Wildlife emergency checklist
Start By Assessing Whether the Wild Animal Really Needs
A young wild animal that is alone is not necessarily cause for
immediate alarm or rescue. Wild mothers regularly leave their
offspring to go for food. Do not interfere if you see a young animal left
alone unless it is obviously injured or at risk of danger, or
you have seen the mother animal dead. If you are concerned about a possible
"orphan", watch from a distance for a minimum of several hours to make sure
the mother is not in the area. A local rehabilitator can provide tips on how
to determine if the animal needs rescue.
Do not turn a desire to help these baby animals into kidnapping.
Unnecessary rescues are a common problem with baby birds, rabbits, and
fawns. Again, a wildlife rehabilitator can provide tips to help you decide
if the animal needs to be rescued. If the wildlife baby is indeed orphaned
or the animal is injured, call a local wildlife rehabilitator or the
Worried about baby bird? As mentioned before, the parents
may just be away finding food. Young, small birds, such as robins, blue
jays, finches, and sparrows may be in the nest without constant presence of
a parent. If you are concerned that the parents are missing, watch
carefully. In some cases, one of the parents may die and the baby birds are
then fed by the remaining parent.
If a nest with young birds has fallen down, the parents will often
continue to raise the youngsters if the nest can be replaced close to its
original location. If the nest was damaged, there are different ways
to replace them. Some nests with young birds can be placed in a plastic
berry basket or margarine tub (with holes punched in the bottom) and
carefully attached back to the tree with wires or string. In other cases,
other replacement methods may be needed. Check with a wildlife rehabilitator
It's good to get it fairly close to where the nest was originally, but it
does not have to be in the exact same place. Exercise caution when replacing
the nest. If the bird is cold, wet, bleeding, limp, or seems to have broken
bones, it should be taken immediately to a wildlife rehabilitator. Minimize
handling of the birds, but don't worry that the parents will reject them
because of the smell of humans (birds actually don't smell very well).
If a baby bird is on the ground, check to see if it has feathers.
If it does not have feathers, it should not yet be on the ground. If
the baby bird does not appear injured, and it is possible and safe to return
it to the exact nest, it is usually okay to replace it in the nest. The
parents will not abandon it because it has been touched by humans.
Find a baby bird which is fully feathered and hopping around on the
ground? It may just be learning to forage for food and fly. These
young birds, called fledglings, usually just need practice, not rescue.
Their parents will continue to watch over and feed them while they are on
the ground. Try to keep cats, dogs, and children away so it can learn to
fly, which could take up to two weeks. If the bird is obviously injured, it
needs to go to a wildlife rehabilitator immediately.
Find a baby duck or goose alone? Called precocial birds,
these hatch fully-feathered with their eyes open. They leave the nest hours
after hatching to follow their parents. They rely on parents for warmth,
supervision, and protection from predators. They cannot survive on their
own. So if one is found alone, the best thing to do is to search for the
parent and try to safely reunite them. Since ducks and geese are often found
near water, this can be a serious safety risk. Do not attempt any reunion if
there are any risks to humans, instead take the bird to a rehabilitator.
It is necessary to be sure the adult ducks
or geese are the actual parents before
putting ducklings or goslings on water. If it is not the true parent, three
things could happen: 1. the mother adopts it anyway, 2. the parents and
other babies attack it until it flees or dies, 3. they abandon it and it
starves or dies of hypothermia because it is now out in the middle of the
lake or hidden away in the reeds where rescuers cannot find or get to it. It
should be fairly obvious which are the parents or else it could be a serious
risk for the bird. If the parents are not obvious or can't be located, a
wildlife rehabilitator should be contacted immediately.
Wild parents rarely abandon their young just because a human has
touched them. If the wild parents do not accept the young animal
back, there could be another problem. Contact a rehabilitator for advice.
