wildlife rescue

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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How to Safely Capture an Animal to Bring to a Rehabilitation Center

If you've ever looked for help for a wild animal, you will know that centers like ours are few and far between. We are the only fully licensed wildlife center in 4 counties, serving millions of people.  Zoos, SPCAs, and other animal rescues are not licensed for wild animals so cannot rehabilitate hurt wild animals.

Because no one “owns" wildlife,  we believe it is everyone’s collective responsibility to get them help when needed. After all, the majority of the injuries we see are human caused  - whether it is accidental (hitting an animal with your car or lawnmower) or deliberate (human cruelty). We have the hospital, the medications, the cages, and the years of study to treat these animals. What we DON'T have are the resources to come and pick up injured animals. If we left the center to do that, we would only be able to treat one or two a day, and not be able to be there to answer important phone questions, and take care of the patients we already have. So we are grateful that we are able to 'partner' with a member of the public who is willing to get the animal to us. We have the hospital; you have the transport and the desire to get the creature in need to us!  You can be the difference between life and death for this animal. But how? How do you do this if you have no experience with wild animals?

In this article, we hope to describe some basic techniques for a member of the public to get an injured wild animal to a licensed facility like ours. First, here are the two basic underlying rules in capturing wildlife in need of help:

1) HUMAN SAFETY COMES FIRST.  It is never advisable to put yourself in danger or do something with which you are not comfortable.

2) CALL US FOR INSTRUCTIONS. Every situation is a little different. And, not every animal who seems to be hurt, actually is. (Did you know, for example, that hawks do a behavior called "mantling", where they sit on the ground, wings extended, guarding their food? People sometimes think the hawk is hurt when they see this behavior)  We will be more than happy to talk you through any situation with a wild animal. Sometimes, after speaking to us on the phone, we will request a photo to give us more information. If it is after hours, we provide a tool on our website that is a 'virtual rehabilitator”- an interactive program to help you know what to do in a wildlife emergency situation. Below are the basic rules for capturing a wild animal in need of help

  • Unless instructed by us, do NOT feed the animal, force it to drink water, or put water in the box.(Birds, for example, have a hole in their tongues that go directly to their lungs! It's easy to drown them by putting water in their mouths. Other animals can get hypothermic if the water spills on them, making their condition worse!)

  • Do not feed the animal! The wrong food could make it very sick. Most patients need to be medically rehydrated before feeding. And if the animal is emaciated, putting calories in the animal before emergency treatment could end up killing it.  

  • Close the box after catching the animal, and resist the urge to 'peek'. Dark and quiet conditions help animals to stay calm. Stress, like a human who seems like a predator looking at the animal,  can cause the animal's 'flight or fight" system to work overtime, causing serious illness or death. Imagine that for the animal, it's like being abducted by aliens. They don't know we are trying to help, so reducing stress is the goal.

  • Do not use a bird cage or rabbit cage. A cardboard box is uually best, to keep the animal in the dark, protect fur and feathers, and reduce his stress.

  • Wear gloves, and  never touch a bat, skunk, raccoon, woodchuck (groundhog) or coyote with bare hands - rabies is a real concern.

If the animal is possibly dangerous, like a hawk, owl, fox, raccoon, fox etc. or if you are unsure in any way,  the best method is usually the 'box over" method, if the animal is debilitated and can be approached, and is hurt enough that he won't run away. Any animal is a candidate for the box over method. Even a squirrel who is seriously injured can inflict a dangerous bite. So when in doubt, use this method for ANY animal, even a small bird.  Here are the instructions, with illustrations for the box over method, using a stuffed toy squirrel as an example animal:

1) Find a suitable sized box or container. Poke a few air holes in it.

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2.) Wearing gloves, approach calmly and place the box over the animal.

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3.) Slide a piece of board, cardboard, or any other stiff material under the box (like you are catching a spider in a glass with a playing card.)

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4.) Duct tape the whole thing up

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5.) Bring to a rehabilitator right away. Keep quiet and calm. Don't play the radio in the car.

