You Found Wildlife – Now What?
The first thing you need to know is that wildlife does best when left in the wild! Please do not bring found wildlife to vet hospitals!
If you come across NJ wildlife and think they are in need of professional intervention, call your non-emergency police line to dispatch animal control. If you are unsuccessful with animal control, give our shelter a call at 732-542-0040 x3.
WHAT DO I DO IF I FIND AN ILL, INJURED OR ORPHANED ANIMAL?
Safety first – even baby animals can scratch or bite. If you handle a wild animal, always wear gloves (or other hand covering) and eye protection! Never approach or attempt to handle a wild animal unless you are certain you can do so without harm to yourself or the animal! Unless the animal is obviously injured and in distress, do not approach it unless directed to do so. Don’t become a kidnapper!
Remember the 5 C’s when you come across wildlife:
1. Is he Crying?
2. Is he Cold?
3. Is he Coming toward you (approaching people)?
4. Is he Covered with blood or insects?
5. Has he been Caught by a cat or a dog?
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Is the baby warm and healthy? He may not be truly orphaned. Wildlife parents may leave their young for long periods of time while they forage for food, but they are probably watching you from afar.
Do not assume a young animal you find has been abandoned. Many animals leave their young for long periods of time while they forage.
If the baby is not exhibiting any of the Five Cs, step away and observe from a distance, or leave and return later; the parents will not come to their baby if predators (YOU!) are near. Keep all pets and humans away! It is crucial that the returning parent is not threatened by your good intentions into abandoning her young.
If you do pick up the animal and the baby is warm and healthy, you may be able to return him to his nest or leave him hidden where you found him. Remember it is a MYTH that wild animals will reject their young if humans touch them!
Spring, summer and even early fall are baby season for wild things. These are also the times of year when people are outdoors enjoying the lovely weather. Whether on a trail, in the garden or under your deck, it’s inevitable that people and wildlife are going to meet during the warmer months of the year.
Neonate (newborn) squirrels are usually found when a nest (called a “drey”) has been destroyed. Squirrels are excellent parents, but they are casual nest-builders, so they often have more than one drey. If one or more baby squirrels fall to the ground, their mother will often retrieve them.
If you find uninjured babies and think the mother is still in the vicinity, nestle them in a warm, shallow box at the base of the tree they fell from, or in a basket suspended so it rests against the trunk, and leave the area. Call non-emergency police if the mother has not returned within two or three hours.
Juvenile squirrels are still dependent on their mother. Call non-emergency police for advice if a juvenile squirrel approaches you, as it may be a sign that he needs medical care. Squirrels have very sharp teeth and strong jaws– never handle a squirrel without gloves.
For many bird species, leaving the nest before being flighted is a natural part of adolescence.
Young birds with developing feathers frequently take up residence on the ground in the grass or bushes near their old nest where they continue to be fed and taught by their parents. Some things to keep in mind about birds:
- Parent birds will continue to feed their babies after you have touched them. Most birds have a poor sense of smell and parent birds won’t know (or care!) that you have touched their baby. Baby birds can be returned to the nest! Parent birds will even be foster parents for an abandoned baby of the same species and age of their own young.
- Parent birds will search for their babies even after 24 to 48 hours of absence. Most birds have their own territories. Even if the nest and babies are gone, the parents remain in their home territory, waiting to welcome their babies home.
- Birds only need to be rescued if they are:
- caught by a cat or dog
- icy cold
- naked (no feathers)
- Symptoms of an Injury or Illness:
- Falling over on one side
- Unable to flutter wings
- Weak or shivering
- Attacked by cat or dog
- Wing tweaked upward
- Wing drooping
- Feathers fluffed
Has the Bird Been Abandoned?
Watch for the parent! Observe the baby bird continuously for 60 to 90 minutes from a distance of 50 feet. Watch carefully; the parents will fly in and out quickly.
If you have the bird in a box, check the feces…
- Clear with white poop (or green bile) indicates a baby bird is not being fed, and is likely abandoned.
- Color in the poop indicates that the parents are feeding the baby, and the bird should be put back where it was found.
Nestlings are sometimes found on the ground below their nest. If you can access the nest and the baby bird appears healthy and warm, gently place him back into the nest, feet tucked under him. If the entire nest has fallen, you can place the babies in a small basket or container with drainage holes and hang the “nest” no more than 12 inches from the original site. Birds only tend one nest, however, so all babies need to be together. Watch carefully from a distance, and if the parents do not return in over two hours, or if the baby is pushed out repeatedly, keep the baby warm and call non-emergency police or animal control.
