Field Reference for Wildlife Rescue
WHEN AND HOW TO HELP
Assess the Situation
When a wild animal is hit by a car, shot illegally, poisoned, injured by a trap, fence, window, powerline or fishhook, displaced by construction, caught by a cat or dog, or posessed illegally as a "pet," nature's course can take a cruel turn - human intervention is obviously warranted.
But sometimes it's not as easy to determine whether an animal needs your help, or simply needs to be left alone to slip away (or be picked up by a parent and whisked away) to a safe place. No one can raise a wild baby better than it's parent, so the decision to pick a baby up should never be made without careful thought.
If you find a wild animal that needs help, it is your job to avoid injury to yourself, and further injury and stress to the animal. Call a rehabilitator to help you decide what to do, and how to do it.
Have gloves, containers and help ready before you attempt capture. Always transport quickly, as delays in treatment can cause irreversible injury or death to the animal, and always wash your hands thoroughly after touching a wild animal to reduce the possibility of the transmission of disease. If you are bitten by a wild mammal, try to contain it and contact police as soon as possible so rabies testing can be done. While rabies is treatable, shots are not pleasant or cheap, so it's best to try avoiding them by having the animal tested.
Wild animals are fun to observe in natural circumstances, but they can be dangerous, especially when cornered, injured and in pain. Often people claim an animal "knows" it is being helped - wishful thinking at best! A seemingly "cooperative" animal is often extremely weak, in shock, and near death.
Rehabilitators have a wealth of information on the natural history and habits of wildlife, and are a valuable resource to the general public when wild animals become pests, as well as for emergencies when wild animals are injured or orphaned. If you find an adult wild animal that needs assistance, it is always best to call a wildlife rehabilitator for information before you attempt a rescue if it is possible!
Thanks for Caring
It's a hassle to have to drop what your doing and deal with that darned bunch of baby bunnies that Fido just dropped on the kitchen floor. Those people who go the extra mile by calling for help and driving 30 miles to get the animals to the help they need are truly heros.
Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. Operation WildLife is located in Linwood, KS, just east of Lawrence, KS. Northeast KansasWildlife Rescue is located in Topeka, KS. Both organizations have trained volunteers in northeast Kansas, and can assist you with any wildlife situation. To find a rehabber outside of NE Kansas, click here.
If you have questions, call your sheriff's department or local Wildlife and Parks officer to find the rehabilitator nearest you. Reputable rehabilitators are licensed by the United States Fish and Game Department and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Many are members of the International Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (IWRA), the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA), and all Kansas rehabilitaors should be registered with the Kansas Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (KWRA). Don't hesitate to ask for credentials!
Common Backyard Wild Babies
WHEN AND HOW TO HELP
WHEN YOU SEE A BABY ANIMAL ...
OBSERVE: Is there a parent present? Is it a healthy baby who is just out exploring? Is it injured? Tiny and pink? Cold and dehydrated? In danger from dogs, cats and children?
SHOW YOUR CHILDREN: The babies of our wild neighbors are fascinating things!
RUSH TO PICK IT UP.
TOUCH: Children understand when you tell them that handling and stress can kill. And a wild animal may bite, scratch or transmit parasites.
REMEMBER: The care needed by a wild baby varies greatly depending on the age and species. Many young mammals remain in hiding away from their parents to avoid predators. The mother may only return at night for feedings, so you may not normally see her at all.
On the other hand, most young songbirds are fed almost continuously during daylight hours. So a squawking baby bird with no parents in sight is doomed within hours if it’s high metabolism is not kept fueled, and it won’t survive the cool of the night on its own until it is feeding itself and is fully feathered.
RETURN a songbird to a nest if it is within reach.
MAKE AN ARTIFICIAL NEST. Hang a berry basket lined nest material in a safe place, and leave the baby there. The parents will find it if the baby is chirping and calling loudly.
WATCH from inside the house to make sure the baby is being fed.
COVER COTTONTAIL NESTS THAT HAVE BEEN DISTURBED. Pile the grass, leaves and weeds over the top that were moved. Don’t mow that spot until the babies have grown and left.
WAIT too long. The little one will become weak quickly and will stop chirping. By then, the parents may give up.
HANDLE any more than absolutely necessary.
REMEMBER: Songbirds do not have a good sense of smell or counting skills. The mother bird will not reject a baby because you touched it. In some instances, you can add a “foster child” to a nest of the same species and age of “siblings.” This will only work with certain species, however, and can be disastrous with others, so call us and check first. If it is very young and the parents aren’t feeding it within one hour, call us.
Mammals detect disturbances and odd smells more easily. Be quick and minimize contact. To tell if a mother cottontail is returning to feed babies, leave a thread around the nest and see if it is disturbed in the morning.
