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Home WHAT WE DO Humane Education Wildlife How to Help Sick, Orphaned, Injured Wildlife
How to Help Sick, Orphaned, and Injured Wildlife

Below are guidelines to help you safely assist injured, sick or orphaned wildlife. If any wild animal is injured, sick or orphaned it should be transported to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. Please remember to always wear gloves if you are going to handle wild animals, even if you are only picking them up briefly. This precaution is very important for your own safety and that of the animal.


Assist animals struck by cars. Often, concerned motorists do not know what to do when they pass injured animals on busy roads. Sometimes it is impossible to interfere without risking your own safety, so it is important to use good judgment in these situations. If it seems unsafe to stop, find a telephone as soon as possible and call for help. If you do not know the phone number of your local Ontario SPCA Branch, affiliated Humane Society or municipal animal control, dial the operator for assistance. If you have a cell phone, please remember not to use your phone while driving.


If you are able to stop and assist an injured animal, you will need to do so with caution. Wild animals do not understand that you are attempting to help them and they may bite in self-defense. You may want to have the following items in your car in case of emergency:

  • Ventilated cardboard box or cardboard cat carrier
  • Towel, blanket and pillow case
  • Protective eyewear
  • Rubber gloves
  • Thick work gloves
  • Thin board to use as a stretcher
  • Flare or pylon
  • Pool liner or rubber mat to handle porcupines

 

If you can safely do so, pull over to the shoulder and turn on your four-way flashing lights. If you do not feel comfortable handling the animal and you have a cell phone, call for assistance. If the animal cannot be moved, place a flare or pylon near the animal until help arrives. This will alert traffic and reduce the animal's chances of being hit again.


If the animal appears non-aggressive and is small enough to carry, carefully place him in a towel-lined box and drive to a nearby Ontario SCPA Branch, affiliated Humane Society or veterinary clinic. Otherwise, carefully place the animal on the stretcher board and drag him off the road. Moving dead animals to the side of the road can also prevent further accidents. An animal's mate or young are at risk if they venture out onto the road in an attempt to help their family member. Predators and domestic animals are also at risk if an animal's body remains on the road and serves as a source of interest to them.

Turtles, frogs and other slow-moving animals are frequent victims of vehicle collisions. Whenever possible, take time to help them cross the road, but do not pick up snapping turtles as they bite and can cause serious injury. Use a large stick or shovel to push snapping turtles across the road by gently pressing against the animal's shell. Always move the animal in the direction in which she was headed initially, otherwise, she will only turn around and go back across the road.


Whenever there is significant risk to your own safety do not attempt to assist the animal on your own. Large mammals, birds of prey and herons are animals that should only be handled by wildlife professionals. Use caution with all animals as even small animals can be dangerous when sick or injured and faced with a threat (you!). Contact your local municipal animal services department, Ontario SPCA Branch, affiliated Humane Society or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.


Do not handle the animal with your bare hands. Wild animals carry fleas, mites, bacteria, viruses and parasites that can harm you, your children, or your pets. If possible, use gloves when handling a wild animal. If gloves are not available, create a barrier between your skin and the animal by wrapping the animal in an article of clothing or other material, such as a sheet. It is actually a good idea to cover the animal's head because this reduces the stress an animal may experience by decreasing visual stimulation. Make sure that whatever you use for this purpose will still allow the animal to breathe. Do not expose any household pets to the wild animal in order to protect your own pets from acquiring any contagious illnesses. In some cases, you can "herd" the animal in order to avoid any direct contact or you can carefully use a shovel (i.e. for turtles) to pick the animal up.

Secure the animal in a container. In order to safely transport the animal, it is important to place the animal in an appropriate container. For some mammals, and most birds, appropriately sized cardboard boxes with ventilation holes can be used. Make sure the box is securely closed. Any animal who has claws and teeth and who might chew or scratch through cardboard (i.e. adult squirrels) can be placed in a cat carrier or similar container. Turtles may be placed in plastic storage containers (i.e. Rubbermaid container) without the lid. Containers must be deep enough that the turtle will not be able to maneuver up over the edge and out of the container.


