Responding to Sick or Injured Wildlife

Spotting an animal that appears sick or injured can be an upsetting experience. However, in most cases, wildlife should be left alone. Animals are often removed unnecessarily from the wild by well-meaning bystanders. This subjects them to increased stress, can create an overreliance on humans for food or shelter, and may decrease their likelihood of survival. In most cases, intervention is only justified if the animal shows clear signs of injury and/or you find young wildlife with a dead parent nearby. Please read below, adapted from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, to identify when and how you may want to contact a wildlife rehabber. You should never try to capture or transport a wild animal without professional guidance, and it is illegal to take an animal home to care for it or keep it as a pet.

Please note: Parker River National Wildlife Refuge does not employ licensed wildlife rehabilitators, and is unable to respond to most calls for sick or injured wildlife. In cases that involve rare or threatened species in distresson the refuge, biologists may be able to assist. However, we can never respond to calls for sick or injured wildlife located off the refuge property, nor can we accept sick or injured wildlife at our headquarters, gatehouse, or visitor center. A list of wildlife rehabbers can be located here.

Baby Animals

Young animals may appear helpless, but their best chance for survival is nearly always in the wild. Many young animals, including baby birds and fawns, are left alone for extended periods by their parents. Adults will not return to care for their young if people are nearby. Although baby animals often look weak, unsteady, or undernourished, this is a normal part of development. Never feed wildlife, as improper food can be especially dangerous for young animals with sensitive stomachs.


Turtles are surprisingly resilient! If you find a turtle with a minor injury, such as a hurt foot or minor shell damage, it's best to leave it alone to heal naturally. Major damage, such as large wounds or extensive shell damage, warrants contacting a veterinarian or wildlife rehabber who specializes in turtles. Take care of yourself first if you see a turtle crossing the road. Do not risk your own safety and that of other road users. Always take caution before entering the roadway and be aware of your surroundings. If you are able to safely move a turtle out of the road, always move it in the direction it was headed. Turtles know what resources they need, and may return to a dangerous crossing if relocated to an area that doesn't provide those resources. Placing the turtle in the direction it was heading increases the chances that the turtle will reach its desired destination.


Sick or injured birds easily go into shock when disturbed, so it is important to avoid unnecessarily increasing stress. Birds that can still fly are unlikely to be captured successfully and have a greater chance of survival left in the wild. Adult birds that cannot fly or have clear evidence of an injury may be captured by a skilled rehabilitator if they believe treatment may be successful. Do not attempt to trap an injured bird before contacting a wildlife rehabilitator. Young birds, known as fledglings, may appear injured or sick while learning to master the art of flight. If they can hop, grasp, and move about, they should be left on the ground to work through this important developmental stage. A parent is almost always nearby. 

Bird feeders can be a hotspot for spreading disease. If you have a feeder in your yard, make sure you clean it regularly and remove the feeder for at least a week if you witness multiple sick birds at your feeder.

Please note: not all rehabbers can accept all species of bird. Federal permits are required for migratory birds, including raptors, songbirds, and waterfowl. Please make sure you have properly identified the bird in question and confirmed an appropriate wildlife rehabber is available to accept the bird before intervening. 

Adult Mammals

Sick or injured adult mammals exhibiting odd behaviors or with clear injuries can be reported to Mass Wildlife (508-389-6300) or the Mass Environmental Police (800-632-8075). Odd behaviors may include abnormal aggression or tameness, excessive drooling, snapping at the air, issues swallowing, or jerky movements. Never approach a wild animal, especially one you believe may be sick. Most adult mammals, even small ones, are capable of biting, scratching, and causing other serious harm or disease transmission if handled. In urban and suburban areas, some "abnormal" behaviors are a product of the environment and not a cause for concern. For instance, typically nocturnal animals may be present during the day when opportunistically looking for food (e.g. unsecured garbage cans or compost) or if disturbed by human activity. If the animal looks healthy, fat, and is not exhibiting any unusual behaviors, give it space and go on your way.


Most seals on the beach are simply resting and are not stranded. Seals are semiaquatic, meaning they also spend time out of water to take breaks, wait out storms, or leave young while a parent hunts. If the seal is regularly lifting its head or tail, or moving around the beach, there is no need for concern. If the seal has obvious signs of injury or appears visibly unwell, calling a licensed rehabber may be warranted. The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits coming under 150 feet of a seal. If you believe the seal is injured, resist the urge to approach which may cause further stress and endanger both you and the seal. Contact the Marine Mammal Rescue (603-997-9448) hotline and wait for a trained responder. When the beach is closed for plover nesting (April 1 - August TBD), please contact the refuge first (978-465-5753) so biologists can assess whether or not beach access can be allowed without endangering nesting piping plovers.


Never handle a bat with your bare hands. Always wear thick leather work gloves and use a towel or cloth protect yourself. Bats found in the winter should be referred to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and they will not survive if released into the wild due to cold temperatures and lack of available food. Healthy bats found inside homes or sheds during warm months can be released outside following similar safety protocols. If the bat exhibits signs of illness and cannot fly away, safely place the bat in a closed, dark container and contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator


If you find a stranded, injured, or dead sturgeon, please report it to NOAA Fisheries at (978) 281-9328 or in the Southeast at (844) STURG-911 or (844) 788-7491, or send an email at

A "Good Death" in the Wild

Witnessing death in nature can be heartbreaking, but resisting the urge to intervene is typically the most humane course of action. Most wildlife perceive humans as a threat. They cannot distinguish between our desire to help and desire to harm. Well-intentioned efforts to capture wildlife that are beyond the point of rehabilitation only serve to increase their levels of stress and fear. A "good death" in the wild allows an animal to pass in a familiar, natural environment and return to the earth.

Reporting a Dead Animal

Most dead animals do not need to be reported. Dead seals, whales, dolphins, and porpoises should be reported to marine mammal rescue (603-997-9448). Deer and moose collisions should be reported to the Mass Environmental Police (800-632-8075). Dead animals found on private property can be carefully disposed of using gloves and plastic bags. Dead animals found on public property that require removal (e.g. blocking a roadway or creating a health hazard) should be referred to the entity that manages the property. If you locate a dead animal on refuge property you believe may be the cause of human disturbance or illegal poaching, contact the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Division of Refuge Law Enforcement at Parker River (978-572-5627) or the national hotline (844-397-8477).