Wildlife Rescue 101
By Kymberlie Adams Matthews
City folk are often surprised
to stumble upon wildlife on their evening promenade or in the midst
of a rush hour commute. It counters the assumption
that pigeons, cockroaches, and rats are the city’s only local
wild fauna. But raccoons, coyotes, eagles, rabbits, opossums, bats,
even white-tailed deer are known to inhabit our beloved “concrete
With habitat loss and fragmentation, overexploitation of resources,
chemical toxins and pollution, diseases, predators, and competitors,
NYC wildlife have
a lot to deal with. So it’s no surprise that many of us encounter orphaned
or injured wildlife. Every year I receive dozens of calls—“Kym…we
found a hurt animal, help!” With the best of intentions, compassionate
folk often pick the animals up and spend the rest of the day frantically scratching
their head in frustration—trying to figure out what to do and who to call.
Unfortunately, in most cases ‘rescuing’ is unnecessary and can
be injurious the animal.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time you come across an animal apparently
For Babies, There’s No Place Like Home
The fact is, unlike human babies, wild babies spend large amounts of time alone.
Most are actually under the watchful eye of their parents when they are scooped
up and carried away by ‘concerned’ human hands. Like curious human
children, animal babies may also wander off. The first thing you should attempt
to do is reunite the baby with their moms. Here are a few tips:
If you come across a baby bird—more fuzz than feather—who is unable
to stand, or seems weak, then they have probably taken a tumble from their nest.
Take a moment to check for the nest in nearby trees, bushes, ledges or rafters,
dumpsters, etc. Ideally, placing the pre-feathered tyke back in her nest is the
best thing possible. Don’t worry about leaving a human scent—contrary
to popular belief, birds have a poor sense of smell.
If you notice that the bird’s nest has fallen as well, and is in desperate
need of ‘home improvement’ place the nest pieces into a plastic container
similar in diameter to the original nest—a margarine tub—with holes
cut into the bottom, for drainage. Place the improvised nest close to the original
nest site and gently put back the baby birds. Hang out—a good distance
away—for an hour or so to make sure the parents come back. If not it’s
time to take further action.
If the bird you find is completely feathered—or more feather than fuzz—he
is probably a fledgling. While birds learn to fly, they spend a bit of time on
the ground. Fledglings are not abandoned baby birds and usually don’t
Ducks and Geese
It is not uncommon during an excursion in one of NYC’s beloved parks, riverfronts
and other outdoor areas, to come across a duckling or gosling wandering alone.
Most of the time they have just wandered away from their family and need to be
reunited. If the family is nearby, simply move the baby closer and step away
quickly. If you don’t see the parents, place the young bird in a shallow
cardboard box in a shady area—preferably where the adults were last seen.
The baby’s peep usually attracts the parents. When they come into view
gently tip over the box, release the baby and leave the scene immediately.
The little one will run to the wings of mom and dad.
There are more than 20 squirrels per acre of open space in New York City. These
mostly fat and clever animals have essentially become our closest wildlife
connection. It’s no surprise that we come across stray baby squirrels. Some wander
away from the nest while others take a fall after their nests become damaged
by bad weather or other adult squirrels. Momma squirrel usually comes to the
rescue within a matter of minutes. However, a mother squirrel will not take back
a baby that has gotten cold. If you come across a lone baby, wait a few minutes.
If momma doesn’t come you can warm the baby in your hands or hold it close
to your body and place them back down. If the weather is cold, place the baby
or babies in a box with some paper toweling and a wrapped hot water bottle. You
can also try attaching the box to a tree. Usually when mom hears her babies
crying she will come and get them. Never assume there is just one baby. Take
a look around—under leaves, behind trees. If a nest has been destroyed
there can be up to nine babies wandering around.
Raccoons, Opossums, and Other Nocturnal Animals
Believe it or not these critters do indeed live in our city. Keeping out of
sight, these day sleepers make their homes in trees, abandoned houses and fire
If you come upon a baby, watch for a few hours from a distance to see if the
mother will retrieve it. Often parents are close and will retrieve babies who
have fallen out of or ventured from their home. If not, it’s time to
step in and contact a rehabilitator.