IF IT APPEARS TO BE HEALTHY AND IS MOVING ABOUT, LOOKING FOR FOOD, EXPLORING ... IT DOESN’T
NEED HELP, JUST A LITTLE PRIVACY.
WATCH AND ENJOY from afar.
KEEP CATS AND DOGS AWAY during the young ones’ most vulnerable age.
REMIND CHILDREN TO STAY AWAY and give them the job of watching out for the little creature keeping neighbors’ pets away and watching for signs that the baby is in trouble.
REMEMBER: A young animal might look like it needs help, but it may already be caring for itself. Cottontails 6” long and eating grass, opossums 5” long, nearly full grown squirrels, and feathered and self feeding garden songbirds should be observed and protected from predators. Babies grow quickly and may just need a few days to gain speed snd defensive skills. Keep pets inside or leashed temporarily, and call OWL, if you have questions.
CALL A REHABBER IF YOU ARE UNSURE OF THE ANIMAL’S CONDITION.
IF IT HAS SIGNS OF ILLNESS OR INJURY BLOOD PRESENT, DOES NOT USE LIMBS NORMALLY, WAS IN A DOG OR CAT’S MOUTH, HAS AN ODD HEAD POSITION, IS UNCONCIOUS, OR HAS DRAINAGE FROM EYES OR NOSE IS COLD OR LETHARGIC, HAS BEEN WET OR CHILLED OR IS WEAK AND HAS WRINKLY OR STICKY SKIN, IT NEEDS HELP IMMEDIATELY!
Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. Operation WildLife is located in Linwood, KS, just east of Lawrence. Northeast KansasWildlife Rescue is located in Topeka. Both organizations have trained volunteers in northeast Kansas, and can assist you with any wildlife situation. To find a rehabber outside of NE Kansas, click here.
PUT THE ANIMAL IN A SAFE, WARM, DRY AND DARK
CONATINER. Keep away from pet and people noises.
USE A VENTILATED BOX IN AN UNAIRCONDITIONED ROOM. Place a heating pad on LOW under ONE END ONLY of the container so the animal can get away from the heat if necessary.
USE SOFT RAGS OR TISSUES TO MAKE AN ARTIFICIAL NEST to support weak songbird legs and necks, and for warmth and security for mammals.
CALL US RIGHT AWAY. We’ll help you decide the best steps to take.
TRANSPORT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!
WASH YOUR HANDS!
HANDLE AT ALL once you have it contained.
WASH IT WITH EVEN WARM WATER. Dry and dirty is safe for now. Wet and chilled once can kill.
OVERHEAT. Don’t put a heating pad on any other setting but low!
TRY TO GIVE FOOD OR FLUIDS WITHOUT GETTING
GIVE UP. If it is absolutely impossible for you to bring the animal, often a volunteer can help. We have volunteers who are able to pick up animals at various times. Or, we can direct you to the proper officer or agent for help with a variety of animal situations.
REMEMBER: The animal is already debilitated and may be near death. Stress could easily finish it off.
Until fully furred or feathered, baby animals can not maintain their own body temperature. A chilled animal needs to be warmed slowly.
Normal body temperatures of baby mammals and songbirds vary from 101° to 106°F. So if the animal feels “normal” or cool to you, it’s already in big trouble.
Babies aspirate (inhale food and fluid) easily. This can mean instant death or can cause fatal respiratory infection later. Diets are very specific for each species and age. Too much, too little or the wrong food can mean death, illness or permanent disability.
We are volunteering our time and are extremely busy during baby season. We rely on the vast majority of finders of animals in distress to transport the animal to us.
MORE SIGNS OF TRUE ORPHANS:
• crawling with fleas, ticks present: wild motehrs keep their babies clean and parasite free
• distress calls: loudly chirring raccoons, speaking squirrels and hacking opossums are either stuck somewhere, left behind or orphaned
• odd body language: rough, patchy fur, “skin and bones” appearance, hunched back, stunted growth
KEEP THIS REFERENCE GUIDE BOOKMARKED AND DON’T HESITATE TO CALL A WILDLIFE REHABBER THAT’S WHAT THERE’RE HERE FOR!
REMEMBER, THE GOAL OF WILDLIFE REHABILITATION IS TO RETURN HEALTHY ANIMALS TO THE WILD.
Wild Animals Make Bad Pets!
Few things are as cute as baby animals. When young, they seem like they could easily be hand-reared and tamed to be kept as unique, exotic pets. Though well-intentioned, this arrangement always winds up sadly (and is illegal). Inevitably, the animal grows up and becomes too out-of-control for the "owner," and by the time the rehabilitator is called, it's too late. Mammals reared in this way are habituated or familiarized with humans. Birds are called imprints because they have been taught that they are human. Neither can identify with their own species properly, nor can they even find their own food and shelter since their "parents" never taught them how.
