Lending a Helping Hand: What to do when you find a wild baby animal


By Diane Krueger


It tugs at our heart strings to see a hurt wild baby animal. We want to help in any way we can. But there is not a one size fits all approach to helping these babies. What you need to do depends on the animal. Sometimes it is normal for young wildlife to be on its own. You think you are rescuing the helpless creature, but in fact you may be doing more harm than good. So here are some tips on how to care for those injured creatures you might encounter along your way.


Birds: A baby bird is featherless or covered in a fluffy down. These little guys should be returned the nest, if possible. If you cannot find or reach the nest, you’ll need to create a makeshift nest as nearby as you can. A small container, like a strawberry basket, filled with some grass and leaves will work. The thought that touching a baby bird will make its mother reject it is not true. If the baby bird is fully feathered, it is not unusual for it to spend several days on the ground hiding until it can fully fly. If you move these babies, it decreases their chances of survival. However, if you see one in harm’s way, try to move it to a nearby area with dense vegetation where it can be safe from predators.


Deer & Rabbits: Baby deer and rabbits are left by themselves most of the day. The mothers do this to try to protect them from predators. So if you see them all alone, just monitor from afar because they might not be orphaned. Try to keep dogs, cats, as well as other people away from these babies. You definitely do not want to pick up these little guys and move them, as it lessens their chances of survival. If the mother doesn’t return, then contact wildlife officials.


Ducks & Geese: These babies are walking, swimming and feeding themselves shortly after hatching. If you do find one by itself that is hurt, contact a wildlife rehabilitator.


Reptiles: When baby reptiles are hatched they are able to care for themselves. So if you do find one, it’s best to leave it be. You can help them by providing plants, brush or rocks to keep them safe from predators. If you do stumble upon some unhatched eggs, leave them alone and contact wildlife officials. Moving them could result in their death.


Squirrels: Baby squirrels are born in a leafy nest on branches or inside the cavity of a tree. If you find a little one on the ground alone, it is likely hurt or dehydrated. Our instincts are to help and feed the baby, but again this could do more harm than good. Baby squirrels require a specific formula and must be fed every few hours like clockwork. Instead you need to contact a wildlife rehabilitator.


If you do need to rescue a wild baby animal, it’s important to dress accordingly. Even the smallest of creatures can bite or scratch in fear or pain. Wear long sleeves, long pants and heavy leather gloves or work gloves. Use a towel to cover the baby. The towel will provide another layer of protection for you, but also can reduce the stress of what’s happening for the baby. The National Wildlife Federation recommends placing the injured baby in a secure container, like a cardboard box with high sides. You can place a towel over the top of the box and secure it with a couple binder clips. Put the box in a quiet place, away from other animals, direct sunlight, air conditioning or heat. Try not to bring the box into your home. And even though your first thoughts are to give the baby some food or water right away, hold off. Injured or orphaned baby animals often are in shock and their stress levels are very high. They will not eat or drink right away. Once you have the animal secure, contact wildlife officials as soon as possible to see how to proceed.


Note that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources doesn’t provide services for orphaned or injured wild animals. However, they do have a list of wildlife rehabilitators that will help. The list of these providers can be found at https://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/5492.htm. If there is not a rehabilitator in your area, you can contact a local veterinarian, humane society or animal control for assistance.