Find an adult wild animal that seems hurt or sick? Contact a
wildlife rehabilitator, the wildlife agency, or animal control officer
If the wild animal is injured, bleeding, looks cold and/or
wet, or is at risk from a domestic pet, vehicle, or something that could
cause it harm, contact a rehabilitator immediately.
Remember, there are risks in handling wild animals, even if
they may appear to be young, small, or "safe". Contact a wildlife
rehabilitator, the wildlife agency, or animal control officer for more
What If I Think a
Wild Animal Does Need Rescue?
Check the list above to decide if the wild animal really does need
Contact a wildlife rehabilitator, wildlife agency, animal control
officer, or other expert
for advice. They can help confirm whether the animal needs rescue or
should be left alone. They can give you contact information about people who
are trained and qualified to help. They can also describe risks, relevant
laws, and generally helpful information. In some cases, the expert will
rescue the animal.
In many cases, it is not appropriate for a member of the public to
capture and handle a wild animal. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator,
wildlife agency, or animal control officer for recommendations.
How Might a
Wildlife Rehabilitator Rescue a Wild Animal?
They would start by THINKING ABOUT SAFETY. They would
exercise many safety precautions. They would avoid or minimize risks. They
would keep children and domestic animals away from the wild animal(s). The
rehabilitator may decide that in some cases that a rescue requires extra
help or maybe should not be attempted. They would also consider the animal's
safety and take actions to avoid any further harm to the animal.
If a wildlife disease is suspected or there are other concerns,
the rehabilitators may contact other experts for advice or help before
taking action. They would not want the public involved with any capture or
handling if the animal was considered high risk for causing injury or
disease, or was exhibiting any symptoms of disease (i.e., rabies). They may
bring in additional people, including wildlife officers, with special
equipment, expertise, and licenses or permits for handling high-risk
animals. They would advise the public to not pick up or handle a bat.
Rehabilitators would wear gloves, use handling equipment, and have a
container ready before approaching or capturing the animal. The
container would be a little bit larger than the animal and have small air
holes (if it was necessary to use a box instead of a animal carrier or cage,
they would make small air holes before placing the animal in the container).
The container would be of sturdy material and be able to be securely closed,
even for young or unconscious animals (rehabilitators wouldn't want to take
any chances on an animal reviving quickly and "escaping" in a vehicle or
The rehabilitators would have a plan ready for contingencies.
They would consider how to prevent further problems, such as the animal
moving toward traffic, into deep water, or into an inaccessible place. They
would have a plan about what to do if the animal attempts to attack. They
would think about potential danger in advance since many animals can cause
injury when threatened, including common animals that seem "safe" like
rabbits, squirrels, some birds, and turtles. This is especially important
when considering rescuing animals that may carry the risk of serious disease
(such as rabies, hanta virus, or plague), larger animals (such as herons,
deer, coyotes), and predators (including owls, hawks, weasels).
The rehabilitators would immediately transport the wild animal
to the rehabilitation facility. They would keep the vehicle quiet and at a
moderately warm temperature.
The rehabilitator would emphasize the importance of not placing
people at risk to rescue a wild animal.
What If I
Already Rescued the Wild Animal?
Minimize handling! This reduces the risk to humans and to
the animal. Exercise caution when handling any wild animal! This includes
wearing gloves and avoiding any contact with the animal that could result in
injury. Wild animals can injury with their teeth, beaks, claws, talons, and
wings. They can also transmit diseases and parasites. Avoid handling the
Injured or orphaned wild animals should be kept in a secured
container so they cannot harm people, be harmed by people or pets,
or escape. The container should be a little bit larger than the animal and
should have small air holes (if necessary, make the small air holes before
placing the animal in the container). Containers of suitable materials
should be securely closed, even with young or unconscious animals (too many
rescuers have been surprised when an animal recovers faster than expected
and then "escapes" in the car or building).
Keep the container with the wild animal in a quiet, warm, and dark
place. Injured or orphaned wild animals are often in shock, which
can threaten survival. Standard treatment for shock includes quiet, warm,
and dark. Keep away the container from people and pets.
