baby squirrel

Common Wildlife Questions and Answers

Although every situation in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation is different, there are definitely some common scenarios that people encounter very often. On this page we have compiled some of the most common situations and scenarios you may find, and what to do about them.

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A bird hit my window!

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If a bird hits your window, first, take a look at the bird. If you see any blood or obvious broken bones (for example, a wing or leg sticking out  or bent the wrong way), the bird needs help. Please bring him to us immediately, or call for instructions. Note! If your bird is a raptor (hawk, owl, etc) please call us for instructions or use the "box over" method, shown here)

If, however, the bird  looks ok but is lying or standing there after hitting a window, he may be stunned and may recover. Get a cardboard box and place a towel or paper towels at the bottom. Place the bird in the box and close the lid. Give the bird an hour in the box in a quiet place, then open the box outside. If the bird flies away, great! If not, he needs further help and can be brought to us. 

A Cat Caught a Bird

Any bird that has been in a cat's mouth needs emergency care. Cat saliva contains many bacteria that cause infection, including pasteurella multocida. Infection from these bacteria will kill a bird shortly. Get a cardboard box, and line the bottom with a towel, rag, or paper towels (so the bird will not slide around). Gently place the bird in the box, close the lid, and bring him to us asap, and we  will provide pain medicine, wound care, and antibiotics. Even if the bird is gravely injured, it's still a good idea to bring him to us, and we can ease the significant pain and terror the bird is experiencing. 

If the cat is yours, please consider keeping him indoors, building a 'catio" or letting him outside only under close supervision.  Cats are one of the biggest threats to birds and small mammals (killing 24 billion birds per year!) and it's much safer for your cat, too! Here are some tips for transitioning to a happy indoor cat.

If this is an ongoing problem, it's best to take care of it in the winter, when babies are less likely. to be present. If it's in the spring or summer, your univited tenant could be a mother with babies. If you are willing to wait until she is done rearing her brood, that would be great, but if you can't, here is how to perform an eviction.

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I have a bird (or other animal) stuck on a glue trap!

Any animal stuck on a glue trap is an emergency. Here’s what to do:

1) Do NOT try to remove the animal from the trap. We as wildlife rehabilitators have a lot of experience handling animals and know how to move wings, etc without breaking them, or ripping skin. And we can use anesthesia to make sure the animal is less stressed. Foreign substances, like oil, if they get on feathers can destroy them, and on fur, can make the animal hopelessly hypothermic

2) DO try to minimize further sticking if the animal moves by “disabling” the rest of the trap. Using a q-tip or similar, put oil on the exposed sticky parts of the trap, NOT on the animal. You can also dust corn meal (not corn starch) on the sticky parts to deactivate it.

3) DO put the animal, trap and all, into a cardboard box and close the lid. The dark will help a panicked animal to calm down

4) In the future, DO NOT use glue traps, particularly outside. It does not kill the animal but instead makes them suffer. Consider humane traps, or, if necessary, snap traps

4) DO contact us and bring the animal to us right away!

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I have squirrels in my attic

OR RACCOONS IN YOUR EAVES, OR SOFFIT…

First, do NOT trap and relocate the mother, or any animal. It is often illegal, and it is always cruel. We've had many animals severely injured in so-called "humane" traps;  you could be separating a mom and babies (who may now die in your attic, causing a whole new problem - in addition to the cruel death, you’ll have smell and flies!). Also, animals have territories and food supplies. You could put an animal in a "nice park" which is someone else's territory, and the animal may be chased and chased until she dies of starvation and exhaustion. 

You want the animal to pack her bags and babies and leave on her own, to a place of her choosing. If you have access to the attic, you can perform a do it yourself eviction! Here's how to let her know it's time to go: She likes your attic because it's dark, quiet, and smells acceptable. If you change those conditions, she will leave.  First, use a bright light. A strobe light is even better. Here is one called "The evictor" that has great reviews. Second, use a radio, battery-powered if necessary, to play something loud and obnoxious. Finally, use ammonia or vinegar soaked rags, placed in coffee cans with drilled holes, around the area to make the smell unacceptable to her. When you know she and the babies have gone, PATCH UP THE ENTRANCE so she or other animals do not get in. Hardware cloth is a good choice, since animals cannot chew through it. Please call us for further advice. 

