Spring is almost here! This means that lots of baby animals will be born, and some of them will need our help. Below are some tips to follow so you know what to do if you come across orphaned wildlife or a baby animal in distress:
If you have found a baby bird on the ground, and it is not fully feathered and active, it needs help! It has fallen from its nest, possibly from a great height. Because it may be injured, cold, or starving, please do not attempt to re-nest, even if you can see the nest and/or the parent. It is not always apparent that something is wrong with a baby bird, so please don't try to "guess." Just get help!
- NEVER leave a baby bird outside. Get it inside and follow basic stabilization instructions until you can get it to a rehabilitator or to the VBSPCA.
- Make sure you look for siblings. If one bird has fallen, it is likely that others have, too. They can scoot themselves along the ground farther than you might think, so look around thoroughly. Also watch the area over the next few days in case the nest is damaged and others continue to fall out.
- **Remember, the parent birds cannot help their babies once they are on the ground. They will probably continue to feed, but they can't get their baby back in the nest! So even if you see the parents, that baby still needs help. Mockingbirds and blue jays especially, will make a huge fuss and try to keep you from intervening, but their fallen babies WILL die on the ground.**
- Time is critical to baby animals. They cannot retain body heat and will become cold very quickly, even on hot days. Loss of body heat will kill them so please get them to a rehabber without delay.
- Please do not attempt to raise the baby yourself! This is never in the best interests of the bird (it's also illegal), and there are rehabilitators available who can and provide proper care.
A fledgling is a young bird who has just left the nest. They look like smaller versions of adults, and have all their feathers, with tails about an inch long (if not, they are out of the nest too early and need to be rescued). It takes them 3-5 days of hop-flying before they can actually fly. A healthy fledgling should be very active, hop-flying through the yard with its family. A healthy fledgling is nearly impossible to catch. RESCUE a fledgling when:
- You have seen it in the same spot for more than a few minutes. This is abnormal and indicates trouble. Although the parents may be present and feeding the baby, it still may be injured and in need of rescue.
- There is an immediate danger from predators (presence of a cat, dog, crows, blue jays, etc.).
- There is any obvious injury, blood, or missing feathers.
- The bird keeps its eyes closed.
- There are flies present around the bird.
- You're just not sure! If the rehabber determines that the bird is not orphaned, the bird can be returned to your property.
If you see a young squirrel or "pinkie" on the ground:
- Check to see if the whole nest has come down (Squirrels make big nests high up in trees). Nest appear as a bundle of branches and are not open like bird nests. If it has, check carefully for more babies. Squirrels almost always have 3 or 4.
- If the babies don't appear injured, place them in a lined, open box at the base of the tree they fell from. Just watch (but watch carefully!) for a short time. The mother will often come get her babies and carry them back to their nest. If the nest is destroyed, she may be trying to put one together quickly.
- Do not let the babies get cold! If they feel cooler than the skin of your cheek, you will need to slowly warm them back up before putting them back outside. Use the stabilization instructions below.
- If the mother doesn't attempt to come back for them, the babies will have to be rescued. Line a box or carrier with many layers of material, like cotton tee-shirts and socks (not terry-cloth). Keep them warm and undisturbed until you can get them to a rehabilitator.
- As with all wildlife, do not attempt to give the babies food or liquids.
- Use the following link to find an assessment tool that will help the you determine if the squirrels need help or left alone: http://wildliferehabber.com/babysquirrel.
Visit the following link, which provides step by step instructions on how to determine if the bunnies need to be rescued or left alone: http://wildliferehabber.com/content/if-you-find-baby-bunny.
- If you find a baby rabbit fully furred and with eyes open, at least as big as a softball, then leave it alone. They become independent at a very early age and start foraging on their own.
- Their mother won't be in sight even if they are still nursing. She will feed them only twice a day, at or after dark and at dawn. She will not feed them if there are people/pets around or she suspects you are watching. Her priority is to not draw "predators" to the nest.
- If you uncover a rabbit nest with babies in it, try to cover it back over as well as possible and leave it alone. Keep an eye on the babies over the next few days. As long as they stay plump, you know the mother is feeding them. Do not intervene unless they appear thin and listless.
- If there has been trauma (i.e. lawn mower) remove dead or injured babies, and clean up any blood so the mother will come back. Try to put the nest back together and see if she continues to care for them.
- Handle them as little as possible. Rabbits are more sensitive to smell than birds and may reject handled babies. When you return the babies to the nest, wear gloves, rub your hands along the inside of the nest, and then lightly rub your hands over the babies. This essentially puts the familiar smell of the nest back on them, and lessen the chance of the mother being frightened of returning to them.
- Baby rabbits are extremely susceptible to stress. It may appear that they are calm, sitting still in your hand, when actually they are simply paralyzed with fear. Their wild instincts are very, very strong, and they do not do well in captivity, so it's always best to leave them alone whenever possible.
- If a pet has disturbed the nest, return the scattered babies and keep your pet in the house or a fenced area. Given the opportunity, pets WILL return and kill the rest of the babies.
- If a baby is injured, or you are positive the mother is not returning to feed them, then rescue the baby. Again, HANDLE AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE! Place them in a lined, small, box and get them to a rehabilitator quickly. Only handle them from a crouched position. They can surprise you and jump from your hands. NEVER stand up while holding a baby rabbit.
- If the bunny is not fully furred, they need to be warmed following the same technique as for birds.
You can always call out Wildlife Hotline for questions and further assistance: 757 263-4762