Do not feed a wild animal! Most wild animals that are
admitted to rehabilitation are injured, dehydrated, or in shock. Feeding the
wild animal in such conditions can cause further problems. Wrong diets or
feeding techniques can harm or kill wild animals. Even giving them water can
cause additional problems. If the water is hand-fed, aspiration can occur
causing the animal to breathe the fluid into its lungs. If water is given in
a bowl, an animal can often drown in the water depending on its age or
injury. Another risk is that the animal can get into the water or spill it
and once the animal is wet it can quickly become hypothermic. Plus, handling
and feeding wild animals increases the risk to humans.
Contact a wildlife rehabilitator immediately! Do not try to
care for the animal yourself! Many people believe that they can provide
appropriate care and that it would be interesting to help wildlife. Wildlife
has many special needs, including diet, caging, and medical treatment.
Rehabilitating wildlife also requires special permits and licenses.
Contacting a rehabilitator immediately may make the difference between the
wild animal's survival or death. It could also make a difference for you! If
you still wonder why you should contact a rehabilitator immediately, read
the next section.
If there has been any injury from the wild animal, contact a
physician immediately and get professional care! Do not delay in
getting professional medical treatment for any injury related to a wildlife
encounter. Hesitation or delay could have extremely serious and dangerous
consequences! Many states require that the state health department be
notified immediately of any wildlife bites, injuries, or disease exposures.
The best way to prevent injury or exposure to health problems is to contact
a wildlife rehabilitator or other wildlife professional for assistance
Why Should I
Contact a Wildlife Rehabilitator?
Wild animals are not like domestic animals. They need
specialized care, including special capture and handling, diets, caging.
Without such specialized care, wild animals often die.
Rehabilitators have special training and knowledge to work with
wildlife. They can help to prevent or resolve some wildlife problems
without the animal needing to be brought into captivity. They know if, how,
and when an animal needs rescue (see section above). Rehabilitators know the
special dietary needs and feeding techniques for wild animals.
Wild animals have the potential to transmit diseases and parasites
to humans and other animals, such as pets. They can also inflict injury with
teeth, beaks, claws, talons, legs, and wings. Rehabilitators are familiar
with ways to minimize and manage risks.
Wild animals require special supplies and facilities .
have special capture, handling, and feeding supplies. They also have special
caging for wild animals of different ages and health conditions. They have
the ability to keep wildlife separate from humans and domestic animals to
meet quarantine requirements and reduce stress.
Local, regional, and federal laws often prohibit possession of
wildlife, even if you are well intentioned and plan to release the
animal. Rehabilitators have the special permits and licenses that allow them
to care for and then release wildlife.
There are many injuries, health problems and diseases that
wildlife may have that are difficult to notice. A wildlife rehabilitator is
trained to identify subtle symptoms and is thus able to get veterinary
treatment before the condition deteriorates.
Wild animals need to be raised with their own species. This
helps the animal relate to its own kind when it is recovered. Rehabilitators
will be able to keep the animal with it's own species or arrange for it to
be with others. If young wild animals do not learn to socialize with their
own species or learn the appropriate survival skills, they may be unable to
survive when released back to the wild.
Most veterinarians have education and experience with companion
animals or livestock, not wildlife. Most are unfamiliar with the
specialized diets and care required for different wildlife species. Many
veterinarians don't have the facilities to keep wildlife separate from
domestic animals nor wildlife rehabilitation permits. Wildlife
rehabilitators have the special training and knowledge, diets, facilities,
and permits to care for these wild animals. A veterinarian can refer you to
a wildlife rehabilitator. The rehabilitator will consult with veterinarians,
experienced with wildlife, for medical treatment if the wild animals have
If you are interested in rehabilitating wildlife, contact a
trained, knowledgeable, and permitted rehabilitator. Trying to rehabilitate
a wild animal without appropriate knowledge, skills, supplies, caging, and
permits can place you, your family and friends, companion animals, and the
wild animal at risk. Don't practice on the wild animal in need. Rather, take
the wild animal to a rehabilitator, get a copy of the wildlife
rehabilitation recruiting brochure and recruiting booklet (available through
this website), and follow the suggestions about how to get started.
