Wildlife Rehabilitation Do’s and Don’ts

Lark Weller
Institute for Social, Economic, and Ecological Sustainability

Includes Listing of Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers

For many, finding an injured wildlife creature poses a dilemma: we want to aid the animal by getting it to safety, but we worry that our assistance will do more harm than good. Following are some guidelines to make the help we offer injured wildlife effective and safe. Unfortunately, the majority of sick, orphaned and injured animals suffer due to human causes. This is particularly the case in city habitats. Some of these cases are accidental, but many are preventable: automobiles, trains, poisons, oil spills, pets and high line wires can all cause harm to wildlife.

What should you do if you find an injured animal? To begin, it is important to note that permits from state and federal wildlife agencies are required to possess wildlife (including all birds except pigeons, European starlings and house sparrows). As a result, it is essential to leave long-term wildlife treatment in the hands of trained professionals, such as a wildlife rehabilitator or the Game Commission. However, there are several steps you can take to ensure that wounded critters get the attention they require. This article distinguishes between rabbits; raccoons, skunks and foxes; squirrels; and birds, in its recommendations on catching and transporting hurt animals.


A young rabbit is on its own if the fur is fluffy, the ears are standing, and it is the size of a large fist. In some cases, it can be put back where you found it. If a rabbit was brought to you by a dog or cat, chances are it is injured – despite appearances – and needs special attention. If you have found an injured adult rabbit, place a box over the rabbit, and then gently slide a piece of sturdy cardboard underneath the box to contain the animal, being careful not to further injure it. Please note that adult rabbits will sometimes kick frantically when handled, even if they are seriously injured, and can break their backs in the process; avoid picking up an adult rabbit with your hands. If you have found an injured baby rabbit, you can pick the baby up and place it directly into a box. Rabbits are rarely carriers of rabies.

If you are monitoring a rabbit nest that you feel has been disturbed and/or moved, watch to see whether the mother returns to the nest before you attempt to move babies from it. The mother usually feeds her babies during the night, so you may not actually witness her returning to the nest. You can, however, check the babies’ bellies before and after an evening has passed: they should be full in the morning. Or, try placing a couple pieces of string over the nest and check whether they have been disturbed. If at all possible, let the mother rabbit raise her babies. If you find a disturbed rabbit nest that you feel needs immediate attention, replace all fur to the inside of the nest and cover the nest well with dry grass. If you move a baby back to the nest, touch all young rabbits so that they smell the same. Contrary to popular belief, the mother usually will not reject her babies if you handle them. Nonetheless, keep in mind that moving a rabbit nest is not recommended: mothers often do not find them in their new location.

Raccoons, Skunks & Foxes

Baby raccoons, skunks and foxes often play in the woods under their mothers’ care. It is best to observe these babies from a distance to determine whether the mother is watching over them. If the mother has been killed, babies may wander outside of the den in hunger, and may be crying, weak or sick. In this case, the babies need attention. Do not pick these young up with your bare hands – they are the most common carriers of rabies. Rather, catch them by carefully throwing a box or sheet over them. If you use a box, follow the same procedure as for adult rabbits; if using a sheet, the sheet can be brought up around the animal and tied together to contain the animal during transport (or the animal and sheet can be placed inside a cardboard box). If you find an injured adult raccoon, skunk, or fox, it is recommended that you immediately call a wildlife rehabilitator or the Game Commission for assistance; these animals are highly likely to carry rabies, and to bite out of fear.


If you discover a baby squirrel, it probably needs attention. Baby squirrels found on the ground have probably fallen from a tree and suffered a concussion. Follow the same steps, using a box and/or sheet to collect the baby squirrel, as are followed for baby raccoons, skunks and foxes. Squirrels are unlikely carriers of rabies.


If you find a bird in need of assistance, you may try to pick it up. A cardboard box or a paper bag with paper towels on the bottom and the top folded down both make effective carrying cases for small birds. It is not recommended to put wild birds in cages, as they may damage their feathers. If catching larger or harder-to-catch birds, throw a box or sheet over the bird. Don’t attempt to catch raptors or other birds of prey; they are capable of injuring you with their talons. Do not keep any bird wrapped in a blanket or any other material for a long period – birds overheat very easily and will die if wrapped up too long, particularly in warm weather. Similarly, do not hold an adult bird in your hands for long, as this may cause them to overheat as well. Some birds need to eat every half hour, so be sure to contact a rehabilitator for guidance if you’re unable to get the bird to help within two hours. Many feel compelled to help injured wildlife. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that trained professionals best provide this assistance. By following the above guidelines, however, you can help guarantee that wildlife reach these professionals as safely as possible.

Minnesota Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers:

This is not a complete listing, please also use www.tc.umn.edu/~devo0028/ to find out what to do and where to go when you have an injured wild animal.

Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota 2530 Dale St. N. Roseville 55113 651.486.WILD (9453) www.wrcmn.org

The Raptor Center University of Minnesota St. Paul, MN Email: raptor@umn.edu 612-624-4745 or after hours 612-625-9711

Minnesota Wildlife Haven Apple Valley, MN 612-318-0077 Email: info@mnwildlifehaven.org www.mnwildlifehaven.org

Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release, Inc.

Network of volunteer rehabilitators in Greater MN Hotline: 612-822-7058

From God’s Own Hymn

Eleva Potter, age 13, Voices for the Land

I often romp around with my dog, finding undiscovered treasures of yellow water lilies, morel mushrooms, and lady’s slippers. The towering tress sway in the cool lake breeze as the robins and spring peepers sing their evening song. And as the wind dies and the lake becomes as smooth as glass, I listen to the eerie soprano chant of the loons singing their ballads to the starry night sky.

I sit and listen to the swamp sounds, with each creature playing its own instrument with its own melody, and as their music joins together, it becomes the greatest symphony written by the greatest composer Ð a song no one can describe. It lifts up my heart and makes me feel that I am listening to God’s own hymn. There is no way to recreate this sound: it comes for the depths of the earth and the souls of the animals; it comes from the lapping of the water and rustling of the cattails and reeds.

If the animals ever die out because their homes are destroyed; if the vegetations is mowed down and the trees are felled; if the lake water is tainted, the symphony will be no more. If any one part is silenced, the music will be forever incomplete and never as pure, clear, and true as it once was and was meant to be.


What You Can Do

* Call a local wildlife rehabilitator or Game Commission – these trained professionals know best how to handle injured animals, while minimizing harm to the animal and themselves.

* When transporting an animal in a cardboard box, use a secure box with small air holes in the side or lid. Use a box that is just big enough for the animal to stand and turn around in, in order to prevent the animal from thrashing around and hurting itself. Place paper towels or soft cloths on the bottom of the box.

* Leave the animal alone if you end up housing it over night: the more you look at or handle the animal, the more you stress it and reduce its chances of survival.

* Remember not to give the animal anything to eat or drink, especially cows’ milk. Many baby mammals are lactose intolerant and may develop diarrhea from this milk.

* If you find a cold, featherless/hairless animal, put a heating pad on low underneath half of the box. Place a folded towel between the heating pad and the box. Check small creatures that cannot move to be sure they do not get too hot. Call a rehabber if you’re not sure this step is necessary. (Do not put green grass under an animal – it takes heat out of them, and drying grass can be toxic to rabbits.)


See Also: Arts: Pets & Animal Companions Arts: Animal Rights

Wildlife Rehabilitation

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