First, be aware that it is both dangerous and illegal to take wild animals home. Handling wild animals is risky. Unfortunately, most rehabilitation organizations have too many calls to be able to go out to pick them all up. Animals are usually brought to these organizations by private individuals willing to assume the risk, or by game commissioners called in to help.
Following are a few tips on raising injured and orphaned wildlife. Be aware that you need state and federal licenses to possess wildlife, even for a short period of time. There are many good books on the subject.
May I keep the animal I found?
A person must be licensed before he/she can keep wildlife, even permanently injured ones. These laws were created to protect the animals, and to protect the health of the public. It is very frustrating when a private rescuer calls for help regarding the care of a wild animal, but won't give it up to the rehabilitator because that person wants to keep it as a pet. Ignorance about the needs of these animals can cause permanent damage. Even if the animal is successfully raised to adulthood, it is not really tame, but not really wild. It cannot survive on its own, but is unsatisfied remaining with people. Wild animals most often do not make good pets. They often turn aggressive and are eventually dumped, or, given the opportunity, escape to certain death. If you truly want what's best for the animal, you will want to return it to the wild, where it belongs.
Will you come pick up the animal that I found?
Primarily volunteers staff our wildlife care facilities, and unfortunately there just aren't enough staff or volunteers available to pick up animals. Often too, animal pick-up is an exercise in futility because the animal is dead or gone before the rescuer can reach it. To best utilize very limited resources, most wildlife care facilities do not offer animal pick-up service, which means animals must be brought to the clinic for care.
If possible, we ask that you bring animals into our clinic for treatment. Please keep in mind that wild animals can be dangerous, especially when they are injured. Check out our information on capturing injured animals, and call us if you need further guidance.
How do I catch an injured animal?
No one should try to rescue an adult animal without guidance from rehabilitator. Adult animals are too dangerous to handle without professional help. Call your local rehabilitator for advice on how to capture and handle animals safely. Special capture methods are used for different species and ages of animals, as well as for specific situations.
If you decide to capture a small, injured animal, use a towel or blanket to cover the animal and gently, but securely, take a hold of it. Wear gloves to protect from talons, teeth and claws. It is also advisable to wear protective goggles with birds.Put the wrapped animal in a closed box. When transporting, make sure the box is secure and the car is warm and quiet.
Keep in mind, your safety and the safety of others with or around you must come first, and that you assume all the risks involved with handling wildlife, even under the advice of a rehabilitator.
Animal Care - Orphans
What is imprinting? What is socializing? Why is it important to when taking care of orphans?
Shortly after birth/hatching baby animals identify and become dependent on their mothers. This is called imprinting. Rehabilitators work very hard to prevent wild animals from becoming tame or imprinting on humans. Human-imprinted animals don't want to be with their own kind. If released, than can become a nuisance or danger to humans. Human-imprinted animals don't want to be with their own kind. If released, they can become a nuisance or a danger to humans, if unrecognized predators don't immediately kill them. Imprinted animals cannot be returned to the wild.
An animal that has been socialized has lost his fear of humans. Without it the animal cannot safely survive in the wild.
When caring for injured or orphaned wildlife, the best policy is "hands off" as much as possible.
I found a baby bird. What do I do now?
If the bird is a nestling (naked or downy with few or no feathers) find the nest and put it back. Or, if you can't find or reach the nest, put it in an open box in the tree or bush close to where the nest might be. If it is a fledgling (feathered but not able to fly), move it nearby but out of danger. Mom WILL come back to take care of it if she is able. In fact, mom's care at this stage is vital and cannot be duplicated in a captive situation. Protect it from cats or dogs as much as possible. Be aware that stray cats and dogs, as well as other predators, are nearly everywhere. You cannot take every baby bird from its mom because it is facing the most risky period of its life.
This baby bird is obviously in distress and I'm definitely sure something's happened to its mom. How do I care for it?
