No matter if you live in the country, the city, or the suburbs, you may have found a lost baby animal. Part of you may have said to leave it be, but for most, the little critter has the ability to tug on your heartstrings. Sometimes, the threat of imminent danger from a predator is enough for you to take action.
So what do you do if you’ve found a baby squirrel? Or found a baby bird? Or any number of other wild or feral babies? We’re not a wildlife rescue organization and aren’t really equipped or staffed to deal with the issue, but this need arises more often than you might imagine and we feel it’s important to provide some guidelines for you to follow, should you run into this situation and need some advice.
So, let’s get to it….
What to Do When You Find a Baby Bird
You’re more likely to come across a lost baby bird in the springtime, the most prevalent time of year for birds to breed and lay their eggs. Though it’s important to note that some species lay eggs during other seasons (some even year round).
Typically a baby bird will fall out of a nest and you’ll find it on the ground. Whether or not you should help the baby bird and how you should help it is determined by its stage in life and situation. Baby birds typically fall into one of two categories: nestling or fledgling.
A fledgling can fly, hop, or walk around. If you find a fledgling, it’s likely you’ll not need to do anything. It may still be under its parents’ care, but it can move freely between the ground and the nest. If there is imminent danger from people, cars or other animals, you can put it up into a tree, but nothing else is required.
Nestlings are defined by their appearance and activity level. If the feathers are sparse and the found baby bird is unable to walk, hop or fly, it’s considered a nestling. It’s still in need of a nest and being fed by its avian parents. If the bird is otherwise unharmed, the best course of action is to place it back in the nest. If the nest has fallen out of the tree, you can replace it and put the baby bird back inside.
If the nestling or fledgling is injured, you have found its parents dead, or you’re sure it has been abandoned, then you can take action. Start by placing the bird in a safe environment, such as a cardboard box with a soft blanket or paper towels. It’s important to keep the bird warm as well. Place a hot water bottle or heating pad on low underneath and then move the box to a dark, quiet and safe place, such as a pantry or closet.
Finding a wildlife center or wildlife rehabilitator in your area is the best chance that the baby bird you found will survive. To find one in your area, check out The Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Directory here. You can also call your State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife for guidance.
What to Do When You Find a Baby Squirrel
April, May and June are high season for baby squirrels, with a second round of births often happening in the fall. Squirrels live throughout the U.S., so no doubt you will have found a baby squirrel at some point in your life, or will in the future.
It’s not uncommon for baby squirrels to fall out of their nests, or be inadvertently pushed out by its siblings. If you’ve found a baby squirrel, the first thing you want to do is assess its age and physical condition.
If the squirrel is bigger than 6 inches or has its telltale fluffy tail and in good condition, then it’s old enough to manage on its own. No help is required. If they are furless or very small and uninjured, then it’s a time to wait and watch to see if its mother comes to retrieve it, which is often the case. Make sure it’s out of the way of predators or harm.
Should the mother fail to return to the baby, then you can place the baby in a nest box and attach it to the nesting tree, or the one nearest where you found the baby squirrel. A nest box can be as simple as a shoebox or cardboard box big enough to hold the baby safely until mother can retrieve it.
If all else fails, or if the baby squirrel is injured or in imminent danger, then it’s time to find a wildlife rescue or rehab center (see the link above under Baby Birds).
What to Do When You Find a Feral Kitten
Like birds, this is an issue that often crops up in springtime. Feral cats are those that live out in the wild and have not been domesticated, learning to fend for themselves. Because they are not spayed, it’s not uncommon to come upon litters of feral kittens.
If you have found a feral kitten or litter of kittens, wait and watch. Oftentimes a mother has to go out in search of food, and the kittens may not be, in fact, abandoned. You can make sure that they are out of harm’s way, from predators or traffic, but otherwise it’s best to leave them. Being with their mother will give them the best chance for survival.
If, over time, you come to the conclusion that they are without a mother—lethargic, underweight, squalling, dirty—you can take action. Your choices are to care for them yourself, find them a home, or contact us at CCSPCA (or your local SPCA).
Should you choose to take care of them, there are several resources that can help you with caring for kittens, how to bottle feed if necessary, and how to foster them until they’re ready for adoption. We also have an in-depth article about this on our blog, so click here to read more!
What to Do When You Find a Baby Rabbit
It’s a bit rarer to find a wild baby bunny in the U.S. It’s certainly more likely to occur in more rural regions where open fields and forests are home to wild rabbits. It’s also highly unusual for a mother rabbit to abandon her nest and her babies. But she does leave the nest for extended periods each day, often from dawn to dusk. So do not assume any baby bunnies are abandoned.
If you have found a baby rabbit or nest of babies, you should take the wait-and-watch approach as long as the nest is protected and the babies look relatively healthy. A baby rabbit can be returned to the nest, should it be found wandering. But unless you are absolutely sure that they are abandoned or if they are hurt, they should not be removed from their environment. Unfortunately only about 10% of orphaned baby bunnies survive a week, so removing them from the possible reunification with their mother is almost certainly a death sentence.
Should you need to take action, make a call to the CCSPCA or a Wildlife Rehabilitation facility to find out where to take the baby bunny. If they are temporarily safe, leave them in the nest and do not disturb. In an emergency, you can place them in a cardboard box with a soft blanket or paper towels.
Do not try to rehabilitate the rabbit(s) on your own; their digestive systems are very finicky and feeding them incorrectly can accelerate death.
No doubt you will run across an abandoned baby animal in your lifetime, so if you have found a baby bird, squirrel, feral kitten or baby rabbit, these steps will help ensure that they have the best possible chance of survival.