HELPING WILDLIFE – and yourself
85% of wildlife patients nationwide are injured or orphaned as the result of human or domestic pet interactions. These animals are not hurt by natural causes. We can help.
1st: Always be safe. Wear gloves or use a towel when capturing frightened animals. Rabies is always a possibility with mammals, other diseases and parasites can be present. The animal may try to bite. Be safe.
2nd: It is illegal for the public to keep any wild animal, so contact a game warden or wildlife rehabilitator for help.
3rd: While waiting to transport, keep the animal quiet in a closed box and do not give it food or water. The wrong food, or water given in the wrong way can kill the patient. Never let anyone handle the animal for fun or education, the stress caused by handling decreases the animal’s chances of survival, and increases your chance of being exposed to disease or bite.
HOW DO I TELL IF AN ANIMAL NEEDS HELP?
The easiest way to tell if an animal needs help is to call a wildlife rehabilitator and describe your concerns. You can decide together if an animal needs capture and treatment. For example: The Downy Woodpecker seen below has adult feathers still in the shaft or pins, cannot stay warm on his own, and should be still in a nest. He also has a broken wing. He needs help. The Cedar Waxwing on the bottom has adult feathers, and a tail that is at least 1/4 inch long. He is a normal fledgling, supposed to be out of the nest, although not yet flying. He does not need help unless obviously hurt. Normal fledglings take several weeks out of the nest to fly well, to gain the muscle strength and feather length necessary. The parents feed their fledglings on the ground. If they are in direct danger from a car or cat, they may be put on a branch near where they were found and left. Each individual parent bird knows the call of its own offspring and will find it.
Raptor nestlings can end up on the ground when they still have downy feathers. The Great Horned Owl below on the Top, is on the ground, but he is dehydrated and ill making his eyes closed and his behavior weak. He needs help. The Owlet below on the bottom, is also on the ground, but he’s a normal ‘brancher’, still downy, not yet flying, but strong, eyes wide, beak snapping, and parents close by. He needs to be left alone. If he is in direct danger, he may be put on a low branch (with gloves) in the tree he is under, and left.
WHAT IF BABIES ARE DISTURBED?
Babies can be re-united with their mothers under many circumstances. We can help. If a nest has blown down, or a nest tree cut down, an artificial nest can be made for baby birds. The suggestions given below are general and should be followed with the advice of a rehabilitator. Birds cannot smell, and want their babies back. They will not desert them if you handle them. Make an artificial nest from a plastic berry basket (so rain drains) dried grass (green grass chills). Make sure the babies are warm and vigorous. Do not feed them. Fasten the new nest to the same tree or next to it, away from direct sun and rain. Watch from a distance to make sure that the parents are caring for the young. Hole nesting species will need a nest box.
Sometimes one baby will fall. If you can’t reach the nest to put it back, some species will feed in two places, but some (like crows) will not. Check with a rehabilitator. Remember, if the baby has adult feathers and a tail at least 1/4 of an inch long, it is meant to be out of the nest and should not be put back into it.
Mammal mothers can smell your scent on their babies. Most mammal mothers do not care and just want their babies back. If you warm the babies (a soda bottle filled with warm water and wrapped in a towel works well), do not feed them, and put them in an open container near the site where they were, the mother should come and retrieve them, moving them to a new nest. Check after a few hours to make sure that they have been moved. If the species is nocturnal, keep the babies warm for the day, and put them out at dusk. These are general instructions and you should form a plan with the advice of a rehabilitator. Below we are re-uniting a squirrel litter whose nest tree was cut down.
The natural history of the species is always vital. Many mammal mothers stay away from their babies for their safety, unless they are nursing, and watch unseen at a distance. These babies look alone, but they are not. This is especially true of fawns and rabbits. Newborn fawns and Snowshoe Hares lie very still for protection, and their mothers only nurse them at night. Never pick up these babies without consulting a rehabilitator first.
Newborn fawns are not in trouble unless they are on their feet and crying continuously. Another sign of trouble is a fawn covered with ants, healthy fawns are not left near ant nests.