Newly arrived altricial (naked, blind at hatching) nestlings should be placed in a small bowl or box “nest”, lined with paper towels and placed under a heat lamp (40 or 60 watt bulb) or on a heating pad which has been wrapped in a towel and set on “low”. Most young birds are kept at 85°-90° F. Monitor the temperature with a thermometer in the nest. Excessive heat will kill a bird. Birds that are too cold will be lethargic and may not eat. It is extremely important to keep infant birds away from drafts. Do not reuse old bird nests as they often harbor parasites.
Young precocial or semi-altricial birds (downy, active soon after hatching) may be placed in a small box, lined with newspaper or a non-stringy towel or paper towels, to provide an easy to clean surface that also offers some traction. Place a heat lamp or heating pad at one end of the box, so that birds can move away from the heat as needed. Generally, these birds are also kept at 85o-90o F.
A feather duster can be placed in the corner of the box containing downy chicks to provide warmth and security. A feather duster can be placed over altricial nestlings to simulate a brooding parent, and to help hold in heat.
When using an overhead light for warmth, provide a source of humidity to help prevent dehydration. Place warm water in a wide-mouth container, cover it with a screen, and place near the nest. Be sure birds cannot accidentally get into the container and drown.
Nestlings should gape at stimuli, which imitates parents arriving at the nest. Stimulate the birds by lifting the tissue cover, jiggling the nest, blowing gently on the babies, or chirping noises.
Hand feed small “blobs” of food (about the size of a pea) on the end of a rounded stick, icee straw, or watercolor brush. Feed the bird only as much as it actively begs for. The crop, a soft pouch in the throat, will bulge when the bird is full. Be careful not to overfill the crop. Avoid getting food in the glottis (windpipe), which is visible as a hole on the back of the tongue, as this will choke the bird.
Feed very young nestlings every 15-20 minutes for a minimum of 12 hours a day. Older nestlings that have their eyes open and are partly feathered are fed every 30-45 minutes. Songbirds are not fed at night.
Never feed cold food, always have food at room temperature or slightly warmer. Keep food refrigerated or frozen until needed to avoid bacteria growth. Warm by placing a small cup of food into a bowl of hot tap water. Discard any sour smelling food.
Nestlings should defecate after each feeding, producing a fecal sac, a gelatinous pouch containing feces, which should be removed immediately. Loose stool indicates incorrect diet or illness. In which case, call AWF immediately at 829-9567.
Do NOT give baby birds milk or water. Milk cannot be digested by birds and causes diarrhea. Sufficient moisture is provided in the food. Babies may choke on water put into the mouth. If young birds become dehydrated, fluids may be offered by placing a drop at a time on the tip of the beak.
Chicks should be moved to progressively bigger boxes, keeping up with the size and activity of the birds.
Nestling Diet: Basic mixture
1 part hard boiled egg yolk
2 parts canned cat or dog food
Mix to a lumpy consistency
- Fruits and vegetables, finely chopped, can be added at the rate of 2 T per 8 oz. of mixture. Do not use citrus fruits
- Wheat germ, add 1T per 8 oz of mixture
- Mixture can be thickened with hi-protein baby cereal, or thinned with boiled water.
- Add vitamins (Vionate, Avia or Super Preen) and bone meal at the rate of 1/8 t. per 8 oz of mixture.
- Other possible additive could include: plain active culture yogurt, applesauce, corn meal, powdered oatmeal, and sunflower seed meal, whole wheat bread crumbs.
A large batch of mixture can be made up ahead of time and frozen in ice cube trays, then thawed and warmed as needed.
Consistency and color of droppings may change with diet. Adjust diet if stool is loose. Unflavored gelatin granules or active culture yogurt may be added to the mixture to firm up droppings.
The above diet and feeding method is for songbird nestlings, fledglings being weaned, and debilitated juveniles. This is a temporary diet until you can bring it to a rehabber who can identify it and give it a more exact diet.