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A turtle is crossing the road, and he’s going to get hit!

OR, I FOUND AN INJURED TURTLE

We all need to get someplace, but some of the creatures on this planet (read: turtles) might be a little on the slow side when it comes to getting to their destinations!

Unfortunately, roadways are created through many wildlife habitats, and crossing the road for any species can be a dangerous task. Turtles are especially susceptible to road injuries because of their slow nature and tendency to blend into their surroundings.

So, what DO you do when you see the turtle crossing the road? You can definitely help a turtle reach its destination safely.

Direction:

Turtles, especially the Eastern Box turtle, have a very strong homing instinct and keep close to home for their entire (long) lives. They are very intentional of where they are going, so it’s important when helping any turtle cross the road that you move it in the direction it was heading, otherwise it will just turn around and put itself in danger once again. NEVER relocate a turtle to a new “better” location.Their “home range fidelity” will ensure they will miserably try to get back to the place they want to be, placing them again in harm’s way.

As you drive, watch out for turtles crossing the road. Turtles found crossing roads in summer are often pregnant females and they can be helped across .

Handling a turtle:

Rember, safety first! Without creating a traffic hazard or compromising safety, we encourage you to avoid running over turtles that are crossing roads, and where possible, help them across before they get hit.

-Grip smaller turtles with BOTH hands on each side of its shell between the front and back legs.

-Snapping turtles are able to reach around and bite and should be handled very cautiously. With a little ingenuity you can move a larger snapping turtle by grasping it from the back portion of its shell and carefully moving it onto a piece of cardboard or a mat from your car. This way you can more easily and safely “pull” the turtle to the other side of the road without harming it in any way.

I found an injured turtle!

Injured turtles come into Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center for a variety of reasons; sometimes they are caught by a cat or dog, hit by a weed wacker or lawn mower, but by far the most injuries to turtles happen because they are hit by vehicles.

Many times these injuries occur to the turtle’s shell. Cracked and broken shells can often be repaired and it is important to bring the animal to us as soon as possible. At our center we have to ability to clean and dress the wounds, as well as stabilize the shell so that it can heal over time.

Safe handling is important so that you do not injure the turtle further, or become injured yourself in the process! Carefully place the turtle in a cardboard box or plastic tub (with air holes). When handling a small turtle like a painted turtle or an Eastern box turtle, pick it up with both hands on either side of the shell in between the front and back legs while supporting the underside. If handling a snapping turtle, be very careful as they can reach around and issue a nasty bite.

If you are ever unsure if a turtle is in need of help, you can always give us a call at 267-416-9453!

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A bird is attacking my window!

If a bird is attacking your window, flying into it again and again, it’s almost certain he or she sees her reflection and thinks another bird is in her territory (and although it’s often male birds, we had a persistent female cardinal attack our window one summer, until we remedied the situation). The bird will relentlessly try to attack to drive away this “intruder”.

It’s good to stop this from happening, since the bird could hurt herself doing this, particularly her beak. And it may be annoying to you, too! The way to stop it is to stop the bird from seeing her reflection. If it’s your car, try moving it. (but she may move on to another car!). You can also cover the car with a tarp, or cover the side mirror with a bag.

If she is attacking a window of a building, use paper, newspaper, cardboard or cloth to cover the part of the window that she’s obsessed with. But you must cover the OUTSIDE of the window. If you put the paper on the inside, she’ll still see her reflection. Alternatively, you can use soap to draw on the windows, or, with some creativity, place an object in front of the window to block the view.