If they are curled up and still, even if they are in your garden or beside a road, they are not orphans and should not be disturbed.
Snowshoe Hares are born precocial, eyes open, and about 2 1/2 inches from nose to tail (see below) They wean and are on their own when they fill a woman’s palm. If the nest is disturbed you can make a new one at the site in long grass with dried grass inside. If a cat catches one, it needs to come into rehab.
WHY CAN’T I FEED THAT CUTE BABY – IT MUST BE STARVING.
Each species of mammal has a different milk. Artificial formula must be the right kind and must be introduced very slowly after the animal is fully hydrated with electrolytes. The wrong milk, fed the wrong way can kill the patient (especially rabbits). Most baby birds are fed a diet high in protein, even if they eat fruit or grain as adults. Their diet must be perfect, as they grow from egg to flying machine in as little as three weeks. The wrong diet even for a few days results in starvation lines on their feathers that are weak and break. Then the bird must wait in captivity for six months to a year until it grows in new feathers. Parent birds do not feed just worms but a whole variety of insects. The best thing you can do for a baby of any kind is to be certain it is an orphan or is injured and in need of medical help, then warm it up and get it to a rehabilitator.
WHAT IF AN ANIMAL HAS HER BABIES IN A REALLY INCONVENIENT PLACE?
The most important thing is to call for advice, and not displace the family. Birds and bird nests are federally protected and it is illegal to destroy them. Most birds remain in the nest for only three weeks and a little patience can solve the problem. Birds cannot move their young.
Mammals usually have several nest sites on their territory, and may be persuaded to move their babies out of your chimney, or silverware drawer (no kidding), with a few tricks. For example, mother raccoons often have their young in an attic or chimney and keep them there while they are tiny and nursing. These are safe places for her newborn kits. She will have another nest site out in the woods however, where she plans to move them when they are older. She can be convinced to move them more quickly by putting a radio with a talk station, and/or a smelly rag (aftershave or perfume works well) as close to the nest as possible (at night of course because she is nocturnal). Give her time. It may take two nights for her to move the whole litter. Once you are sure all the babies are gone, the entrance hole needs to be plugged, or chimney capped, so she doesn’t do it again another year, or use the chimney to hibernate in. Always handle babies with gloves, as even nursing mammals may have rabies. It is rare, but not worth risking. At Acadia Wildlife we all have our pre-exposure rabies shots so that we are safe to handle mammals of all ages.
WHAT IF ANIMALS ARE DOING THINGS TO MY GARDEN OR HOUSE THAT I DON’T LIKE?
There are lots of books, describing many tricks to the trade of living in harmony with wildlife, most of it beyond the scope of a single web site. A few examples: Important trees may be protected from porcupines or beavers by wrapping the tree at the base with three feet of metal flashing. Gardens are best protected from deer by an electric fence. Woodchucks like cover to hide in and can be discouraged by clearing vegetation around gardens. There are lots of workable solutions, the foremost being patience with your wildlife neighbors. Trapping and moving are not solutions as you are disrupting a family, putting animals on new territories where they don’t know how to find food or shelter, and opening up a territory for a new animal to move in. Call a wildlife rehabilitator, we can help.
HOW DO I HELP ANIMALS IN DANGEROUS SITUATIONS?
HELPING TURTLES CROSS THE ROAD
Turtles often cross roads in search of suitable nest sites. Smaller turtles may be lifted to the side they are seeking and snappers urged across (they can bite!) Don’t remove the turtle from the site fully as turtles know what they are doing and must remain on their territories to survive. Always wash your hands after handling turtles.
HELPING RACCOONS OUT OF DUMPSTERS
Sometimes animals get into situations they can’t get out of, like dumpsters. Raccoons are nocturnal and will not move until dusk, but they can be helped by leaving a board for them to climb up, and board for them to climb down. Avoid trying to capture any wild animal by hand and always wear gloves if you have to.