Fledgling songbirds are mostly feathered and have short wings and tails. Their plumage usually resembles the adult female of the species. They need places to perch and space to exercise their wings. A large cardboard box with the top and one side covered with fine screen, newspapers on the bottom, and perches at both ends, makes an acceptable first exercise cage. The bigger it is, the better. The enclosure should be kept at about 75o-80o F. Large pet travel kennels, or cages made from plywood with fine screen on one side are also suitable. Whatever is used should be easy to clean, and allow access for cleaning and feeding while not allowing the birds to escape.
Juveniles should be moved into an outdoor aviary as soon as they are self-feeding and able to fly. It is at this point that birds should be brought to a rehabilitation facility so they can be placed with groups of the same species. Similar species of equivalent size may be grouped together.
Once out of the nest, a variety of food should be provided at all times to stimulate self-feeding. Progressively reduce the number of hand feedings, so fledglings will get hungry between feedings and try to eat on their own.
Observe to be sure the fledglings are eating. Weigh regularly if there is a question. Just prior to fledging birds are usually at their maximum juvenile weight. They may lose some weight for a few days, then resume weight gain at a much slower rate than while nestling.
Provide 2 or 3 plates of food, depending on the number of birds housed together, and give the birds an opportunity to look for food. Place dishes as far as possible from perches to avoid contamination with droppings.
If a fledgling or juvenile does not want to eat on it's own, place it in an enclosure with juveniles who are self-feeding, in a day or two it should be self-feeding also.
While continuing to feed nestling formula, provide the following items in non-tipping dishes.
Cardinals, finches and sparrows should have finch seed and grit added to the above items.
- Canned dog or cat food
- Gains meal or other high protein pellets soaked in water till soft
- Chopped fruits and veggies
- Chopped hard boiled egg
- Vitamin supplements
- Do not feed the fledgling grit, this can cause impaction
Providing insects caught in the wild will aid young birds in prey recognition, but be sure insects are collected in an area free of pesticides.
Provide a shallow dish, like a saucer, for bathing and drinking. Provide a heat lamp over one corner of the enclosure to help birds dry off after bathing, and to prevent chills. Bathing is important to stimulate preening and condition the plumage to be waterproof. A released bird that is not waterproof could be fatally chilled be rain. Place water dishes away from food and perches.
This baby bird/animal is injured or I know its mother is dead. Where can I take it?
Baby animals that are injured need care from someone trained to handle them. Many local veterinarians can't or won't treat injured wildlife, but they can usually refer you to someone who does. Get help immediately. Keep the animal in a closed, dark box to reduce stress. Keep babies warm. The longer the injury goes untreated, the worse the prognosis and the lower the chance of recovery.
I found a baby fawn. What do I do now?
Mother deer often leave their fawns in a hidden place while foraging for food. Most often the "abandoned" fawns are simply hidden, waiting for their mother's return. If the fawn appears healthy, leave it alone. If possible, return to the spot in 6 hours. If it is still there, call your local wildlife rehabilitation facility.
If there are signs of obvious injury, dehydration or if the mother is dead or injured nearby, contact your local wildlife rehabilitation facility.
Check this link for more information on deciding whether the fawn needs help:
I found a baby mammal. What do I do now?
Prepare a container. Choose a container that is enclosed; you can use a pet carrier, a cardboard box, or a paper bag for smaller animals. Punch holes in the container if necessary. Place a soft cloth on the bottom.
Protect yourself. Wear gloves if possible. The animal may bit or scratch to protect itself. Also, wild animals often carry parasites (fleas, lice, ticks) and may carry diseases.
Cover the animal with a light sheet or towel. Gently pick up the animal and place it in the prepared container.
Warm the animal. This is necessary if it's cold outside or the animal is chilled. You can use place ONE END of the container on a heating pad set on low; this will allow the animal to move to the cooler side if it gets too warm. Another method is to use a hot water bottle; you can use a zip-top plastic bag, empty plastic bottle with a screw top lid, or a rubber glove as a substitute. Fill with hot water, wrap with a cloth, and place it next to the animal. Make sure the container doesn't leak, or the animal will get wet and chilled.
