Sweetbriar’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center provides quality medical care and rehabilitation for all injured, sick and orphaned wildlife, and shares its knowledge with the people who care about them
You found a baby wild animal – what should you do??
Wildlife Reference Sheet:
This reference sheet was compiled to assist people who receive calls about distressed wildlife. The information was designed to help determine if a baby animal or bird needs attention during “the baby season”, and what to do once it is determined an animal needs help.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Under DEC wildlife regulations, it is illegal for an unlicensed individual to possess a native wild animal.
It is important to contact the proper authorities as soon as possible for assistance, such as a wildlife rehabilitator or your local wildlife agency.
*IF YOU HAVE AN INJURED ANIMAL AND NEED TO REACH SOMEONE IMMEDIATELY, CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN, EMERGENCY VETERINARY CLINIC, HUMANE SOCIETY OR ANIMAL CONTROL FOR ASSISTANCE
A young rabbit is on its own if: the fur is fluffy, the ears are standing and it is the size of a man’s fist.. If it was brought in by a dog or a cat, it is considered injured (although it may not appear to be) and needs antibiotics.
Moving a Rabbit Nest
It is not recommended to move a rabbit nest. There has been minimal success with moving a nest and the mother finding it. If you can wait, usually 1-2 weeks, the babies will be gone and you can continue with your plans. If you must move the nest, try to place it close to the original spot. If your dog is the one who found the nest the kindest thing to do is walk your dog on a leash, or keep it away from the area.
If a Rabbit Nest is Disturbed or Moved
Replace all of the fur inside the nest and cover the nest well with dry grass. The mother may return to care for her young. It is a myth that a mother will reject her babies if only briefly touched by a human or dog. There has been good success with placing rabbits back in the nest and the mother returning later and taking care of her young.
Monitoring a Disturbed or Moved Rabbit Nest
Before moving the babies from the nest, check to see if the mother rabbit returns. Chances are you won’t actually see the mother returning because she usually feeds her babies at dawn and dusk… Also, place a couple strands of string on top of the nest or make a tee pee from sticks and put it over the nest. The next day you will see if the objects were disturbed, if so, that is an indication that the mother was there. It is best to let the mother rabbit raise her babies. Rabbits are hard to raise.
If you can get near one, something is wrong. Use a box with air holes for transporting. People sometimes think that rabbits are comforted by petting as they will remain very still when they are touched. This stillness is actually a sign of fear.
If a baby squirrel is approaching people, it needs help. If the squirrel is curled up on the ground and is vocal, warm and appears to be uninjured, the mother may come back for her baby. If you see a nest place the squirrel in a shallow box at the base of the tree. The mother squirrel may hear her baby and take it back to the nest. If the nest has been destroyed, she may take it to a back up nest. It is always best for the babies to be raised by their mother than by humans. The mother will not object to her babies smelling like a human, but she will not take them back if they are cold. If you wait till just before dark and she has not come to get them, please place the babies in a cardboard box with air holes, and a tee shirt and call us for further assistance.
It is very unusual to find a baby. If one is found, it probably needs special attention. If the mother is killed, the babies may wander out of the nest because they are hungry.
It is very unusual to find a baby. If one is found, it probably needs special attention. If the mother is killed, the babies may wander out of the burrow because they are hungry. Sometimes, the babies are washed out of the burrow during a rain storm.
These animals are on their own when they are about 8-10 inches long
(not including the tail.) If one is found smaller than 8-10 inches, it probably needs attention. Orphaned babies are often found looking for food near a dead mother, especially alongside roads. These animals rarely contract rabies because of their low body temperature
I found a dead opossum. How do I know if there are babies?
Many times during the spring and summer months a female opossum may be found dead in a yard or on the side of the road. Before you think about disposing of the animal, a bit of thinking could save up to 13 lives! As marsupials, opossums carry their babies in their pouch. Although a mother opossum may not survive being hit by a car, her babies in the pouch can survive the impact. It is a good idea to check the pouch for any babies before getting rid of the mother. Checking for babies not for you? That’s okay! You can put the dead opossum in a box gently with a shovel and call us and we’ll arrange to have the opossum’s pouch checked for you.
