Helping Injured or Orphaned Wildlife

We often receive phone calls from concerned individuals asking what to do with an injured or baby animal they have discovered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not provide wildlife rehabilitation or nuisance wildlife capture services. Our role is to provide permits to those who rehabilitate endangered, threatened, or otherwise federally protected species, like migratory birds.

The best way to help a wild animal is to leave it alone.

Remember: wild animals are still wild and attempting to interact with them can cause harm to the animal or to you. An injured animal is more likely to be aggressive, or it could be ill and carrying disease.

Stay safe. Please contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator within your state.

Three biologists wearing eye protection lift the lid on an animal carrier to release a large grayish-blue wading bird next to a marsh.

Two rehabilitated great blue herons that were injured during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are released in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Photo by Brooke Thorington.

Wildlife Rehabilitation Services by State

These are links to our state partner websites that provide a list of wildlife rehabilitators in your state:

Are you interested in helping rehabilitate wild animals? You can learn more about how to become a licensed wildlife rehabilitator from your state wildlife agency or the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.

A young woman wearing a protective glove lets an injured owl with disfigured eye perch on her hand.

An animal caretaker holds an owl injured from a collision with a car. It cannot be returned to the wild due to its injuries. Photo by Garry Tucker, USFWS.

Finding Orphaned Animals

In most cases, if you encounter a baby animal the best thing to do is to leave it alone or place the animal back where you originally found it. Many times a baby animal is not abandoned but is hiding from predators while the mother is off feeding.

Birds

If you encounter a bird on the ground with no apparent injuries, especially during the spring time, you have most likely found a young bird or fledgling that is learning to fly. Young birds often leave the nest before they are capable of flight. They spend a few pre-flight days hopping on the ground and flapping their wings. The parents keep an eye on it and feed it when necessary.

Simply locating the nest and placing the baby back in it is the very best thing you can do. If the nest is too high or has been destroyed, you can hang a grass-lined basket or plastic container as close to the old nest as you can get. Watch from a distance for a couple of hours to see if the mother returns. Despite the old saying, “Once you touch a baby bird the mom will smell it and never care for it again,” most birds can’t smell and mom will be very happy to have her baby back.

If you have pets it’s best to keep them away from the area. Bring your cats or dogs indoors for the day. And remember, if you approach a nest too often or too closely, you may actually be leading predators to it.

Deer

Baby deer, known as fawns, are commonly found in late May or early June. They have white spots on their back and for the first several weeks of their life, if they feel threatened, their instinct is to drop to the ground and curl up in a ball and remain very still.

If you encounter a fawn, please do not assume that it has been abandoned. Leave the area quietly without touching it. You can rest assured that mom is not far away and keeping a good eye on the fawn.

Rabbits

Eastern cottontails leave their young for long periods of time. In fact, some might say they are lousy parents! The mother leaves the young all day only returning at night briefly to feed between dusk and dawn.

One way to see if a baby is truly abandoned is to do a flour test. Sprinkle a circle of flour around the nest and check for tracks the next morning. If the nest is destroyed, you can always build a new nest at that same location.

Squirrels

Squirrels often fall out of their nest, but mother squirrels do not abandon their young so easily. If you see the nest is destroyed, again, leave the babies alone. The mother will have a second nest built and be soon retrieving the babies. If you are concerned for their safety, such as if there are dogs or cats close, you can place the babies in a basket and hang it in the tree.