Make sure the container is secure. Latch the carrier; tape the box shut; roll down the top of the paper bag and secure with tape. Keep the animal in the container; don't let it loose in your house or car.
Keep the animal in a warm, dark, quiet place. Don't give it food or water. Leave it alone; don't handle or bother it. Keep children and pets away.
Wash your hands after contact with the animal Wash anything the animal was in contact with - towel, jacket, blanket, pet carrier - to prevent the spread of diseases and/or parasites to you or your pets.
Note exactly where you found the animal. This will be very important for release.
Get the animal to professional help as soon as possible. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator, state wildlife agency, or wildlife veterinarian. Don't keep the animal in your home longer than necessary.
How do I discourage Chimney swifts, raccoons, opossums, skunks or other unwanted pests from my yard or home?
The following is a list of general tips for discouraging unwanted pests.
- Don't leave pet food outside, especially at night.
- Put out only enough bird seed for one day.
- Keep trash cans where wildlife can't get to them, and make sure they have tight lids.
- Seal up any cracks, holes, or other possible entrances for wildlife.
- Cover your chimney with a cap.
- Don't harm animals while you're trying to get rid of them. If a wild family is nesting in your home or barn, wait a few weeks until the babies are weaned before sealing any entrances.
- If there is no other way to discourage them, use a live trap to catch and relocate. Remember though, you might catch a skunk or other unexpected animal.
The following tips for specific animals were adapted from "The Humane Control of Wildlife in Cities and Towns" by the Humane Society of the United States.
Bats in house:
Bats in attic:
- turn off lights and leave an exit open
- after bats are gone, find entry point(s) and seal up (some bats can enter 3/8" cracks)
- provide exit and seal up when gone (don't do during May-August as there may be young still present)
- use a one-way door/bat excluder on the last entrance site, then seal up when you know they are all gone
Roosting Birds (Sparrows, Starlings, Pigeons)
- exclude from an area with a metal fence
- use an electric fence 1 foot high
- shield tree trunks with hardware cloth 3 1/2 feet high
- destruction of the dam with not work as they will just rebuild
- add a culvert through the dam (10-40 ft long, 8-12 inch pipe)
- exclude from area with netting
- remove flat surfaces
- install porcupine wire laid in parallel rows on roosting surface
- use repellents such as noisemaking devices, visual stimuli, life-like hawk/owl/snake replicas (must use persistently until birds roost elsewhere)
- birds attacking people (birds are being protective of a nearby nest)
- avoid the area for the 3 weeks or so that it takes for the babies to leave
- if you can't avoid the area, use an umbrella, wave cloth to scare birds away, etc.
- bury hardware cloth (wire) to prevent burrowing
- remove wood and rock piles and other hiding spots
- penning or confinement of livestock
- electric fencing
- guard or herding dogs
- dispose of trash quickly, use ammonia in cans
- exclusion fencing
- repellents (nylon stocking with human hair inside, hanging mirrors/ tinfoil strips)
- remove food sources
- control insect populations in lawns (moles eat grubs and other insects)
- exclusion with buried hardware cloth barriers
- one way doors
- secure trash containers
- pick up outdoor pet food at night
Raccoons in chimney:
- protecting flowers and vegetables:
- FENCE the area (2 foot high 1" poultry wire)
- chemical repellents (available at garden centers)
- protecting trees and shrubs:
- apply protective wrap to tree trunks (18 inches high)
- remove cover
- trapping will not work, new rabbits will just come in
* (EXCLUSION is the only permanent solution)
Raccoons in attics:
- use ammonia or bag of mothballs to drive out of chimney
- ensure that all young are out afterwards
- after all are gone, cap chimney
Raccoons in gardens:
- turn lights on and radio for a few days
- seal entrance once gone
- use scare tactics such as lights/radio
Gray Squirrels in attic:
- remove attractants such as garbage and pet food, wood/rock piles, and crawl spaces under houses
Gray Squirrels in chimney:
- bang on rafters, play loud radio in attic
- usually are gone during the day
- install 1-way exit
- seal when hear no more sounds
- hang 1/2 inch thick rope down chimney and attach at top so they can climb out
- (timid and easily frightened)
- scare tactics
- repellents, removal of brush and cover
- one-way doors
Can I call a pest control company?