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I found a baby bird

If you find a baby bird on his own, what you do next depends on the age of the bird. Here's how to determine what to do: 

NESTLINGS: A "nestling" is a baby bird who is naked, fuzzy, or only has some feathers, and cannot stand and hop. At this age, the baby is comparable to a human newborn  and  should not be out of the nest or away from his parents.  If a baby this age is found out of the nest, and is uninjured, he can be gently placed back into the nest if it can be reached. You can always call us for help in how to best do this. His parents won’t reject him!  If you cannot find the nest, he should be brought to us.

FLEDGLINGS: Baby birds go through an awkward learning stage when they are 'fledglings". Fledglings have all their feathers, but still look fuzzy and "babyish". They can stand and hop, and they jump out the nest a few days before they can fly, and spend a few days hopping around on on the ground, finishing up learning to fly. They learn to fly from the ground up, not from the nest down, as they strengthen their wings and start to explore their world. A fledgling WILL seem to be left on his own. But although you might not see them, the parents are around. They are still returning every few minutes to shove a piece of food into the fledgling's mouth, then fly off immediately  This is the time that baby birds are at highest risk of "kidnapping" by humans who assume the bird is orphaned. Keeping kids and pets away will help the baby bird develop as he should. If a fledgling baby bird is in a dangerous place - for instance, where he might get stepped on, he can be gently picked up and placed under a nearby bush. But only as far as he might hop himself. His parents will be looking for him with a juicy bug very soon. The baby bird in the above photo is almost and a fledgling. We would need to know if he can stand and hop to determine if he can be placed back in the nest. Please call us if you are unsure. We may request a photo of the bird.

Never feed a baby bird anything without our instructions. Birds have a hole in their tongue that goes right to their lungs so it’s easy to get food or liquid in the lungs. And the wrong type of food can quickly kill a baby bird.

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I found a baby squirrel

Baby squirrels are frequently brought to us after their nest has been disturbed due to weather, tree maintenance, or because they have fallen or have been pushed out of the nest.

We know that the BEST thing we can do is to try to “re-nest” baby animals whenever possible. We also know that mother squirrels often have a backup nest and may come back for the babies if given the space to do so, so unless you are 100% sure that the mother squirrel is dead, we recommend that you do the following:

-Check the babies for any obvious injuries- any blood or fly activity (or if the animal was in a cat or dog’s mouth) bring them to us!

-If there are no injuries, place the baby or babies in a small container lined with fleece or t-shirt material and attach the container to the tree.

-Wait out of sight for an hour or two to see if the mother will retrieve the babies– this often happens and it is really a joy to know that you helped reunite the babies with their mom.

-If the mom doesn’t return, bring the babies to the Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center. Keep them warm by placing them in a fleece or t-shirt-lined box or other carrier.

-DO NOT try to feed the babies any food or water. Their delicate systems will react poorly to being given anything until they are at a stable temperature and level of hydration which rehabilitators are equipped to provide. Improper feeding at this time can cause irreversible damage so PLEASE bring them to us as soon as possible.

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I found a baby possum

Unlike squirrels, raccoons, etc, Opossum mothers will not return for a dropped baby possum. So, if you find a baby possum on his own, and he is smaller than 9 inches (nose to butt, not including tail) he needs to be brought to a wildlife rehabilitator. A baby possum longer than 9 inches has left his mother and is independent. 

If you find a dead adult opossum, you can check to see if there is a pouch, and if so, if there are babies inside. The pouch is located in the abdomen area. If you see babies, they can be carefully pulled from the nipples the will have in their mouths,placed in a box, and brought to us for care

 Or the whole carcass can be scooped up with a piece of cardboard, etc, placed in a box, and brought to us - we will remove the babies from the dead mother.

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I found a baby gosling (or duckling)!