These babies often play in the woods under their mothers care. Before disturbing them, observe from a distance to see if the mother is indeed watching over them. It’s best to leave them alone unless there is an obvious problem. If the mother has been killed, the babies may wander out of the den because they are hungry. They may be crying, look weak or sickly. In this case, the babies need attention. Don’t pick these animals up with your bare hands because of the concern of rabies.
Fawns are often found lying quietly in a field. If you find one and it is not crying, leave it there and check back in 12-24 hours. If it is injured or crying, then it needs special attention.
Raccoons and Bats
Due to the recent occurrence of rabies on Nassau and Suffolk counties, no one (citizen or licensed rehabilitator) is allowed to work with raccoons.
If you have concern regarding a raccoon, the Department of Health must be contacted.
Please be advised that you will be directed to hire a licensed trapper to trap the animal (at your expense)
In Suffolk County
Department of Health
Daytime: (631) 852-2677
In Nassau County
Department of Health
Daytime: (516) 571-2290
Evening: (516) 742-6154
If you find an injured bat, please be sure not to touch it with your bare hands.
Bats are a rabies vector species, which means that they are capable of carrying the rabies virus. Sweetbriar is not licensed to work with bats for this reason. However, we do have resources that can be of help. If you have a problem with bats, visit the “Bat World” website, then click on “Bat Problems.” If you have found an injured bat and need assistance, click to “Local Rescue” and click on the state in which you live for a rehabilitator licensed to work with bats.
The statement, “if you handle baby birds, the mother will reject them” is NOT TRUE!
Feathered Song Birds or Fledglings
Baby birds are often seen fully feathered but trying to fly, with the parents nearby. These are fledglings. If they look bright and alert, it is best to leave them alone. If possible, keep cats and dogs away from the area for a few days in which time the birds will learn to fly. The parents will continue to care for them even though they are on the ground. If you are not sure the parents are nearby and you are concerned, you may put the bird in a nearby bush or on a tree branch and observe from inside the house for a few hours. If the mother sees you in the yard she will not come near.
Nestling Song Birds (partially feathered)
If the baby bird is bright, alert, and opening it’s mouth for food, you can put it back in the nest. If it is not gaping (opening it’s mouth for food) or is cold, it may need special attention. In addition, if a bird is injured, it needs help and cannot be placed back in the nest. Birds that are cat caught are assumed to be injured although they may not appear to be. If a bird is featherless, it needs heat. Holding a featherless baby bird in your hand will warm it effectively (SEE DOS AND DON’TS)
Since some baby birds need to eat every 1/2 hour or so, it is important to contact a rehabilitator as soon as possible for instructions if it cannot be put back in the nest or the mother is gone.
If baby doves are found on the ground, it is usually difficult to find the nest to put them back. Doves make very poor nests which get blown down easily. If you cannot find the nest, you can make your own by using a basket. Hang the basket on the nearest branch up high and carefully place the bird inside the basket . If you’re not sure the bird needs attention, call a rehabilitator.
Ducks and Goslings
These birds are born with fuzzy down and can walk shortly after hatching. They follow their parents around and are able to feed themselves by pecking on the ground. Precocial babies will stay with their mother for warmth and protection. Birds such as ducklings, goslings, piping plovers and killdeer fall into this category. Precocial birds do not stay in a nest.
Please note: In most instances, both parents care for their young. So if you find a dead parent that you think is caring for the babies, it is likely that the remaining parent will continue the role in caring for its young.
If after 24 hours, the parent has not returned to care for the bird, or if the babies are cold/limp, they will need to be rescued. Keep them in a dark cardboard box with holes for air. Call a rehabilitator.
If an adult bird can be caught, probably something is wrong and it needs help.
Do Baby Turtles Need Our Help?
Mother turtles lay their eggs in late spring to the early summer. Approximately 60 days later, the eggs hatch. Hatchling turtles are totally self-sufficient.
