Rescue Information

Assisting Injured and Orphaned Wildlife Babies

Unlike human babies, wild babies are not constantly watched by their parents and spend large amounts of time alone. In many cases, wild babies should be left alone.

In the event you do find a baby bird or mammal, unless you know that the parents have been killed or it is obvious that the baby is injured, observe the animal and the area from a distance to make absolutely sure the parents are not around before you intervene. Once the baby is removed from the area and transported to a local veterinarian, animal control or a rehabilitator, the resources available to us to return that baby, if he is healthy are limited.

It is our goal to keep the healthy babies with their parents which allows us to utilize our resources for the babies who really need our help.

RescueCapture & HandlingContainmentTransportingNuisance WildlifeDead WildlifeRabies
 Does it need to be rescued? General rule: If you can approach the animal as though to make contact and the animal does not run away, then something is wrong. Very young birds and mammals cannot run away and those situations need to be  carefully assessed.

Situations that indicate animal rescue:
Flies, worms, mites, or maggot infestation* Take to rehabilitator immediately!
Caught by a cat**
Visible external unhealed injuries, or blood, drooping wing, limping
Parent known dead or separated and cannot be reunited
Re-nesting/reuniting was attempted and was unsuccessful
Severe trauma (collision with car, long fall)
Very cold
Very thin and/or very weak , lethargic
Caught by a dog Take to rehabilitatorunless carried gently in mouth only.For cottontails, see cottontail section.
Bird struck window Unless there is a visible injury, keep for two hoursin warm dark quiet place and attempt release.Take to rehabilitator if not successful.
Constant vocalizing Take to rehabilitator.

*If flies are seen around animals, check animals for fly (maggot) eggs. The eggs are pale yellow and are laid in clumps on the flesh or in the feathers. They look like rice or grain. If there are fly eggs, refer to a rehabilitator.

**Cats can cause invisible puncture wounds. Must be treated within 24 hours with antibiotics. Death rate of cat-caught birds over 90%.

All baby animals should be handled with at least thin latex gloves or garden gloves and adults with heavy duty gloves because of the possibility of the animal biting, parasites or diseases being transmitted. Although birds have no sense of smell, mammals have a keen sense of smell and it is wise to avoid human scent if re nesting is being attempted. Hands should always be washed after handling animals.

All animals, except young babies, will perceive the human rescuer as a predator and will suffer considerable stress during the rescue process. Keep talking and noise to a minimum while you are handling them. Small birds and mammals may be handled by gently cupping in your hands or throwing a light towel (hand or dishtowel) over them. If the bird is stressed by your approach, the towel can be held in front f you as a cover until it is thrown over the animal. Once the animal is in the dark and remains there, it will calm down.

If a baby is without feathers/fur, or is cold, provide it with immediate warmth by wrapping it loosely in some soft material (without strings) and placing it beside your throat near the collarbone or cupped in the palm of your hands until it is warmer. It can then be placed in a warm place (see containment instructions) until it can be taken to a rehabilitator.

Adult and juvenile mammals will bite if cornered. Care must be taken when capturing them, using a pool net or broom to gently guide them into a prepared carrier. For coyotes, bobcats or raccoons, keep a visual watch on their location and call the Hotline 805-498-2794, 805-581-3911, or your local animal control for assistance. To capture larger birds or Raptors, use a large heavy towel such as a beach towel folded double or triple, Blanket or a padded jacket tossed over the animal gently pick them up avoiding the talons (feet) and place into a prepared box or carrier. All of these animals will generally be calmed when placed in a dark environment.

  1. Place the animal in a box with air holes punched to allow the passage of air and for heat to escape or a plastic pet carrier sized so that the animal is comfortable but doesn’t have room to turn around or hurt itself. Line the box with a towel or paper towels to keep the animal from sliding. The box must be covered and the lid taped on if there is a rabbit or active animal inside. (A rabbit can jump, pushing the top off a box, and injure itself further or escape).Small birds can be carried in paper bags or boxes. Birds should never be placed in a metal bird cage, especially if they have a broken wing, because of the possibility of further wing injury or feather damage. If a bird cannot stand up, make a donut with a small towel and set the bird inside and then place in the box.Do not put water inside the box, particularly during transport, as the animal may fall into it and drown.
  2. Keep the animal warm, covered, and in dark quiet surroundings. Give a baby mammal several T-shirts, towels, or an old sheet to hide in. For an injured animal or a baby without feathers/fur, or a cold animal, place a small jar or ziplock bag filled with warm water and wrapped in several layers of socks inside the box, beside it. The layered materials will quickly create a warm environment. If a heating pad is used, it should be placed so that it is only half under the animal (so that if it overheats the animal can get away from the heat source).
  3. Handle the animal as little as possible. Do not disturb it or repeatedly uncover and check on it. If you must handle it, all movements should be performed slowly. Try to cover the animal before attempting to pick it up. Scoop up the animal; do not dangle the lower body.
  4. Keep children, cats, and dogs away. Do not give food or drink unless directed to by a rehabilitator. Animals may be in shock and food/water given when in shock can kill it. Food given to a dehydrated animal is also dangerous. Also, food and water given improperly to an animal or bird can choke it or give it pneumonia.