How Do I Find
a Wildlife Rehabilitator Nearby?
State wildlife (or natural resource) agency
Local humane society
Veterinarians (especially emergency and exotic animal veterinarians)
Local animal control agency or officer
Law enforcement agencies: police, sheriff, or state patrol
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (for migratory bird rehabilitators)
Cost Guard or Marine Patrol (for marine animal rehabilitators)
Wildlife organizations: Audubon society, Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club,
Local animal rescue organizations
Stores selling feed and supplies for wild birds
Preventing Human-Wildlife Conflicts and Problems
Do not feed wildlife. Feeding wildlife is not good for them
or you. Animals lose some of their "wildness" when they come to depend on
artificial sources of food. It teaches them to associate food with humans
and human buildings. Your neighbor might not be so understanding or
forgiving. Also, animals need natural sources of food to maintain a healthy
diet; many foods not in their natural diet can harm them (e.g., peanuts can
cause bone problems for some species). On the other hand, wildlife benefits
from having access to a clean water supply for drinking and bathing. Keep
the containers clean and change water often to prevent disease.
Feed your pet(s) indoors and refrain from leaving pet food
outdoors. Feeding your pet(s) indoors ensures that no scraps will be left
behind to attract wild animals. The odor remaining on an empty food dish can
even attract wildlife.
Keep domestic pets indoors or under control. Domestic dogs
and cats are
efficient predators and often injure or kill wildlife. Some government
agencies give pet owners hefty fines if their animals chase, harm, or kill
wildlife. Plus, roaming domestic pets can be targets of wild predators
(loose pets can also be hit by cars or hurt by other domestic animals).
"Invisible" fences are increasingly popular and may keep your animal in, but
they certainly do not prevent wildlife or loose pets from entering.
Restrict access to buildings by keeping doors or windows
closed or screened. Leaving garages, storage sheds, attics, and basements
open can be risky for wildlife that can damage contents or become trapped.
Restrict access to these areas by keeping doors and windows screened or
closed (including pet doors), particularly at night.
Check for animal nests before cleaning the chimney or eaves
or before trimming or felling trees. Cleaning, landscaping, gardening, or
even mowing the lawn shouldn't have to result in displaced or injured baby
birds or mammals. Check for nests first, and if someone else does your
chimney cleaning or yard work for you, have them check too. Try to avoid
disturbing nests. In most cases, the wildlife babies will grow up quickly
and leave the nest. However, if you have concerns about this, or want to
humanely encourage the mother to relocate them sooner, call a wildlife
rehabilitator. After ensuring that the chimney is unoccupied, install an
approved screen or cap on it to prevent further access and flying sparks.
Some birds will fly at their reflection in windows and hurt
themselves. To prevent this, a mesh pattern of vertical and horizontal tape
or fabric strips or a light covering of soap (such as Bon Ami) can be
placed over the windows to alert the birds. Wonder what to do if a bird does
hit the window? Bird rehabilitators
often suggest cautiously placing it on some paper towels (for traction) in a
paper bag or small box with a lid (with a few small holes already punched
near the top) and then placing the bag or box in a quiet, dark, warm place
where it can't fall (and is not extremely hot or sunny). After an hour or
so, a careful peek may show that the bird has revived; at that point, the
bag or box can be taken outside and opened for the bird to fly away. If the
bird has not recovered, call a wildlife rehabilitator.
Use wildlife proof garbage containers or barrels. Place
garbage out the morning it is to be picked up. Wildlife can find garbage
left out at night to be an easy food source. The same is true for bird
feeders and BBQ grills. Keep them inside at night to avoid tempting wildlife
with a midnight snack. Raiding garbage is a bad habit for wildlife and can
result in the animals being destroyed.