This article cannot cover all the possible scenarios and injured animals people may come across, nor can it prepare you for all the dangers you might face with an injured animal. Great blue herons, for example, absolutely require eye protection before approaching. Their spear-like beaks are made for plucking shiny objects, like eyeballs (and fish). Snapping turtles can reach almost all the way to the back of their shell and relieve you of a finger. Some hurt animals can only be caught with a live humane trap.  So it is always best to call us if unsure, and we will be happy to talk you through the best way to get help for the animal you encountered. Thank you to all of you, past and future, who have and will bring hurt animals to us. It is this partnership between wildlife rehabbers and caring members of the public that ensure we can care for such a high number of creatures in need.


















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Canada Goose Rescue Story

By Michele Wellard, Assistant Director

Here is a rescue story from a few years ago, just in time for throwback Thursday.

We got a call at the wildlife clinic about a goose at a local canal, 2 minutes away, who had a blow dart through his neck. Rick and I went down to the site, and there were many Canada Geese there – at least 30 hanging around. Soon, though, we spotted the one with the dart. It went straight through his long neck, and out the other side.It looked like this:

About 4 inches long, this was what was in the goose’s neck

About 4 inches long, this was what was in the goose’s neck

Since we know the anatomy of a goose, we were worried that this dart penetrated the esophagus and or the trachea, so it could either start to obstruct his breathing or his eating.

So, we started the process of trying to catch him. We brought lots of goose treats, including bread, which is not good  for them, but which they like and they are used to people feeding to them, and this was an emergency. (this is the ONLY time I would support feeding them bread. This was a life of death emergency for the goose, and we needed him to want to come to us). Our objective was to get ‘dart goose’ close enough to grab.We brought healthy goose snacks, too - cracked corn, apple and popcorn. 

So we started to feed the geese and get them to come to us. They did. They came right up to us, close enough to touch. They ate our food. Except  dart goose, who stayed on the periphery, only occasionally eating. He was nervous, possibly because he knew of his ‘difference’ or because he knew, despite the subtle nonchalance we were trying to project, that we were actually focused on him. Who knows what clues we were showing with our body language? He was much more nervous than the other geese.

After a while, we gave up. We came back the next day, and gave up, too. Ultimately, we came back 5 days in a row. Rick and I were getting good at giving each other signals to isolate and surround the ‘target’ goose, but still he evaded us. We hadn’t t actually made an attempt to grab him at this point yet.

After about 3 days, the dart goose started to eat our food more readily. He started to trust us and join the flock. On the fifth day, we got him close. He was eating out of Rick’s hand. Rick looked at me and signaled me with his eyes to guard the goose’s escape. Then, he grabbed for the goose, and got him. All the other geese flew and ran away. The dart goose looked at us like we had betrayed him, and we had. We earned his trust over 5 days, and betrayed it by grabbing him.

We stuffed him into a box and took him to the clinic. I wanted to cry.

The dart was cleanly right through his long neck. It looked like we could pull it right out, but we felt a tiny lump at the point of entrance and exit of the dart through his neck. We decided to take him to one of our vets with an xray machine.

The goose with the object of human cruelty straight through his neck.

The goose with the object of human cruelty straight through his neck.

It turns out the dart went right through his trachea, but not his esophagus. This is why he could still eat with no problem. But the lumps we felt on the outside were present on the inside, too – scar tissue forming around the entrance and exit of the dart.  The vet said that the scar tissue would grow , both on the inside and outside, eventually obstructing the goose’s breathing and killing him. The vet felt confident, though, that he could pull the dart straight out. He did.

We kept the goose a few more days to give him a few more free meals so he could put on a little weight. Then we took him back to the canal, and to his flock. He leapt from our box, back into the water, and joined his flock, an outcast no more.

Free of the injurious object, the goose recovers for a few days prior to release

Free of the injurious object, the goose recovers for a few days prior to release




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