Valley News -

By Diane Sieker

What to do if you find baby wildlife


Last updated 4/13/2019 at 2:41am

Courtesy photo

This juvenile barn owlet is delivered to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator after being discovered in the road.

You're weedwacking those pesky mustard plants and suddenly, you discover that you have exposed a nest of tiny little bunnies. They seem to be in danger and so helpless. What to do now?

Typically, people's first impulse is to try to rescue found baby animals. But before intervening, determine if they actually need help. Usually, it's perfectly normal for wildlife babies to be on their own for much of the day as mama ventures out to feed.

Finding bunnies in a nest without the adult present is normal, since the mother only returns at dawn and dusk to nurse them. Rabbits usually feed their young only twice a day. The young are colored to blend in with the grasses and plants where they nest. The little ones instinctively remain still and quiet, as not to attract predators. If someone finds a rabbit nest, they should keep pets and people away, and the mother will be back shortly. If the den has been disturbed, she may decide to move them to a safer place.

Juvenile birds are among the most common wildlife babies that people encounter every spring. If the baby is featherless or covered with fine down, it is a nestling and should be returned to the nest if possible. Gently handling a nestling will not cause the parents reject it, contrary to popular belief.

A fledgling baby bird is fully feathered but not quite old enough to be independent. They are supposed to be out of the nest getting exercise and learning how to fly. The parents will continue to care for them while they are on the ground until they can fly. This learning process can take days or even weeks depending on the species. Human intervention is not needed and may actually decrease their chances of survival. Just make sure to keep an eye on pets to make sure they don't threaten the little birds.

Baby waterfowl like ducks and geese are precocial, meaning that after hatching, their eyes are open and they are able to walk, run, swim and feed themselves under the watchful eyes of their sometimes aggressive and protective parents. These babies leave the nest right after hatching and shouldn't be returned to it. If someone finds a single, parentless wild duckling or gosling, contact a wildlife rehabilitator for assistance.

Baby snakes, turtles, tortoises and lizards hatch from their eggs or are even live born as in the case of some snakes, as miniature adults, completely able to care for themselves. Leave them right where they are or gently relocate them out of any danger zone.

Assisting an animal that doesn't need it can decrease its chances of survival. Though difficult at times, it's natural that not all wild creatures survive to adulthood. Allowing nature take its course is usually the best thing to do.

There are exceptions. If the animal is hurt as the direct result of man-made activity, such as getting hit by a car, attacked by a dog or cat, or if a person sees the parent killed, the kindest thing to do is try to help. Assess the animal's condition for signs of injury or disease, including observing for visible wounds, lethargy, minimal responsiveness or if it is unusually cold to the touch or shivering. 

If the baby animal has been attacked or played with by a dog or cat, always assume there are injuries, even if they are not obvious.

Contacting a local wildlife rehabilitator may be the next step.

According the National Wildlife Federation website, rescuing any wildlife is best left to trained professionals. Moving the animal is a last resort and should only be attempted if it is in clear and imminent danger. If there is no other choice, certain things can be done to minimize stress and danger to both animal and human.

"Wear heavy leather gloves, long pants and long sleeves. Even small animals will bite, kick, and scratch in fear and could injure you," according to the National Wildlife Federation. "Gently place a towel over the animal to provide an added barrier when you pick it up. This will also minimize stress to the animal. Never attempt to capture mammals such as raccoons, foxes or bats, even their babies.

"If the animal is injured, place it in a secure container, such as a cardboard box with high sides. Close the lid or put a towel over it held in place with binder clips. Place the box in a dark, quiet place away from pets, other people and noise. Keep the box away from direct sunlight, air conditioning or heat, and try to avoid bringing the animal into your house.

"Do not try to feed or offer water. Injured or orphaned animals are often in shock and won't eat or drink. Trying to make them could add additional stress or even kill them. Small animals can drown even in a shallow water dish.

"Get the animal to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. Be prepared to transport the animal to the rescue facility," the federation website said.

Many times the rehabilitation experts can pick up the animal from a resident's location. Keep in mind that it is illegal to keep a wild animal without the proper licensing. 

Most wildlife is protected by federal and state laws. Baby raptors such as hawks, eagles and owls must only be kept by licensed professionals. In California, all raptors are protected under state law. There are over 30 species of raptors that inhabit California at some point in their life cycle.

Diane Sieker photo

Baby hummingbirds are protected and very delicate.

Migratory birds like many waterfowl species and even hummingbirds, are protected as well. Some animal species are endangered and therefore protected, like condors and certain species of kangaroo rats for instance.

"Locally, for injured baby animals and adults alike, you can contact Ken and Anysia Dickson with Project Wildlife at (951) 551-5208 or (951) 234-6639," wildlife advocate Dominique Leard Rauton said. "Or you can transport them to Care Animal Hospital in Temecula, an approved Project Wildlife vet, or call them at (951) 370-1200."

It is always best to let nature take its course, but sometimes rescue is needed. It is good to know when to worry and when call in the experts.

For a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators, visit

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at [email protected]


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