Releasing an animal such as this is irresponsible not only because it is cruel to the humanized animal, but also because such fearless creatures can become dangerous to unsuspecting humans. For example, a hungry, lonely red-tailed hawk may land on someone's head, begging to be taken in and fed. And a "tame" raccoon can inflict a serious bite on an innocent bystander - a potentially life-threatening situation for the human, and a life-ending one for the animal due to the rabies risk and need for testing.
The only future for the imprint is lifelong captivity in a zoo or nature center (there are only so many homes available) and humane euthanasia.
BEFORE YOU ATTEMPT ANY CAPTURE, REMEMBER that in the wild, an animal is touched for three reasons: during breeding or when caring for its young, when defending its territory, or when it is being pursued and eaten by a predator. Man is a predator, and an approaching human, no matter what their intention, is something to be feared.
Gray and fox squirrels are common throughout Kansas, and nest high in trees in holes or large leafy nests. Some common problems with squirrels include: falling, being hit by cars, being caught by cats and dogs, and being orphaned. A baby squirrel needs help if:
• It is a neonate (naked with eyes closed) and is on the ground.
• It is a juvenile who runs up to you or is emitting a high-pitched, squeaking distress call.
• It is lying on the ground obviously injured or otherwise unable to run away.
• It has been caught by a cat or a dog even if there are no visible wounds.
If you find a baby squirrel and none of the above scenarios apply, place it at the base of a tree in a shallow box with a towel or cloth to lie on and wait to see if the mother squirrel responds to the baby's calls for help. Most of the time the mother will come down to retrieve the baby within a few hours. Keep cats, dogs and people away from the area. Squirrels view people as predators, and won't retrieve their young if we're nearby.
If the mother doesn't return during the recommended time span, you should transport the baby to a rehabilitator immediately. NEVER pick up an injured squirrel of any age with your bare hands because they can really bite! Use a towel and/or heavy gloves, have a secure box ready, and transport quickly to avoid a "chew through!"
Opossums are North America's only marsupial and are nocturnal, preferring wooded bottomlands. Because they are so slow, the urban opossum's worst enemy is the automobile. If an adult female is found dead, there may be babies in her pouch or clinging to her back. The young must be removed from the mother and placed in a warm, dry box with a sock or stocking cap to hide in. Do not try to feed or water them just transport quickly to a rehabilitator.
Opossums are usually weaned and independent when they are about 3 1/2 months old. At this age they are about nine inches long from nose to rump and should be left alone unless they are visibly hungry or injured.
Raccoons are nocturnal and make their homes in hollow cavities. Urban raccoons often use attics and chimneys for nesting areas. Capping chimneys and repairing holes in eaves can detour these unwelcome guests. When rescuing baby raccoons, wear heavy gloves and place the animals in a sturdy box with a towel at the bottom. Put the box in a warm, quiet place and call a rehabilitator immediately. Never handle raccoons of any age with your bare hands - they can carry several different potentially fatal diseases which are infectious to humans, most notably, rabies!
Cottontails nest in shallow, hand-sized depressions in the ground. Look for small bare spots near patches of dried grass before mowing lawns. Leave nests undisturbed, and keep cats, dogs and children away. The mothers are rarely seen visiting the nest because they feed their young just twice each day - at dawn and dusk.
If you suspect young cottontails have been orphaned, (and are not visibly stressed or starving) use a piece of string to make a circle around the nest and an "X" over it late in the afternoon. Check in the morning to see if the string has been disturbed. If it has and the babies appear well, then the mother has been there to feed them in the night. Young rabbits are able to care for themselves when they are about the size of a tennis ball. Their only need at this point is dense cover for protection.
When a rescue is necessary, place the rabbits in a small box that is lined with a towel. Drape excess material over them, tape the lid shut, and place them in a quiet, warm place until they can be transported to a rehabilitator. Do not handle unnecessarily, as they are prey animals and may appear tame when they are actually frozen with fear and going into shock. Handling can kill them!
Bats are most commonly found at two times of year. First, during winter warm-ups when they sometimes come out of their cold weather torpor prematurely. When this occurs, they must be over-wintered for the rest of the season with a balanced diet and exact environmental controls. Second, mothers are sometimes overloaded by the weight of their young and/or overcome by heavy winds during spring storms, landing these small families on the cold, wet ground. They sometimes suffer injuries and require time to heal and regain strength before being returned to the wild.
Bats are a rabies risk, so capture by allowing them to climb on to a towel and placing the towel and animal in a box. These animals are very delicate and require specialized care, so call a rehabilitator right away.
