Question: What do I do if I find an injured wild animal?
Answer: Many state and federal laws prohibit the handling or keeping of wildlife unless you are licensed to do so. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators are trained to care for many types of native wildlife and have the proper equipment to provide appropriate care for these animals. They can provide the most suitable foods, socialization and medical care to help return the animal to the wild.
Many internet tips on what to feed wildlife are incorrect and can lead to the animal’s death. Keep in mind that not all wildlife needs our help. Baby birds with feathers spend some time on the ground as they learn to fly, and their parents are usually nearby. Fawns are left alone for several hours while their mothers go off to feed.
Wildlife becomes highly stressed from human contact and capture.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Bellingham Herald
If you see a wild animal in need and are in Whatcom or Skagit County, call the Whatcom Humane Society Wildlife Rehabilitation Services Center at 360-966-8845.
For a list of wildlife rehabilitation centers outside of Whatcom County, visit: wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/rehabilitation/how_to_find.html.
What to do, by animal type
Here are common native wildlife that end up in rehabilitation center this time of year.
Fawns: Mother deer leave their fawns alone for large portions of the day. The fawn will settle down and wait for her, curled up in a “don’t notice me” position. This is normal. Do not disturb a fawn that is lying down.
If the fawn looks cold, hungry, confused or sick, call a wildlife center or park ranger. Do not feed the animal. If you must transport the animal, place it in a dog carrier lined with a towel or sheet and cover the carrier with a sheet or towel. Keep it quiet and warm.
Adult deer: Adult deer are very dangerous and have the potential to hurt or kill you if you try to help them. If the animal is injured, call a wildlife center, animal control agency or police department. Deer are very high stress animals and can actually die from the stress. Keep away from injured adult deer.
Opossums: Adult opossums are not typically aggressive. If injured, they can be placed into a pet carrier or box by grabbing the base of the tail while wearing thick leather gloves. Avoid the head and mouth. You can also use a shovel to gently lift them into a box. If the opossum is dead, check the pouch (which is on the abdomen) for babies. If there are babies attached to the nipples in the pouch, bring the dead mom to a wildlife center. Do not try to remove the attached babies. If the babies are not attached, put them into a warm box and take them to a wildlife center.
If you find an opossum that you think is orphaned, call a wildlife center first. If the opossum is 7 inches from nose to rump, it is old enough to be on its own. Do not rescue it unless it is injured.
Baby rabbits: If you find healthy bunnies that are 4-5 inches long, able to hop, with eyes open and ears up, they do not need help. They are old enough to survive on their own.
If you find a smaller healthy bunny, put it back in the nest and leave it undisturbed for several hours. If the nest has been damaged, put it back together and place a light layer of grass over the baby. Leave the area. Most likely, the mom will return only at dawn and dusk.
If the baby is obviously injured or orphaned, call a wildlife center. Put the animal in a warm box with a towel and keep it in a quiet area. Do not feed the bunny and do not handle the bunny! They can die easily from stress. Take to the wildlife center as soon as possible.
Adult rabbits: If injured, place the rabbit in an escape-proof box or carrier. Wear gloves and cover the animal with a sheet or towel and support the back feet when picking it up. Rabbits can kick very hard and may break their own back by doing so.
Cover the box or carrier with a sheet or towel to make it dark. Put in a warm, dark, quiet area until you can get it to a wildlife center.
Raccoons: Raccoons are very aggressive animals and should not be handled by the public, unless the animal is so injured that it cannot move. Even young raccoons can be very aggressive. Call a wildlife center before touching or attempting to handle a raccoon.
Skunks: Skunks are also very aggressive animals and should not be handled by the public, unless the animal is so injured that it cannot move. Skunks are very accurate at spraying and will aim for your eyes, so always wear safety goggles when approaching a skunk. Even baby skunks can spray if they are scared, so call a wildlife center before touching or handling a skunk.
Baby squirrels: If the baby appears uninjured and is warm to the touch, place it in a shallow, towel-lined box at the base of the tree and leave it undisturbed for 4-6 hours.
Often, the mother will come down and carry the baby off. She will not come down if people or pets are nearby, so stay clear. If the baby is cold, put a hot water bottle under the towel it is resting on and put at the base of the tree. If the mother does not reclaim the baby within 4 hours or by dark, bring the baby inside and keep it warm until it can be taken to a wildlife center. Injured baby squirrels should be taken to a wildlife center as soon as possible.
Adult squirrels: Adult squirrels can be very aggressive and they have very sharp teeth and claws. If it is injured, place the animal into an escape-proof box or carrier; make sure you wear heavy leather gloves to protect yourself. Cover the carrier or box with a sheet or towel and call a wildlife center.
Baby or fledgling birds: Contrary to popular myth, touching a baby bird will not cause its parents to reject it. If you find an uninjured baby bird that has no feathers, only soft down or quills, it has probably fallen from its nest. Return the bird to its nest if possible. If you can’t reach the nest, you can make a replacement nest to put in the tallest branch you can reach. The replacement nest can be a small box or a berry basket and it can be attached to the branch with rope or string. Leave the area and watch for the mom bird from a distance. If you don’t see the mom bird coming to the baby in 3-4 hours, you will need to take it to a wildlife center. Injured baby birds should be taken to a wildlife center as soon as possible.
Fledgling birds generally spend a few days on the ground while learning to fly. If the bird has feathers and a short tail, is uninjured, and can stand and hop, it is a fledgling bird and the parents should continue to feed them throughout this stage. If there is no danger in the area, they should be left alone. If you think it is orphaned, watch the bird from a distance and see if the parents come and feed it throughout the day. If cats and dogs are a threat, place the bird in nearby bushes or on a tree limb. Try to keep your pets inside. If the fledgling still appears to be in danger or is injured, call a wildlife center.
Adult birds: A bird that has hit a window should be placed in a warm box and put in a quiet place for 3-4 hours. If the bird has not recovered by then, call a wildlife center. To prevent birds from flying into a window, close drapes, hang blinds or place decals on your window. A bird that has been attacked by a cat or dog should be taken to a wildlife center for treatment.
If you find an injured adult raptor, call a wildlife center before trying to handle the animal.
Do not go near any marine mammal that is beached. It is against the law to disturb them or touch them. If you think a marine mammal may be injured or sick, call a wildlife center.
Mother seals will leave their babies on the beach all day, so it is normal to see them alone. Do not touch the baby seal. Keep pets and children away.
If you find a dead marine mammal, call a wildlife center to get information on how to legally dispose of it. A local marine mammal group may want information on the dead marine mammal, so please call your local wildlife center.
Animal Tales is a regular column written by Laura Clark, executive director of the Whatcom Humane Society. The society provides care and services to homeless, unwanted, orphaned and abused domestic and native wild animals in need. Have a question to ask? Email questions for this column to firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on the society, go to whatcomhumane.org.