Eastern BoxTurtle Adult
If you encounter a healthy Eastern Box Turtle, please leave it where it is. Box turtles have a home range of about 1 mile and they remain in this region their whole lives. Moving a box turtle to relocate to what seems to be a “safer” place may be harmful to the turtle. Eastern Box turtles will try to return to their home range, which often means crossing highways that it would normally not have to encounter.
If you encounter any kind of turtle crossing the road, it is okay to help it along. However, please carry it to the side of the road in the direction it is heading. By putting it back on the side it is crossing from, it will start crossing the road all over again.
If You Find An Injured Turtle?
If you encounter a turtle that has been hit by a car, a lawn-mower, or attacked by a dog, it will need medical assistance. While it is important to remember that any turtle can bite, most turtles found on Long Island can easily be contained in a box. However, snapping turtles can be dangerous; the best way to pick up a snapping turtle is with a shovel. Place the turtle in a box with air-holes and close the box, then contact us for further assistance.
There are 13 snakes that are native to Long Island, none of which are venomous, and most of which are rare to find.- Northern Brown Snake, Northern Water Snake, Common Garter Snake, Eastern Garter Snake, Ribbon Snake, Eastern Ribbon Snake, Eastern Milk Snake, Eastern Worm Snake, Northern Black Racer, Smooth Green Snake, Eastern Hognose Snake, Northern Ringneck Snake, Redbelly Snake
For a more detailed description of these species Dr. Burke’s Key to Regional Snakes.
Small song birds can sometimes just be picked up, but occasionally, one cannot. A very effective carrying case for “small birds” is a cardboard box or a paper bag with paper towels on the bottom and the top folded down.
For hard to catch birds or larger birds, use a box or a sheet to place over the bird. If catching a raptor or a bird or prey, use leather gloves in addition to a towel or sheet to protect yourself from the bird’s talons. If a sheet or towel is used, place the bird in a cardboard box, then unwrap the bird as soon as possible so the bird doesn’t overheat.
Do not keep a bird of any kind wrapped in a blanket or any type of material for long periods of time. Birds can overheat very easily and die from being wrapped up too long, especially in warm weather. In addition, do not hold an adult bird in your hands for any longer than necessary. They can also overheat in your hands.
If a box is used to catch an animal, slide a piece of cardboard underneath the box to contain the animal, being careful not to injure the animal in the process. Use extreme caution when using a net with birds, because it may damage the feathers. It is not recommended to put wild birds in wire cages because they may damage their feathers.
It is recommended not to pick up any baby mammals with your bare hands with the exception of rabbits, which should be placed directly into a cardboard box.
Mammals can be caught by carefully throwing a box or a sheet over the animal. The sheet can be brought up around the animal and tied together to contain the animal for transport if a box is not handy to place it in. In addition, the animal and the sheet can be placed directly inside a cardboard box.
If the box method is used (box is placed over the animal), slide a piece of cardboard underneath the box to contain the animal, being careful not to injure the animal in the process. However, proceed with caution. If the animal is unable to move or shows signs of injury, use the box method. Keep the animal as still as possible while moving it.
It is recommended to call a professional to catch injured adult mammals because they can be dangerous. Adult rabbits will sometimes kick frantically when handled, even when they are seriously injured, and can break their backs in the process.
It is not recommended to pick up any mammal, especially adults, with your bare hands. They may bite out of fear.
Once the animal has been contained, ***DO NOT HANDLE IT***
DO: Place the animal in a secure cardboard box with small holes placed on the side or lid. The box should be just big enough for the animal to stand and turn around, to prevent the animal from thrashing around and hurting itself. Place paper towels or a tee shirts on the bottom of the box.
DO: Keep the box in a warm, quiet, dark place, away from family pets. Many times wild animals are in shock and at the very least scared. The best thing to do is to keep them warm and quiet until they get help.
DO: If the animal is injured, cold, or featherless/hairless, put a heating pad on LOW under half of the box, with a folded towel in between the heating pad and the box. Small creatures that cannot move need to be checked to see that they do not get too hot. Call a rehabilitator for guidance if you’re not sure this is necessary.