Don't worry if a wild mammal starts digging a den near your home.
Just place a
small amount of ammonia on a rag and place in the hole. Wild animals
generally don't want to move into a "smelly" neighborhood and decide to move
on. Killing the wild animal rarely solves the problem since another animal
will move into the abandoned habitat; plus, if poison is used, non-target
animals (e.g., pets and raptors) are often injured by, or die from secondary
Has a hole in the attic or roof become a door? Occasionally
people find a hole in the attic that has allowed raccoons or squirrels to
take up residence. Make the attic a less desirable residence: place some
rags with ammonia in strategic places; put a loud radio turned on talk or
heavy rock music in the attic; keep the lights bright. After a couple of
days of this, at a time when the wild resident is out, "a one-way door" can
be placed over the hole. It is critical to first check to make sure all
babies are out before placing a one-way door. Wildlife rehabilitators can
provide information on when different species have their young. See specific
instructions for making the one-way door in Wild Neighbors (Hadidian, et al;
Fulcrum Publishing). Again, poisoning or live-trapping and relocating rarely
solves the problem for the reasons mentioned above.
Dispose of all litter properly. Any string more than an inch
long, including fishing line, should be picked up and disposed of properly.
Cut up plastic 6-pack holders and plastic containers that wildlife can get
Do not release balloons outside. Animals can choke on the
balloon or get tangled in the string.
Protect wildlife habitat. Avoid or minimize activities that
harm wildlife habitat. Plant and encourage a variety of native vegetation.
This reduces the risk of the new plants being eaten by wildlife (planting
non-native plants is like offering a gourmet meal to wildlife). Placing wire
mesh around new trees or spraying with homemade solutions (such as 1 egg
white to 1 gallon water) may discourage nibbling, as do commercial
repellants (such as Deer Off) which are available at nurseries. Some
homeowners have had some success with these products, but there are no
guarantees, so it is often best just to plant native species and enjoy
Remember that woodpeckers, nuthatches, and flickers make their nests
in dead wood. Since people have often removed many of the dead
trees, these birds improvise by using buildings (often a large source of
dead wood). They may be discouraged by hanging metallic strips or plastic
bread bags that twist in the wind near the selected site. Another
alternative is to place the appropriately sized birdhouse over the proposed
"excavation site" and invite them to join the neighborhood. Any of these
techniques should be used before eggs are laid. Note: if there are many
small holes instead of a potential nest hole, the birds may be feeding on
insects infesting the structure - a different problem!
Concerned about beavers? The simplest way to avoid damage to
the trees is to get some heavy gauge wire mesh (4' high with 2"x4" mesh
squares) and wrap it around the tree, securing the two ends with wire so it
is a freestanding cylinder. If you are concerned about beaver dams, there
are some effective and humane techniques available, such as the "beaver
baffler". Destroying beavers or their dams rarely solves the problem. If you
have questions about beavers, the books Wild Neighbors (Hadidian) and
Beavers: A Wildlife Handbook (Long) have more suggestions.
Want to hire services to help with wildlife solutions, such
as the one-way door or similar exclusion methods? Ask your local
rehabilitator to identify and refer you to reputable and effective services
that only use humane, non-lethal techniques. Be aware that some companies
and individuals advertising "wildlife removal services" may use inhumane and
lethal methods (ask your local rehabilitator even if the advertisements say
the company is humane); such animal removal companies also may create orphan
wildlife by destroying or relocating the mother animal.
If you have more questions about wildlife problems, ask your
local rehabilitators for help. The books Wild Neighbors (Hadidian) and
Living with Wildlife (Stump) also offer excellent suggestions and are
available at many bookstores.
Check with local and state government agencies (law
enforcement, animal control, etc.) for specific ordinances and regulations
pertaining to wildlife. Some areas and agencies have strict policies about
and penalties for "harassing" wildlife.