If you find a young baby gosling or duckling, the first thing to do is check if he is injured. If you see anything abnormal, or he looks sick or lethargic, call or bring him to us. But if the baby duck or goose looks perfectly healthy, the best thing to do is place him in a safe container, like a cardboard box (with paper towel or rag on the bottom so he doesn’t slip around) and look around for his family. All of his siblings will be the same size - that’s the best clue you have found the right family. Ensure the family is ON LAND, not on water (if the family is on water, and they do not accept the baby, you’ll have no way to get him back!). Place the baby on the ground close to the family, and watch carefully. If he runs to the parents, and the parents to him, all should be well. Continue to watch to ensure the reunion is successful. If the parents peck the baby or try to avoid him, scoop him back up, and call us or bring the baby duck or goose right away.

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I have groundhogs/skunks living under my deck!

Groundhogs (or skunks) are living under my deck!

If Groundhogs (woodchucks) are living under your deck or shed, one option is to do nothing. They won’t do any real damage, and you might be providing a home for a mother animal to raise her young.

However, if you must ask them to leave, we have some suggestions on how to minimize harm. First, never trap and relocate an animal. It’s often illegal and it’s always unethical. An animal can be chased and chased from other animals’ territories, and will starve to death, and you could also be separating a mother from her babies, who will die of starvation.

So, it’s best to “ask” them to leave. You can do this by changing the conditions. She likes it dark, and smelling good, so place a bright light, a radio (set to something obnoxious) and ammonia or vinegar soaked rags around the area. Once the animals are gone, you can block off the area, but make sure there are no babies left underneath.

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I FOUND A BABY...!

By Michele Wellard, Assistant Director

What would you do if you found this baby alone in the woods? As a human, you would know it was an emergency. And you would immediately start to think about the child's mother -Did something happen to her? Or did she abandon her baby? But what if the newborn baby you found was a wild animal baby?

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When it comes to baby animals, some animal parents treat their newborns differently. Certain animal mothers leave their babies alone for much of the day (deer/rabbits) and for good reason.  Some animals supervise their babies just as carefully as human parents - for example, ducks and geese never leave their babies unattended. As humans, we are conditioned to think that a newborn baby animal alone is always an emergency. But once you know WHY some animal mothers do what they do, it's easier to discern when a baby animal needs help, and when it doesn't. Animals have different threats than we humans do - in their world, someone is always trying to eat their babies. So, hiding the babies, and not drawing attention to them, is of highest importance. In many cases, the mother herself may bring danger to the baby.

Newborn baby deer (fawns) are left alone most of the day, but baby geese (goslings) are never away from their parents, and a lone gosling is in need of help. Knowing how animal parents relate to their babies helps a caring human to understand if an animal needs help.

There are some significant similarities, though, between human and baby animals. For example, if a human mother accidentally got separated from her baby, she will never reject it, no matter who touched it. The same is true for animal mothers.  Secondly, if a person found a human baby, he wouldn't start pouring water into its mouth, giving it inappropriate formula, or think about keeping it for himself! Sadly, this often happens to baby animals by people who just want to help. Inappropriate formula can kill a baby animal, so too can feeding a baby before he is medically rehydrated.

Although a baby animal alone might be fine on his own, like a human baby, any baby animal that is bleeding, has been bit by or a cat or dog, or has flies or fly eggs on it needs help. This is a true emergency.

Below are some descriptions that should explain whether a baby animal is ok to be without a parent, and what you should do if you find one.

DEER

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In May and June, fawns are born. And, like clockwork, we start receiving calls from people who found a baby fawn, all on its own, seemingly abandoned - in their flower bed, under a tree, or on a hiking trail. But the mother deer didn't just run off to the bar or to Target and ditch her baby - in fact, by leaving the baby alone, in human terms, she is being “responsible”.  Mother deer often have twins, and separate them. She will "park" each baby in a spot she chooses, and encourage it to stay there. Then, she'll go...for most of the day. The theory  is that the babies are safer alone - with her size and her developed body odor, she would attract predators, increasing danger to the baby.