DO: Try to get an animal help as soon as possible. Some birds need to eat every 1/2 hour. If you cannot get an animal help in 2 hours, call a rehabilitator.
DON’T: Keep peeking at the animal or handling the animal. The more you look at an animal or handle it, the more you stress the animal and reduce its chance of survival. Resist the temptation to put an animal inside your shirt. Cute little squirrels are notorious for being covered with fleas.
DON’T: Put green grass under an animal. It takes the heat out of them.
DON’T: Give any animal anything to eat or drink, especially cows milk. Baby birds can’t digest milk and may die. Many baby mammals are lactose intolerant and may develop diarrhea.
DON’T: Handle raccoons, skunks, foxes, or bats. If anyone gets bitten, scratched, or licked (hence, possibly exposed to rabies), that person may need to get expensive rabies shots. In addition, the animal is at risk of being euthanized to be tested for rabies. **For your sake and the animals, please bring them to, or contact a wildlife rehabilitator ASAP.
14 Simple Things You Can Do To Avoid Harming Wildlife
Most of the wild animals brought to our clinic suffer from injuries or problems caused by humans. Since most people try to avoid causing harm to other living things, we decided to put together a list so you can help wildlife. The list is in no particular order of importance, but if everyone followed these suggestions, our caseload would be dramatically reduced.
- Prevent your pet cats and dogs from attacking and/or “playing with” wildlife. Don’t allow them to run without supervision and raise your cats as indoor pets. Many injured animals are brought to the clinic each year with terrible wounds from dog and cat attacks.
- Alert birds to large expanses of glass in your home, such as patio doors or picture windows, by hanging streamers, putting bird silhouettes on the glass surface, or allow the glass to be a little bit dirty. Reducing the reflection should cut down on the number of birds who collide, often fatally, with windows and doors.
- Educate children to respect and care for all wild creatures and their habitats. Children need to learn that wild animals are not playthings and should be allowed to go about their lives unmolested. Children should also be told not to destroy nests, burrows and other wildlife homes.
- Pick up litter that could harm wildlife, including six-pack connectors (after cutting each circle to reduce the risk of entanglement), monofilament fishing line, and watch batteries (if consumed by waterfowl, they can cause mercury poisoning).
- Be alert when driving, especially near wildlife refuges and in rural areas, to avoid hitting wild creatures. Animals do not recognize the danger from an oncoming vehicle. And please stop and move any turtles away from the road in the direction that they are walking.
- Place caps over all chimneys and vents on your roof to prevent birds, ducks and raccoons from taking up residence and becoming a nuisance or getting trapped.
- Do not leave fishing line or fish hooks unattended or lying about outdoors. Try to retrieve any kite string left on the ground or entangled in trees.
- Before mowing your lawn or rototilling your garden, walk through the area first to make sure no rabbits or ground-nesting birds are in harms way. Remember, it only takes a couple weeks for these babies to grow and leave the nest. Be tolerant and give them the time they need.
- Check trees to make sure there are no active nests or residents of cavities before cutting them down. Even better, avoid cutting down dead trees if they pose no safety hazard, since they provide homes for a wide variety of wildlife.
- Use non-toxic products on your lawn and garden.
- Motor oil should not be left in oil pans unattended. Birds often fall into these pans and few survive.
- Do not attempt to raise or keep wildlife yourself. Not only is it illegal, but wild creatures do not make good pets and captivity poses constant stress to them. Young wild animals raised without contact with their own species fail to develop survival skills and fear of humans, virtually eliminating their chances of survival in the wild.
- As a general rule, leave infant wildlife alone, since they are not always truly orphaned. A parent may be nearby or will return soon. Be sure they are in need of help before you remove them from the nest area. If you find young birds on the ground, attempt to return them to the nest.
- Please do not use glue traps to catch mice outside. Many birds and small mammals have been brought to our facility stuck in a glue trap and they rarely survive.