Each year, people with good intentions “rescue” thousands of young animals they find in the wild. In many cases, these animals do not require rescuing, and moving them places them at greater risk by separating them from their mother.
In other cases, rescuing an orphaned animal can save the animal from death. Birds are one of the most commonly “rescued” animals. To gauge whether a situation is a wildlife emergency, first determine if the bird is injured. Contact wildlife rehabilitation for advice if the bird is clearly injured or bleeding. The bird might also be injured if it looks exhausted, dehydrated, or lethargic.
If the bird is not injured, the next step depends on whether the bird is a nestling or fledgling. A nestling, which may have no feathers or be covered in down, is too young to fly and belongs in the nest. If found on the ground, carefully place the nestling back in the nest, then watch from a distance to see if a parent bird returns. If no parent returns, contact a wildlife rehabilitation center.
Alternately, if the bird has feathers but displays awkward movements, it is likely a fledgling. Fledglings normally spend time on the edge of the nest, then fall/fly off. The fledgling usually lands on the ground, where he remains for hours or days. If the bird appears uninjured, and other similar birds are nearby, leave the animal alone. If the bird is in danger due to a nearby cat or dog, try to place them in a nearby safe place.
Beyond birds, humans may encounter wild animals that seem to need their help. When handling wildlife, people should take precautions to protect against diseases such as rabies, which is fatal without treatment. Most common in bites from mammals like raccoons, bats, and skunks, the disease can be transmitted to humans by any wild animal.
To move injured small animals, people should don gloves, then place a piece of cardboard or a towel under the animal to transfer them to a small pet carrier. A towel or blanket over the carrier can make the carrier dark and help calm the animal. Particularly small mammals like chipmunks and squirrels may be able to escape through openings in the carrier door, so they will be better transported in a cardboard box or plastic carrier designed for rodents. Always ensure there are holes to allow for breathing.
As an alternative to a cage, baby animals can be placed in a bucket or pail with a towel in the bottom and a cloth over the top to keep the animal calm. This should be an option only if the animal cannot jump out.
Humans who attempt to rescue wildlife should take precautions to keep themselves and the animal safe. First, they should not give the animal food or water. Water placed in the container will inevitably spill, and small animals can easily drown or become cold and wet.
Next, avoid treating the animal for an injury. Wildlife professionals have the skills and knowledge to diagnose and treat injuries, while the average citizen does not. Children and family pets should not approach the animal. Wild animals may appear cute and harmless but may act aggressively when they feel threatened. Because they are already stressed from the injury, they may act unpredictably.
Consider the animal’s environment. Attempt to maintain a moderate temperature that would be comfortable for humans and avoid direct sunlight and air conditioning. Baby animals need warmth, but they can easily overheat. A wildlife rehabilitator can offer advice for keeping the animal comfortable during transport. Rescuers should note the precise location the animal was found so that rehabilitation facilities can release the animal in the same spot.