when there are young and adults suffering from trauma can be downright friendly, but that does not make them a good choice to replace your other domestic pets. Wild animals require their natural diet to stay healthy and their outdoor homes to feel secure and to display all of their natural behaviors. To keep a wild animal as a pet is to rob them of their most basic needs. Keep in mind that wild animals can carry a variety of diseases and parasites that can leave you and your family itching or land you in the local emergency room. Leave the wildlife care to those who know how to keep you, your family, and your wild animal happy and healthy.

Picture of a mallard duck with angel wing
Photo: Beka Weiss. This duck was kept as a pet and fed the wrong diet.

Do NOT trust all internet advice.

While the internet might be a great resource to find a new recipe for dinner or find info on domestic pets it is a venerable jungle when it comes to advice for wildlife. And jungles contain some dangerous things. So if you are inclined to hit the internet for help with a wildlife situation here are three things you should look for before you opt to take any sites advice.

  • Diet Recipes Beware: If a site recommends feeding the wild animal think twice about taking their advice. Most internet recipes contain items bought at the local grocery or pet store that can cause severe digestive upset in the short term and major nutritional deficiency if used long term. If the site recommends anything other than offering a shallow dish of water or a human infant electrolyte solution steer clear.
  • Licenses Please: Look for a list of credentials, permits or licenses. If none are listed take caution.
  • Contact Us: Most reliable wildlife rehabilitation facilities will let you know right up front how to contact them and when and where to take your wild animal in need. If no contact info is listed then say no to their advice.

Do NOT allow pets near wildlife.

It is good practice to keep dogs on leash in wild areas so they do not harass other animals (digging out rabbits and hares or biting young deer).

If you find an injured or young animal its even more important to keep pets and other people away. Many wildlife can actually die from stress, the seemingly calm injured fox isn’t comforted by your nearness or touch, its just too ill to show its displeasure.

Click here for detailed wildlife emergency advice options

When to Rescue a Bird

Photo: Osrodek Rehabilitacji Ptakow Chronionych Ptasi Azyl
Photo: Osrodek Rehabilitacji Ptakow Chronionych Ptasi Azyl

In the following situations a rescue may be need. Learn how to rescue a bird

  • If the bird is bleeding, shivering, lethargic, or unresponsive
  • If the bird has been attacked by a cat or dog.
  • If the parents or siblings are known to be dead.

Barbed wire and fishing line

Trying to untangle birds and other animals caught in this stuff can actually make the injuries worse. It is best to leave the animal in place and immediately call a wildlife rehabilitator for help.

Window Strikes

If a bird hits your window and is unable to fly away, immediately place it in a box or paper bag with air holes and put it in a warm, dark, quiet place. Call the nearest wildlife rehabilitator for medical care.

Baby Songbird Rescue

nestling great tit in plastic tub with straw around it
Photo: Osrodek Rehabilitacji Ptakow Chronionych Ptasi Azyl. Nestling great tit in a fake nest.

In many situations young birds need only a little help or no help at all. Contrary to popular belief, parents will not reject their babies if humans have touched them.


Nestlings are young birds with only downy feathers. If they are found on the ground and are not injured they can be returned to the nest from which they fell or if the entire nest was destroyed a surrogate nest can be created.


Photo: Osrodek Rehabilitacji Ptakow Chronionych Ptasi Azyl. Fledgling northern hawk owls exploring their world.
Photo: Osrodek Rehabilitacji Ptakow Chronionych Ptasi Azyl. Fledgling northern hawk owls exploring their world.

Fledglings are young birds just learning to fly and they spend a lot of time on the ground. These birds are still protected and fed by their parents and do not need to be rescued unless they have been injured. If you find a fledgling in your yard, protect him by keeping pets away and encouraging children to watch from a distance.

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How to make a Surrogate Nest

  1. Find a container such as a small box or plastic container with holes punched in the bottom.
  2. Fill the container with leaves, paper towels or a clean, soft cloth.
  3. Place the nest in the tree or bush closest to where the bird was found, out of the sun and rain, as high up as you can safely manage.
  4. Place the bird(s) in the nest (wear gloves) and leave the area.

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Duck or Goose Rescue

Picture of mallard ducklings leaving a boxUnlike songbirds, ducks and geese leave the nest almost immediately after birth, and follow mom closely. They already know how to find their own food, but still need their families. Mom doesn’t feed them, but does provide them with valuable warmth, leads them to safe places and food sources, and protects them from danger. Baby ducks and geese can go in water briefly, but because their feathers are not yet waterproof, they can quickly become hypothermic (chilled) if they remain in the water more than a few minutes. Mom takes care of that, too. If you find a baby duck or goose, it is almost certainly just separated from its family.

  • If the baby is separated from the mother and you know where she is, place the baby close to the flock so she can hear the baby and then watch from a distance.
  • If the baby joins the flock and the mother does not reject him, leave the area, the baby is fine.
  • If the baby is rejected, or if the mother cannot be found, call a wildlife rehabilitator.

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Baby Rabbit or Hare

Baby rabbits and hares spend most of their time alone without the mother. The mother only visits at dusk and dawn.

  • If the rabbit or hare is injured (bleeding, broken bones, puncture wounds, or has been in a cat’s mouth), or appears thin and weak, with wrinkly baggy skin, call a wildlife rehabilitator.
  • If you find a healthy baby hare, the mom is off foraging and will return to feed it. It can be left where it is!
  • If you find a healthy baby rabbit above ground its either old enough to explore or the burrow was disturbed and it needs help. If you aren’t sure, call a wildlife rehabilitator for advise.
  • If the baby rabbits are able to hop, have their eyes open and ears up, they are old enough to be on their own.