Fox, Coyote and Bobcat
These mammals use hollow areas or dens to raise their young. The females can be very protective and aggressive if they feel their young are being threatened. If you have any fox, coyote or bobcat problem, call a rehabilitator for assistance.
The most common skunk calls received by rehabilitators are those of orphaned babies and adults acting strangely. Because skunks are the number one rabies carrier in Kansas, adult animals are usually humanely euthanized when found wandering in close proximity to people. Treatment of certain conditions is difficult for obvious, odiferous reasons, and advanced distemper and rabies are impossible to treat. Babies can be hand-reared for release, but should not be handled either as they can be rabies carriers. Call a rehabilitator to help you assess the situation before attempting capture if at all possible.
Just moments after birth, a fawn is able to stand and walk. The doe will lead the fawn to a secluded spot and leave it there while she feeds nearby. The fawn is safe because it's color pattern and lack of scent help to keep it virtually undetected by predators.
Never assume a fawn is abandoned just because the mother is not in sight. Unless the fawn is clearly sick or injured, leave it alone and do not handle it. Call a rehabilitator if you need reassurance.
Owls, hawks, falcons and eagles are called raptors or birds of prey. Fledgling raptors leave the nest before they are able to fly. Often, the young are found sitting on branches far from the nest. This is normal and the parents still provide care for them, so you should never interfere with a young raptor unless it is obviously injured or ill.
If you find a raptor that needs help, contact a rehabilitator immediately. Since they use their talons and beaks for tearing up their prey, all raptors - even babies - can inflict serious wounds and should be considered dangerous. If you must catch a raptor and transport it, never use your bare hands. Use a towel and heavy gloves to move the bird. Put it in a cardboard box, tape the lid shut and take it immediately to a rehabilitator. Minimizing stress and avoiding further injury will increase it's chances of recovery and eventual return to the wild.
The most common species of turtles seen by rehabilitators are snapping turtles and box turtles. Both get hit by cars often, and sometimes can be rehabilitated and released. When attempting to capture snappers, great care must be taken even with small specimens, as they can cause serious injury to their captors. Any turtle can bite, so call a rehabilitator for advice.
These beneficial creatures are sometimes wrongly identified as venomous and destroyed. The most common species found by people are non-venomous, including black rat, garter, prairie king, and ringneck snakes. Snakes are unsurpassed at vermin control and whenever possible should be left alone. Call for advice and identification assistance.
Hatchlings are featherless with eyes shut, are unable to sit upright and can't maintain body heat - they are totally helpless. Nestlings are several days old and lightly feathered with down. Their eyes are open and they are able to walk and perch. Hatchlings and nestlings found on the ground do not belong there and need to be rescued. Fledglings have feathers and can walk, hop and perch. They have left the nest and will spend several days on the ground or in bushes until they master flight and self-feeding. The parents remain nearby and continue to provide food and care, so fledglings should be left alone unless injured. Keep cats, dogs and curious children away.
If you find an injured, weak or unresponsive baby bird, call us. If it is moving, vocalizing, has not been in a cat or dog's mouth, and has no signs of injury, it needs to be returned to its nest. Young songbirds are fed every 15 to 20 minutes for up to 16 hours each day, so raising them is best left to their natural parents!
If the nest is unreachable, make a substitute nest using a berry basket, small margarine tub or plastic hanging plant pot. Make several holes in the bottom for drainage if there are none and line it with paper towels or kleenex to support the little bird's body in a sitting position. Hang the new nest out of harm's way and as close to the original nest as possible. Wait and watch from a distance for at least one hour to see if the parents are feeding the youngster.
If parents do not return, then place the bird, new nest and all, in a box in a warm, quiet place and immediately call a wildlife rehabilitator. DO NOT give food or water without instructions. Most foods readily at hand will make the bird sick, and the opening to a bird's lungs is on the floor of it's mouth, so water from an eyedropper can easily cause sudden death or irreversible harm.
Waterfowl and Gamebirds
The young of these birds hatch out of the egg covered with down and are precocial, meaning they can walk, run and feed themselves shortly after hatching. A chick separated from the rest of the group should be returned quickly and quietly. These birds are very social, and the young must be raised in large groups.
Babies should only be rescued if the family can not be found, or if they are in immediate danger from pets or other urban dangers. Occasionally, mother ducks will hatch their brood in the middle of town and the family may need some assistance (holding traffic for safe street crossings, etc.) getting to nearby water. Sometimes they may need to be captured and relocated. Call your local rehabilitator for assistance.
Written by Diane Johnson, RVT, Amy Albright, and Christy Kennedy in 1997 for Operation WildLife