The baby is conditioned to stay very still, with its white spots mimicking the effect of sun dappling through leaves, providing camouflage. So, if you see a baby deer alone - even a brand new, tiny newborn - it's normal for him to be alone, and it's safer for him. Keep children and pets away. Mom will return to feed the baby at regular intervals. She may move him tomorrow, or she may keep him there. If you can watch through the window,or from a distance, you will when you see the reunion between mother and baby. However, if a baby deer is crying inconsolably, has feces around its rectum, or flies around it, it needs help. Call a rehabilitator.

EASTERN COTTONTAIL RABBITS

Like baby deer, baby bunnies are safer alone because of mom's size and body odor. Mother rabbit will make a nest that isn't much of a nest - just a shallow depression. After she gives birth, she'll cover the babies in dried grass and lots of her own grey brown fur. She will leave them alone,so not to attract predators, only returning at dawn and dusk, quietly, to feed them. 

If you find a nest of bunnies, the only thing to do is to leave them alone. Mom WILL be back..  We are often asked if it is a good idea to make some sort of "test" to see if the mother is returning to nest a person has discovered.. Some websites suggest string laid across the nest, to see if it is disturbed by the mother, as proof she has returned. We do not agree with doing such tests. First, doing the test at all assumes that something might be wrong. Baby bunnies on their own is perfectly natural - no test is required. Second, we should never interfere with nature unnecessarily by placing unnatural objects on the nest. Third - the act of observing sometimes disturbs the observed. By constant checking, you might disturb the nest, the very outcome you were trying to avoid. The only time to test a nest of bunnies is if a dead rabbit was found VERY near the nest. If this occurs, call us and we can instruct you on how to see if the babies are cared for. However, even a dead rabbit adult does not mean a nearby nest is orphaned.

In 3-5 weeks, the baby rabbits leave the nest and start to explore. When they are about the size of a man’s fist, or 2/3 the length of a dollar bill, they are old enough to be independent of their mother.

SQUIRRELS

Baby Squirrel

Baby Squirrel

Squirrels nest in trees and also in human structures like roofs and soffits of houses. If you see a newborn squirrel on the ground, and he is pink and hairless or only has a little fur, he has fallen from his nest and needs help. Sometimes this is an accident, and the baby can be reunited with the mother,  but many times, the mother HAS been injured or killed, and the babies desperately throw themselves out of the nest when she doesn't return. Sometimes, an human accidentally cuts down a tree without knowing that a nest of squirrels was resident, destroying the nest. In this case, the babies can be reunited with their mother. Mother squirrels will carry their babies away to another location, just like a mother cat carries kittens.  If you find a baby squirrel, or accidentally disturb a squirrel nest, call us and we can help you determine the next steps. 

OPOSSUMS

Baby Possum

Baby Possum

Possums, as North America's only marsupial, are reared in the mom's pouch for many months. There are two ways possums can become orphaned; First, sometimes mother possums are hit by cars, and the babies in the pouch survive. We can often save the babies. If you find a hit by car possum that is dead, you can carefully remove the babies or bring us the whole carcass. Second, when the babies get a bit larger, they climb out of the pouch and ride around on their mom, and sometimes they fall off. Unlike squirrels, possum moms will not retrieve a fallen baby, so if he is smaller than 9 inches- nose to butt, not including tail - he needs rescuing. Wearing gloves, place him in a box and contact a rehabilitator. 

RACCOONS, WOODCHUCKS, FOXES AND SKUNKS

Baby raccoons, skunks, foxes and  groundhogs are a rabies vector species and if  you find one alone, you should not touch it under any circumstances until you call a rehabilitator.  We can usually help these animals, but the instructions are more varied and complicated. We’ll be happy to talk to you about it.

BIRDS

Left - a nestling songbird. Right - a fledgling songbird

Left - a nestling songbird. Right - a fledgling songbird

SONGBIRDS

Baby songbirds are another story altogether. Young baby birds are closely supervised; older baby birds have a period where they seem to be all on their own. Luckily, it's not too difficult to determine the general age category of a baby bird. 