- anything that will muffle the sound of the drumming will discourage them
- hang strips of cloth or foil that will flutter in the wind and frighten them
- treat insect infestation of home
- repair holes quickly
This is an option, but be aware that a pest control company will exterminate the animal. Even companies that advertise themselves as "humane" or "no kill" operations are not a guarantee that an animal will not be exterminated. These companies often give the animals they trap to non-profit organizations who are placed in the position of having to euthanize them.
What else can I do to help wildlife?
Simple things that you can do to help wildlife.
Drive slower, especially at night, and encourage others to do so. The most common cause of injuries to wildlife is collision with man-made objects, including cars, boats, airplanes, and windows.
Take control of your pets.. Un-neutered, unrestrained cats and dogs cause a lot of problems for native wildlife.
Think before feeding wildlife, intentionally or otherwise. Pet food or garbage left outside will attract unwanted wildlife.
Learn all you can about minimizing your effect on the environment. Manage and reduce your trash; use less pesticides on your lawn and garden.
My children want to help care for wildlife. Is that a good idea?
Kids should never handle wild animals. Not only can animals be very dangerous, but most wild animals have parasites. Some have diseases that can be passed to pets and, occasionally to humans. Kids should never handle wild animals. Adults are more fastidious with cleanliness, therefore are safer from disease transmission.
If your child wants to help wildlife, there are other projects they can do to help. Call your local rehabilitator for some ideas, or get a good book on the subject.
How else can I help?
Support organizations and people who care for wildlife. Every little bit helps.
Consider volunteering at your local wildlife rehabiliation facility. There are many opportunities, ranging from animal care to fund-raising.
I have other questions about your rehabilitation facility...
Why don't state wildlife agencies take care of individual animals?
While they help as often as they can, federal and state wildlife agencies manage populations of wildlife, not individuals. They are also called when an individual animal becomes a danger.
Why do rehab facilities ask for donations when you bring an animal? Don't taxes pay for wildlife care?
It is a common misconception that wildlife care organizations receive tax monies to perform their services. They don't, and donations help to defray the cost of caring for these animals.
Who pays rehabilitators?
Most rehabilitators are not paid for their work at all and, in fact, often pay all their own expenses, including food, shelter, and medicines, as well as utilities, phones, automobiles and gas, and insurance. Those that form nonprofit organizations are supported primarily by donations of time and money from private and corporate sources.
How do I become a wildlife rehabilitator?
Most states require rehabilitators to be licensed. You can become a wildlife rehabilitator two ways. You can get your federal and state rehabilitators licenses for yourself from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, or you can become a volunteer and work at a center that is licensed. Licenses ensure that you have the proper knowledge, skills, and facilities to care for wildlife, and that you know all the laws regarding their housing and care. Be aware, you must also comply with all the health, housing, and zoning laws in your area.
It takes a lot of time and energy to take care of animals, particularly during the spring and summer when orphans are brought to rehabilitation facilities around the country by the thousands. We recommend anyone interested in becoming a rehabilitator to talk it over with and volunteer with an experienced rehabilitator.
How can I start my own wildlife care facility?
There are many people who dream of starting their own wildlife care facility, without realizing all that is involved that goes beyond caring for the animals-licenses, raising funds, registering with the appropriate governmental agencies, zoning, insurance, public relations, etc.
First, to raise public funds you will need to apply for federal nonprofit status, IRS 501 (c) (3). Your application will require the appointment of a qualified Board of Directors, and the creation of your Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws. At the same time, you will need to apply for both state and federal rehab licenses from the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Once these documents are all in place, you need to find property that is zoned to allow for the sheltering and care of wildlife. Now you can solicit funds and volunteers to help you build your facility.
We always recommend reading several good books on the subject, and as much professional help as you can afford. You don't want to make any costly mistakes.