What to do if You Find a Baby Wild Animal
If you find an injured, orphaned or sick baby wild animal, we suggest that you pick it up using gloves and a towel, and put the animal in a warm, dark, quiet place away from pets and children (a box lined with a towel). Do not give the animal any food or water (except hummingbirds). Do not attempt to rehabilitate the animal on your own. Call a licensed wildlife rescue rehabilitation service for help.
Never try to pick up any animal that may be dangerous including:
- Birds of prey (hawks and owls)
- Sea lions
Each species of animal presents their own challenges, so here are some suggestions for working with a few common wildlife species.
Abandoned baby rabbit
If you have found a very small (3-4 inches long) uninjured rabbit, put it back where you found it and leave it undisturbed for several hours. Chances are the parent will come back to reclaim the “orphan”. Wild rabbits leave their young in hiding much like deer do, and brush or cottontail rabbits are just venturing out on their own at this size, and might not yet be wary enough to flee from humans. If the rabbit is injured or truly abandoned (mother seen dead, nest bulldozed, etc.) or if dogs, cats or people are a real threat, put the animal in a small, closed, ventilated box on a warm towel and keep it in a quiet area until you can transport it to a wildlife professional. Do not feed or handle the rabbit, as they can die from stress very easily. The rabbit should be brought to a wildlife rehabilitation facility as quickly and quietly as possible (no talking, no car radios).
Baby squirrels fallen from the nest
If the baby squirrel appears uninjured (does not have a bloody nose and no wounds) and is warm to the touch, it should be placed in a shallow, towel-lined box at the base of the tree and left undisturbed for an hour. Often, the mother squirrel will come down and carry off the baby. However, she will not come down if people or pets are nearby. If the baby is cool or cold, it should be warmed before being placed out for reclaiming. You can warm the baby by placing a hot water bottle or other heat source under a towel the baby is resting on. A wet washcloth sealed in a ziplock bag, then heated in the microwave until warm, also makes a good temporary heat source (if it is too hot for you it is too hot for the baby). Humans handling the babies will not make the mother reject them. If the mother has not reclaimed the infant within 3 hours, or by dark, it should be brought inside and kept warm until it can be transferred to a wildlife rehabilitation facility. Injured baby squirrels should be brought in immediately.
Baby opossums found wandering
Baby opossums are apt to hiss at you when you approach. They have a large number of teeth, but rarely bite as babies. If the opossum is 4-5 inches long, not including the tail, he is old enough to be on his own. If he is not in the safest place, pick him up around the midsection and place him in a safer location. If the opossum is smaller than that, look to see if any of his siblings are around. If he is alone and is not fully-furred or is injured, place him in a box lined with a towel and call your local wildlife specialist. Mother opossums carry their young in their pouches. That is where they develop and drink milk. If you ever see an opossum that has been hit by a car, stop, and check her pouch to see if there are any babies inside. You may be able to save the babies even if the mother has died. If the babies are alive, transport the mother and the babies inside the pouch together to a wildlife specialist for further care. Do not give them anything to eat or drink.
Baby bird found on the ground or nest trimmed from tree
Baby birds are found on the ground for two main reasons. The age of the bird will dictate your best course of action. If the bird has no feathers, only soft down or quills, it has probably fallen from its nest. If it is uninjured, it can be placed back in the nest. It is a myth that if you touch a baby bird the mother won’t accept it. Birds actually have a poorly developed sense of smell. A replacement nest can be made out of a box and attached to the tree. If the bird has feathers and a short tail, is uninjured, and can stand or hop, it is a fledgling bird and has fledged from the nest. Most songbirds go through this stage and spend some time on the ground or low branches, where their parents continue to feed them. If there are no dangers (cats, a busy schoolyard, cars, etc.) in the area, you should leave the bird where it is. Watch for a while, hidden from sight, for the parent to return. However, you must watch for an uninterrupted period of time because the parent will visit quite briefly to feed the baby and then fly off.
Bird attacked by a cat or dog
Any bird attacked by a pet must be brought to a wildlife facility for treatment. Even if no injuries are visible, internal damage is likely and tiny punctures invisible to the eye are likely to cause a fatal infection. You should keep your cats indoors or at least affix two large bells (bird toy bells) of varying shapes to your cat’s collar to prevent your cats from capturing and/or killing wildlife.
Hummingbirds are an exception to the rule about not feeding an injured animal. These little birds have such fast metabolisms, that they need to be fed as soon as they are warmed. Use a simple solution of 4 parts warm water to1 part sugar put into an eyedropper. The eyedropper is then placed over the bird’s beak. The bird will extend its long tongue into the dropper to drink the formula. Do not squeeze the dropper, as this will get the solution all over the hummingbird’s feathers. This procedure should be repeated every 30 minutes until the animal is in the hands of a rehabilitation professional.
Seals and Sea Lions
Seals and sea lions naturally spend time on land resting, warming up and breeding. Do not approach a beached seal or sea lion. In spite of their cumbersome appearance they can move fast on land and inflict a vicious bite. They may also carry diseases transmittable to humans. It is also a federal offense to alter their normal behavior. Do not approach these animals. Please call a wildlife rehabilitator if you see a seal or sea lion you think is hurt, injured, or sick. Do not pour water on an injured seal or sea lion. They often beach themselves to get dry or warm. Keep pets and children away from these animals.
For more information about local wildlife rehabilitation facilities, please visit www.californiawildlifecenter.org.