Baby bats are often found in attics, basements, roosting behind shutters or any
perpendicular surface protected from the environment. A quick look around should
reveal the roost, and the baby can be hung back from where it fell. Use heavy
gloves handling a baby bat and simply place it on the surface it fell from. If
it falls again, it is probably sick or injured and it is time to help out by
contacting a wildlife rehabilitator.
These baby fur balls make their nests in small depressions in the grass. If a
baby is found, replace them back in the nest unless they are injured or the mother
is dead. Moms usually visit the nest early in the morning and at dusk. If the
babies feel cool and appear restless, bring them to a wildlife rehabilitator
as soon as possible. It is crucial with baby bunnies to bring them in only as
a last resort. They tend to have a high death rate when orphaned. Note: baby
rabbits are only about five inches long when they become independent of their
Time to Lend a Hand
They are cute, cuddly and have incredibly innocent eyes, but you must remember
the number one rule of handling wildlife—especially adults—is to
keep your own safety foremost. These hurt or orphaned animals are scared and
in pain, so they will defend themselves anyway they can. Always use gloves
when handling them. Always use a towel to cover and pick the animal up too.
the best thing to do is get a box with air holes or blanket to put over the
animal and leave someone with it while you call for experienced help. Adult
and bats who look very sick have a slim chance of being infected with rabies.
But just to be on the safe side they should not be handled under any circumstances
until you speak with a rehabilitator and receive instructions.
Animals should be rescued if they show signs of:
• Bloody nose or mouth, unusual discharge from eyes or ears
• Bloating, diarrhea, or bloody urine
• Obvious wounds, abrasions, bruising, or swelling
• Unusual fur/feather loss; blood, oil, sticky substance on fur/feathers
• Central nervous system problems: animal walking in circles, unable to
support head, unable to move legs, blindness
• Gasping, sneezing, or other respiratory problems
• Baby is cold to the touch
Baby has visible parasites—ticks, fleas, mites, maggots, etc.
• Parents and other siblings known to be dead
Baby found in unusual situation—pool, car engine, etc.
Baby is not responsive to human handling—doesn’t try to hop away,
bite or scratch
• Baby is alone for long period of time in abnormal situation
If you must rescue an animal, here are some things you should and shouldn’t
do while you’re trying to reach an expert. Please remember that even
baby animals can hurt you, so use great caution when handling them.
Put the animal in a box, with tissues or paper towels. Cloth can have loops
that little claws get stuck in and are not the best material to use.
• For babies, place the box on a heating pad, set on LOW or use a warm
water bottle, and place it under the tissues, placing the baby on top.
•Handle the animal as little as possible, and resist the temptation to
talk to it.
Don’t give them any food, water, or medicine. Young animals and birds can
get fluid in their lungs and drown. Never give cows’ milk, as it will
make most wild orphans sick and dehydrated.
• It may be tempting for you or your child to experience holding the animal,
but remember you are dealing with a wild animal. Rather than giving the animal
our voices and touch can cause additional stress.
• Babies need to be fed every 15 minutes to every hour, so contact a rehabilitator
as soon as possible to find out what food they should eat.
Don't be a wildlife kidnapper! Most "orphaned" babies are unnecessarily
taken from their parents.
Now that you know Wildlife Rescue 101 be a wise urban critter helper. Always
contact a wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian immediately upon rescuing an
animal. The information I have presented is just the tip of the iceberg. Each
species needs specialized care that most people are unable to provide without
proper training and equipment.
For information contact any of the following local wildlife rehabilitators and
referral services in the NYC area:
Berkshire Bird Paradise: (518)
The National Wildlife Rehabilitative Association: (320) 259-4086
or 24-hr hotline (210) 698-1709
Animal Medical Center: (212) 838-7053
Volunteers for Wildlife: (631) 423-0982, www.volunteersforwildlife.org/aboutvw.html.