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You found a baby wild animal - what should you do??


Wildlife Reference Sheet


Compiled by Robyn Graboski, L.W.R., state Wildlife Rehabilitator

Revised 4-27-94

Game Commission (800) 422-7551

This reference sheet was compiled to assist people that receive calls about distressed wildlife. The information compiled was primarily 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 game commission regulations, it is illegal for an unlicensed individual to possess a native wild animal.  (There are similar applicable laws in Canada and in each individual province.) 


It is important to contact the proper authorities as soon as possible for assistance, such as a wildlife rehabilitator or your local wildlife agency. Not just because it is illegal to possess a wild animal, but because many animals need attention immediately.





A young rabbit is on it's own if the fur is fluffy, the ears are standing, and it is the size of a man's fist. In some cases it can be put back where you found it. If it was brought in by a dog or a cat, it is probably injured (although it may not appear to be) and needs special attention. Although possible, rabbits are an unlikely carrier of rabies.


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 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. If a baby is placed back in a nest, touch all the babies so they all smell the same. The mother will not reject the babies if you handle them. 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 bacause she usually feeds her babies during the night. Check the babies bellies before and after an evening has past. Their bellies should be full in the morning. Also, place a couple strands of string over the nest to see if the nest was disturbed. These are indications that the mother was there. If at all possible, it is best to let the mother rabbit raise her babies. Rabbits are hard to raise!


Adult rabbits
If you can get near one, something is wrong. Use only the box method for catching and transporting.


Raccoons, Skunks, and Foxes
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. These animals are the most common carriers of rabies!


Adult Raccoons, Skunks, and Foxes
These animals are very dangerous and should only be handled by professionals. It is recommended to call either a wildlife rehabilitator or the Game Commission for assistance.


If a baby is found, it probably needs attention. If a baby is seen on the ground, it probably fell out of a tree and most likely has a concussion. If the mother has been killed, the babies may wander out of the nest because they are hungry. These animals are unlikely carriers of rabies.


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. These animals are unlikely carriers of rabies.


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. Although rare, these animals have been found to carry rabies.


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.


Bat pups are usually found in July and early August. Many times bat pups will fall out of trees or housing during a storm. Also, bat pups are found in buildings when they have wandered from the colony. Babies that are furred look very much like the adults except they are smaller, and do not fly well. These babies need assistance. Don't pick these animals up with your bare hands because of the concern of rabies. Bats are a known carrier of rabies.


Adult Bats
Bats found inside the house other than in July are not babies and can sometimes be released directly outside. Please call a rehabber for assistance when there are bats found inside the house, especially in the dead of winter, to determine if the bat can be released or needs attention. Don't pick these animals up with your bare hands because of the concern of rabies. Bats are a known carrier of rabies.


Bear and bobcats
These animals can be very dangerous and should only be handled by professionals. It is recommended to call the Game Commission for assistance. Even babies can be dangerous. If the babies are newborn or they don't have their eyes open, they can be taken directly to a rehabilitator if it is certain the mother is not returning. Otherwise, it is best to call the Game Commission. They are much better equipped to handle these animals and take them to the proper facility.


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.


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.


Pigeons and Doves
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. Pigeons usually don't make nests. Juvenile pigeons are fully feathered and very docile, and rely on their parents for a long time. If you're not sure the bird needs attention, call a rehabilitator.


Adult birds
If an adult bird can be caught, probably something is wrong and it needs help.


Birds and rabies
Rabies has been produced in birds experimentally, however, it has never been found in wild bird populations.



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 throw 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. Or the animal and the sheet can be placed directly inside a cardboard box.


If the box method is used (box is thrown 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. The box method is recommended for adult mammals to prevent from being bitten; 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. Use only the box method for adult rabbits. Adult rabbits will sometimes kick frantically when handled, even when they are seriously injured, and can break their backs in the process. Nets can also be used to catch mammals.


It is not recommended to pick up any mammal, especially adults, with your bare hands. They may bite out of fear.


Bats should never be picked up with bare hands. Use gloves to pick up the bat or scoop it into a cottage cheese container or a shoe box. Put the container or box under the bat and gently scoop the bat into the container with the lid. Poke very small holes into the box lid with a pencil. Please remember that some bats can squeeze through a 1/2" space.


Once the animal has been contained, ***DO NOT HANDLE IT***

Do's and Dont's of Transporting


DO: Place the animal in a secure cardboard box with small holes placed in 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 soft cloth 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 rehabber 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. Drying grass can be toxic to rabbits.


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, fox, 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.


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Disclaimer:  The advice found on these pages is NOT intended as a do it yourself guide.  All native wildlife needs to be in the skilled hands of a licensed wildlife rehabilitator,  and any medical care must be provided by licensed veterinarians.

If you have an emergency with an injured wild animal, contact your local animal control or humane society for immediate assistance.  

This page last updated 11/27/2012 01:54 AM