An entire nest of birds can sometimes be placed in a small tissue-filled wicker basket or butter tub with drainage holes in the bottom. Call non-emergency police or animal control for advice before attempting to renest. You may be instructed to hang the basket or tub to a tree in a location as close as possible to the original nest site, and in a spot safe from crows and hawks (with some tree-cover). Be sure that a branch shields the nestlings from sunburn. Not all situations are appropriate for renesting, however, and if the babies were injured in their fall they will need care.
One single baby must be returned to the original nest with its siblings. Parent birds will only sit on and feed the babies in one nest. If the nestling cannot be returned, call animal control or non-emergency police.
These birds have feathers and short tails and can perch, hop or walk. They are learning to fly, a process that may take two weeks. Fledglings should be left alone to practice hopping and fluttering from low shrub branches to the ground. The parents are close by, and continue to feed the babies until they learn to fly and eat on their own. Parents will guide the fledglings into the bushes at night to hide from predators.
To return a fledgling to its territory after it has been brought indoors:
- Keep pets and children indoors so the parents will return to their baby.
- If a bird can perch on your finger, place it in a bush near the area you found it.
- If you found the bird in a high-traffic area, move it to a safe area under the cover of bushes.
- Parents communicate with their young by a series of voice calls. As long as a fledgling is placed in its home territory, the parents will be able to locate it and move it to a safe location.
- At a distance, (indoors is best) watch continuously for one hour for the parents to return. If the parents don’t return, call animal control or non-emergency police.
While parent birds will accept a baby back if it has been touched by humans, the stress on the bird can be detrimental. If a baby is naked (without feathers or with few feathers) the requirement for immediate action is much higher.
Neonate raccoons are helpless for about six weeks, and their mother usually keeps them well hidden. You are unlikely to encounter baby raccoons unless their nest is disturbed or their mother is interrupted while moving them. Raccoons are very attached to their young. If a mother is alive and she has been separated from all her young, she will try aggressively to retrieve them for several nights. If allowed to reach them, she will move them to an alternate nest. Call non-emergency police to dispatch animal control if a reunion for babies/parents is needed.
Juvenile raccoons leave the nest at about eight to ten weeks of age and begin to travel with their mother. From then on they have no permanent den site. If excluding raccoons from your walls, attics or crawlspaces is a goal, this is when it is safe to do so.
Neonate (newborn) opossums are sometimes found alive inside the pouch of a dead mother. If you see a dead mother opossum and it is safe to do so, always check the pouch and surrounding grass for straggling babies. If you find live babies in the pouch, call non-emergency PD or animal control ASAP! Don’t attempt to detach live babies from a dead mother, as the babies’ mouths are closed around the nipple and removal must be done very carefully.
Opossums cannot be reunited with their mothers, and an opossum shorter than ten inches (including tail), will need warmth and care.
Juvenile opossums are fully furred and have outgrown their mother’s pouch. By instinct, they cling to her as she forages, and eventually fall off. If unable to get back to her, a baby is then on his own, a natural dispersal strategy. If healthy and ten inches or longer he is old enough to take care of himself and doesn’t need rescue.
Ducklings / Goslings
Any fluffy duckling or gosling on his own needs to be rescued.
Mallards and other duck and goose species have large broods of young, and the babies come out of the egg precocial, meaning they can walk, swim and eat adult food almost immediately. As soon as her clutch has fully hatched, a mother duck or goose will escort her young to a water source. If the lake, pond or stream is a distance away, or especially if it is across a busy road, it is easy for mother and babies to become separated.
Many of the orphaned ducklings and goslings admitted to our shelter lose their families in this manner. Babies also get separated when they are washed away in gutters during rain storms, or when they get trapped in storm drains.
If you see a duckling alone, look for mom. She may be just around the bend, waiting for her little ones to catch up. If mom isn’t obviously nearby and you’re able to capture the duckling and transport him close to a mother with young, he’ll easily return to the bosom of the family… even if it isn’t his original family! If no mother duck is within sight, call your local non-emergency police line or animal control.
Fawn (Baby Deer)
Deer have one or two young and hide twins in separate locations for up to twelve hours at a time, returning to nurse in the early morning and early evening.
A warm quiet baby found in the grass with no obvious injuries is probably not abandoned. Fawns remain quiet and still so that predators will not find them. If all is well, the mother will likely move her baby after the next feeding, which may not be for several hours.