This spring, as bird nests fill with bobbing, gaping beaks, and burrows and dens come alive with wriggling young, we share top tips developed with Terri Muzik, a longtime volunteer rehabber with Wildlife Care Association in Sacramento, on how to help keep young wildlife safe—and in the wild—if you encounter them.
Leave young birds alone (unless they look injured). It’s natural for young birds that have left the nest to spend time on the ground for a few hours or even a few days. “The parents are usually somewhere nearby,” says Muzik, “and that’s the part that people usually miss.” Unless the bird is limping, its feathers are broken or it is clearly injured, don’t interfere—the parents will come and feed it, and soon the young bird will take flight.
Re–nest young birds. If a young bird that doesn’t yet have all its feathers has fallen out of the nest, it’s OK to place it back in. The common belief that mothers will not accept their young if touched by a human is wrong, says Muzik. If the nest has fallen or it can’t be reached, you can Google how to build a substitute. Safely secure it in the same tree and place the baby inside. For guidance, call WCA’s hotline.
Don’t trim trees during spring. Some 80–90% of baby birds and squirrels brought to WCA are the result of tree trimming, says Muzik. If springtime trimming or removal can’t be avoided, look for nests that may be affected and make a plan.
Reunite young mammals with mom. If a tree that served as a den for raccoons or a nest for squirrels is cut down, place the young in a box with a blanket or a towel to help keep them warm at the tree’s base. Often, parents will look for them. “You’ve never heard the kind of excitement in someone’s voice (as) after they’ve watched a mother squirrel come and carry her babies away to another nest,” says Muzik.
Use quiet voices and minimize contact. “If your instinct is to put (an animal) up next to your chest and under your chin, that animal is thinking, ‘When is this predator going to eat me?’” says Muzik. Instead, place it in a secure box with access to fresh air in a dark, quiet environment and avoid touching, talking or peeking at it and taking selfies with it.
Keep young animals warm. Very young animals—those without feathers or hair—can’t regulate their body temperature. Provide a blanket or a makeshift nest (such as a washcloth inside a bowl) for comfort and warmth. A sock filled with uncooked rice and heated in the microwave for about 45 seconds will stay warm for about an hour, and a heating pad on low can be used overnight. Place a box with very young animals on the heating pad. For older ones that can move around, place half of their box on the heating pad.
Don’t give food or fluids. “The well-meaning public can do a lot of damage by giving these animals the wrong kind of food,” says Muzik. Giving fluids can cause choking or pneumonia. Instead, focus on getting the animal to a rehabilitation center where staff will hydrate and provide proper food.
Give mom a chance to come back. Mammal mothers, like rabbits, raccoons and deer, leave their young to forage or hunt but return to feed them. People often find these babies, believe they’ve been abandoned and bring them to WCA, says Muzik. Leave them alone, keep an eye on them and wait for mom to return, she says. But keep your distance so you don’t spook mom. Only after you’re certain mom hasn’t returned for 24 hours (four hours for fawns) should you consider bringing the young to a rehab center, she says.
For more information, visit wildlifecareassociation.com/found-animal or call WCA’s hotline at (916) 965-9453.