A "nestling" is a baby bird who is naked or or still fuzzy, and cannot stand and hop. At this age, the baby is comparable to a human newborn  and  should not be out of the nest or away from his parents.  If a baby this age is found out of the nest, and is uninjured, he can be gently placed back into the nest if it can be reached. You can always call us for help in how to best do this. His parents won’t reject him!

However,  baby birds go through an awkward learning stage when they are 'fledglings". Fledglings jump out the nest a few days before they can fly, and spend a few days hopping around on on the ground, finishing up learning to fly. They learn to fly from the ground up, not from the nest down, as they strengthen their wings and start to explore their world. A fledgling WILL seem to be left on his own. But although you might not see them, the parents are around. They are still returning every few minutes to shove a piece of food into the fledgling's mouth, then fly off immediately  This is the time that baby birds are at highest risk of "kidnapping" by humans who assume the bird is orphaned. Keeping kids and pets away will help the baby bird develop as he should. If a fledgling baby bird is in a dangerous place - for instance, where he might get stepped on, he can be gently picked up and placed under a nearby bush. But only as far as he might hop himself. His parents will be looking for him with a juicy bug very soon.

Never feed a baby bird anything without a rehabber’s instructions. Birds have a hole in their tongue that goes right to their lungs so it’s easy to get food or liquid in the lungs.

WATERFOWL

Baby ducks and geese (goslings), however, are analogous to human babies, always with their parents (ducks with their mother; geese with both parents). A duckling or gosling on its own is an emergency and needs help . If healthy, he can be reunited with his parents or brought to a rehabilitator

All of the above, regarding any species, is general guidance, and there are many variables and many different situations with baby animals that can occur. We are always happy to talk to you about your concern about a baby animal. Hopefully we can reassure you what you are seeing is normal, or, if the baby needs help, instruct you on how to assist. 





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First Baby Squirrel of the Year Contest

By Rick Schubert, Director

A long-standing tradition of Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center, which we carried with us from our previous incarnation, is the First Baby Squirrel of the Year Contest. 

Wildlife rehabilitation ebbs and flows with the seasons, and after 21 years of doing this, the cycles become second nature and part of your very being. Injured adult animals are the constant, twelve months per year, and that is the heart and soul of the work we do. But neonate animals usually start in late winter and end in the autumn--with about a 3 month hiatus in the middle where there are almost no babies. 

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Baby squirrels start in late winter, sometimes as early as February. We get many species of squirrels here...including the woodchuck, which is actually a marmot, which is a type of large ground squirrel. The most common by far, the Eastern Gray Squirrel, tends to reproduce twice a year: late winter and late summer. 

Volunteers try to pick the day when the first baby squirrel will arrive, for bragging rights and the infamous "No-Prize". They write their names on a whiteboard with their selection. I'd say about two thirds of the years the first one arrives in February, one-third of the time in March--always a tiny, hairless, pink little baby. Then it begins: weeks and weeks on end of time-consuming syringe-feeding of babies, every four hours. Weighings, cleanings, medicatings, and meticulous recording of data. 

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"Winner gets a No-Prize". As a child, reading Marvel Comics, if you could spot an inconsistency or misspelling in X-Men or Doctor Strange or Daredevil, and you sent them a letter pointing this out (this was before e-mail), the late great Stan Lee would (only slightly sarcastically) send you an envelope in the mail with "Congratulations on your No-Prize!" written on it. The envelope was, of course, empty. It was a gentle chiding not to take comic books, or life itself, too seriously. None of us get out of it alive. 

Squirrels are no exception. Their lives are relatively brief, and the majority of squirrels will end up as food for a predator at some point in their life. But all life deserves a chance, and deserves freedom, and we give them back the freedom we took away with our cars, chainsaws, pesticides, and lack of concern for our animal neighbors. 
My pick was February 21st. I really dig squirrels.

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