Do not offer food or water. Although animals obviously need to eat, and wanting to feed them is the first impulse that many people have, it is better to give them nothing than to provide them with the wrong food. For example, cow's milk is not an appropriate food for most mammals since it is not easily digested. Cow's milk can create digestive problems that can complicate the animal's rehabilitation and can sometimes be fatal. If you cannot get the animal to a wildlife rehabilitator immediately, place the animal in a ventilated container (i.e. a cardboard box with air holes in it) and keep the animal in a warm, quiet and dark place. As soon as possible, transport the animal to your local Ontario SPCA Branch, affiliated Humane Society or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.


Try to limit the amount of stress for the animal. Please do not repeatedly pick up and hold a wild animal and do not invite other people to "come look." Once the animal is in a transport container, try to resist any urge to peek into the container or remove the animal from the container. Although wild animals are beautiful and fascinating, and curiosity about the animal is natural, exposure to humans is extremely stressful for the animal. Wild animals view human beings as predators. Prolonged handling or exposure to humans, in addition to an injury or illness, may increase the animal's level of stress and shock. Any exposure to humans that is not actual rehabilitation worsens their chance of survival. Animals that appear unfazed by human contact are either extremely ill or in shock from trauma. Animals do not "understand" people are trying to help them and talking to a wild animal will only increase stress. Wild animals are not comforted by human voices as household pets might be.

Arrange for transport. Find a way to get the animal in to the closest animal care or wildlife rehabilitation facility as soon as possible. To prevent additional stress to the animal during transport, please do not smoke or play the car radio and keep talking to a minimum.

Construct a substitute nest. In many cases birds found on the ground are not injured but are "fledglings," which are young birds that have just left the nest and are learning to fly. Fledglings are mostly feathered and look very similar to the adult, which is why they are often confused with adult birds. In most cases the parents are still in the area caring for the fledgling. Fledglings can take from two to seven days to learn to fly and they are, unfortunately, vulnerable during this time. One way to help protect the young bird is to keep pets and curious children away.

Before constructing a substitute nest for baby birds it is important to make sure that you know what type of nest is required. Some birds, such as robins and blue jays, are "cup nesters." They build a nest with a deep depression. Other birds, like starlings, are "cavity nesters," and place their nest in a hole within a live or dead tree or other structure. If you construct a substitute nest, it has to be the appropriate type for the bird or the mother bird will not return to the unfamiliar nest to provide care to the baby. If you know which original nest the baby fell from, you can easily determine which type of nest you will need to construct. However, if you do not know about the original nest, you will have to try and identify the bird species. Call your local Ontario SPCA Branch, affiliated Humane Society, or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator if you require assistance with bird identification. Once you know the species of bird, you can proceed to construct an appropriate substitute nest.

"Cup Nests" (e.g. robin, blue jay, ruby-throated hummingbird, wood thrush)

  1. Find a small, shallow, empty container such as a margarine tub or a berry basket.
  2. Thoroughly clean the container.
  3. Make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of the container.
  4. If there is material from the original nest available, use it to line the bottom of the substitute nest. If no original nest material is available, place some dry grass material in the container.
  5. Secure the substitute nest in a location as close as possible to the original nest (i.e. attached to the same tree).
  6. If the original nest site is not known, secure the substitute nest as close as possible to the location where the baby bird was found.
  7. Place the nest in a position where it is protected from being exposed to too much sun or rain.


"Cavity Nests" (e.g. starling, wood duck, pileated woodpecker, Carolina chickadee, Eastern bluebird)

  1. Find an empty bleach or milk jug, or large juice bottle.
  2. Clean the container thoroughly.
  3. Make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of the container.
  4. Cut a round hole in the container about three-quarters of the way down the side.
  5. If there is material from the original nest available, use it to line the bottom of the substitute nest. If no original nest material is available, place some dry grass material in the container.
  6. Secure the substitute nest in a location as close as possible to the original nest (i.e. attached to the tree or wall of the house where the original nest is located).
  7. If the original nest site is not known, secure the substitute nest as close as possible to the location where the baby bird was found.
  8. Place the nest in a position where it is protected from being exposed to too much sun or rain.

 

Once the substitute nest has been secured, you may place the baby bird inside it. Gently cradle the baby bird in your hands to warm it prior to placing it in the substitute nest. Watch the nest site from a distance (preferably inside) to see if the mother bird returns to care for the baby. If you are concerned about whether or not the mother has returned after four to six hours, check the nest for fresh droppings. Fresh droppings are an indication that the baby bird is being fed. If no parents return for the baby bird after half a day, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.



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