HELPING SQUIRRELS AND BATS OUT OF HOUSES
Occasionally squirrels and bats get into living spaces where they don’t want to be. Squirrels usually panic and the more you chase them the more they panic. Try leaving all doors and windows open, shutting off the room, and leaving the animal alone. Often the squirrel needs to be trapped in a Have-a-Heart trap if it doesn’t leave on its own. Chipmunks (with multiple stripes on their backs) are a different story. They enter shops and homes on purpose if there is pet food to be had, or other good things to eat. They know how to get back out, if you don’t chase them, and then the entrance hole can be plugged.
Bats are nocturnal and will not fly out until dark. Turn off all the lights, open all the windows, close off the room, and bats can usually use their superb echolocation to find the open window and leave. If one is clinging to the wall during the daytime, put on gloves, gently pick it up with a cloth, and let it crawl up a wall or tree outside your house where it can hang until dusk. Holes in your house should be located and plugged.
During the summer months both squirrels and bats may have babies in your attic, so wait until late fall to fully exclude them. If you don’t feel that patient, just consider….frantic mother out- side, unable to reach her young, starving babies inside. It won’t end well. Keep in mind also that some species of bats can eat 1200 mosquitoes/hour and are wonderful neighbors.
HOW DO I ENCOURAGE WILDLIFE IN MY BACKYARD?
Wild animals need three basic things for their survival; food, shelter, and water. These elements may be provided in an endless variety in even the
smallest of backyards. The richer and more varied the vegetation (especially fruit-bearing shrubs), the more places to hide or nest (try to leave a few standing dead trees), and the constant availability of shallow clean water, will bring all kinds of beautiful wild ones to your home. The vital thing is to first do no harm. Pesticides, fertilizers, pressure treated wood, fruit tree netting, sticky traps and fly strips, rat poisons, and worst of all, outdoor cats, are all causes for animal injury or death that we have seen in our clinic. Without these dangerous elements, wildlife will thrive and create endless enjoyment for the homeowner.
MY CATS LOVE TO GO OUTDOORS.
HOW CAN I KEEP THEM FROM KILLING WILDLIFE?
Unfortunately outdoor and feral cats kill millions of songbirds and small mammals each year. There is no way to protect wildlife except to keep cats indoors. Birds do not recognize bells as dangerous, and even cats without claws can hunt. Cats are not natural predators, existing as they do, well fed and 4, 6, or 10 to a household. All natural predators are limited by territory and food supply. In an area where only one fox might live, fifty domestic cats may hunt. Prey species cannot adjust to this level of pressure. Cats can be very content inside, watching bird feeders and playing with toys, and the satisfaction you will get in keeping your backyard wildlife safe is immense. If you have a kitten, start her off inside and she will be content. If its an older cat, used to going out, you will have to be more determined, but within a few weeks he will become used to the change, especially if you pay more attention to him as a consequence.
IS FEEDING WILDLIFE A GOOD IDEA?
Feeding wildlife is fun, but sometimes harmful. Most researchers agree that feeding the birds is beneficial, especially if you take down your feeders regularly to clean them (to prevent conjunctivitis), and remove them in the summer when birds are on breeding territories and shouldn’t be forced to compete in a small space. Removing them in the summer also prevents problems with raccoons and bears raiding your feeding stations.
Feeding mammals is another story. Having squirrels at your bird feeding stations is inescapable. But putting out food for foxes, raccoons, and deer is harmful. Raccoons and foxes which come to a feeding station are forced to congregate in a group , when normally they each would have their own territory. Their boundaries and territories are very important to their natural history and breeding success. In tight groups they are also more likely to pass diseases to each other, and to become habituated to humans. One person’s lovely tame fox, is a neighbor’s pest ready to be shot. You are not doing these animals any favors. Nutrition is an important element also. Most people give food that is not nutritious. Deer especially change their metabolism to meet the very lean winter food that is available. Anyone who has had horses knows that you can’t suddenly give an animal a rich diet, when it has been used to a lean one, without risking its health. Deer can die from rich grain, when their bodies are designed for lean winter barks and buds, and cannot tolerate hay.
The best alternative is to create a backyard habitat rich in vegetation, hiding places, and water, and sit back and enjoy the show! As a friend says “These animals are professional wild animals. They know what they are doing”. Their ability to find food and survive winter is nothing short of miraculous.