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Hedgehogs are primarily nocturnal mammals that thrive in garden spaces and hedgerows.

  • If you find a hedgehog in Winter it probably needs help. Hedgehogs should be hibernating around Winter time. If you see one walking outside it probably didn’t store enough food reserves to get through Winter and it is likely to be out looking for food (which it won’t find in Winter season). In this case, take the hedgehog to your nearest wildlife rehabilitator.
  • hIf you find a hedgehog that’s injured or stuck in a fence, call a wildlife rehabilitator or take it to the nearest one in a (shoe)box. Do not give it milk or try force feeding it!
  • If you find a hedgehog by day in Spring that isn’t bigger than your fist (about 500g), or it doesn’t curl up when your approach or try to touch it, or when you find it waddling or staggering, call a wildlife rehabilitator.
  • If you find a nest that has been disturbed (without a mother), take it to the nearest wildlife rehabilitator.
  • Healthy Hedgehogs foraging at night during Spring, Summer and early Autumn should be left alone.

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If you suspect there is a colony in your house, do not panic. Bats generally do not make a lot of noise and they don’t nibble or gnaw on things. Bat droppings are very dry and do not leave unpleasant odors. Bats only form colonies for a short period of time in the Summer months (when they are carrying their young). After this period, they leave your house.

  • If you find a bat on the ground you can assume something isn’t quite right. It can be sick, weakened, wounded or still too young to fly. A lot of (young) bats get caught by cats. In this case call a wildlife rehabilitator.
  • If you handle a bat yourself, always be sure to wear gloves (latex). Bats may carry Rabies. Don’t take any risk. Put the bat in a shoebox with a piece of cloth inside so it can clamp itself onto it. Take the bat to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible.
  • If you find a bat that’s hanging on a wall or up a tree, it’s best to leave it where it is. It may be resting during seasonal migration or it is in between hiding places. Or, a it is a young flyer that’s lost and the mother is looking for it. In this case: no need to disturb the bat.
  • If there’s a bat flying inside your house, do not try to catch it. You will risk hurting the bat instead of catching it. Simply open a door or a window to let it escape. If it is unable to escape, contact your local bat expert.
  • Be aware that all bat species are protected by law. You cannot not just disturb or move a colony without any notice to the assigned government officials. If a colony is somehow posing a problem contact your local bat expert.

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Deer Fawn

Fawns spend most of their day alone, waiting for mom to return, and digesting their last big meal. This is normal, healthy, and doesn’t mean anything is wrong.

  • If the fawn is injured (bleeding, broken bones, or wounds), please call a wildlife rehabilitator.
  • If you know that mom is dead, please call a wildlife rehabilitator.
  • If the fawn seems healthy but abandoned, walk away so that you don’t stress it. Mom will return.

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Fox Cubs

  • Much like fawns and hares, it isn’t unusual to see fox cubs away from their mom.
  • If the cub looks healthy and has open eyes, its okay and its family group will take care of it.
  • If a healthy cub is in an unsafe location (near a road) move it to a sheltered spot near by. You can check back in 24 hours to ensure it was found.
  • If the cub is injured call a wildlife rehabilitator.

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Baby Squirrel

Storms and chain saws can often knock baby tree squirrels to the ground. Some are injured in the fall, others are just dazed and scared, but all need to get back with mom.

  • If the squirrel is injured (bleeding, broken bones, puncture wounds, or has been in a cat’s mouth), or appears thin and weak, with wrinkly baggy skin, call a wildlife rehabilitator.
  • If the tree has been cut down, or fallen in a storm, or if the nest is lying on the ground, call a wildlife rehabilitator.
  • If it is still pink and furless, or can’t climb, attempt to reunite the squirrel with mom. Put the baby in a small open box at the base of the tree, and give mom several hours to fetch it. If the baby is still in the box at the end of the day, call a wildlife rehabilitator. Be sure to keep cats and dogs away from the area until the rescue is complete.
  • If the squirrel appears uninjured, and has a full coat of fur, then place the squirrel as high as you can safely reach in the tree and allow it to return to its nest or be retrieved by mom.

Personal Safety

  • Never put yourself or anyone else at risk. Be aware of your surroundings: cars, other animals, etc.
  • Contact a wildlife rehabilitator before rescuing an animal
  • If picking up a hawk, owl or other raptor, know that their feet are their weapons. Wear leather gloves or cover animal with a cloth.
  • Herons, grebes, and cormorants have long necks and sharp stabbing beaks. Wear eye protection and cover the animal with a cloth.
  • When in doubt call a rehabilitator and ask for advice.

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How to Rescue a Wild Animal

  1. Find a suitable container (cardboard box, pet carrier). Picture of great horn owl brancher on ground with wings raisedPoke air holes in it, if needed. Line it with a clean, soft cloth or paper towel.
  2. Gently pick up the animal (wear gloves or cover with a cloth) and place in the container.
  3. Secure the container so the animal cannot crawl or jump out.
  4. Wash your hands.
  5. Keep the animal in a warm, dark, quiet place away from pets and children. Remember stress from over handling can kill.
  6. Do not give food and give water only if the animal can stand.
  7. Note exactly where you found the animal and the circumstances in which you found it.
  8. Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible to arrange for the wild animal to get help.

Remember that any wild animal, when scared, will try and protect itself. Please contact a wildlife rehabilitator prior to rescuing or transporting any wild animal.

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