Transport First, locate your nearest licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and contact them to describe your situation. Most rehabilitators, especially during spring and summer baby seasons, have their hands full with animal care and would appreciate your assistance in getting the animal to them if needed. If you cannot transport the animal yourself you may ask for help from a neighbor or friend.

Delays of more than 2 or 3 hours are not advisable.

Many of the calls we receive on our hotline are about conflict situations between humans and animals. Shrinking habitats force animals to use whatever is available to them for housing and food. The animals are adapting to living in such close proximity to people, but or them it is survival.

Homeowners can sometimes get very bad advice, which ends with tragic consequences for these animals, such as trapping, relocating and smoking the animals out of chimneys. During baby season, these actions will only cause baby animals to be orphaned, badly burned or suffer smoke asphyxiaation. Often products that are used to "humanely" repel pigeons and starlings end up killing birds and other wildlife quite inhumanely. Please call a rehabilitator if you have a wild animal issue.

Additional information topics described below.

General Principles in Dealing with Nuisance Wildlife
  • Animals in the yard always should be left alone unless they appear to be sick or injured.
  • Many animals, opossums, foxes, skunks, and raccoons, and even coyotes, pass through and are not permanent residents unless it is baby season and they have a nest or den there.
  • Animals that are territorial, such as squirrels, flying squirrels, beavers and even raccoons will probably die, or die trying to return if they are trapped and relocated.
  • Newcomers will be pushed out or even killed by the existing population.
  • Relocating a mother during baby season means the mother will try to come back for the babies; even relocating the mother with the babies will most likely cause the babies to die of starvation as the mother will not be familiar with food sources in the new territory, and because of stress she may just kill them or abandon them.
  • Animals are there for a reason – housing, food and water – and unless the conditions that invited the animal are changed, more animals will arrive.
Preventative Measures to Avoid Nuisance Wildlife Issues
  • Do not use plastic garbage bags. Use sturdy metal or tough plastic garbage cans with light lids. Secure cans so that they cannot be knocked over. Put your garbage on the curb the morning of pickup.
  • Wild animals are not pets. Feeding them will encourage them to stay around and may contribute to overpopulation.
  • Put only a small amount of bird food out at a time. Do not feed the birds if you have a significant problem.
  • Do not leave pet food outdoors at night.
  • Screen all exterior accesses to buildings, including vents, chimneys, attic fans, dryer vents and areas around soffits and rain gutters. Use ¼" mesh hardware cloth.
  • Install screens in all windows and doors.
  • Fill in holes around foundations. Screen crawl spaces and cover window wells.
  • Trim vegetation to prevent it from covering foundation walls. Allow one to two feet between the vegetation and the building.
  • Trim tree limbs away from the roof.
  • Keep small pets inside.
  • Secure chicken coups with wire bottoms.
Cats and Wildlife

Despite the difficulties in showing the effect most predators have on their prey, domestic cats are known to have serious impacts on small mammals and birds. Worldwide, cats may have been involved in the extinction of more bird species than any other cause, except habitat destruction. Cats are contributing to the endangerment of populations of birds such as Piping Plovers and Loggerhead Shrikes. Not only do cats prey on many small mammals and birds, but they can outnumber and compete with native predators. Domestic cats eat many of the same animals that native transmit new diseases to wild animals.

Why Not to Feed Wildlife

Wildlife Care of SoCal volunteers see the ill effects of feeding wild animals every day. Experts agree that this misplaced kindness is a major threat to wildlife. Here are a few reasons why you should not feed wild animals:

  1. Providing an artificial food source causes adults to produce large families which the natural food supply can't support.
  2. Overpopulation leads to starvation and epidemics of disease. Many of these diseases are dangerous to humans: bubonic plague, salmonella, psittacosis, and rabies, to name a few. Feeding caused the overpopulation of Norway rats that colonized in Pacific Grove's Lover's Point Park in recent years. The rats were attracted and sustained by the abundant snacks left for ground squirrels by tourists. The potential public health hazard prompted the county environmental health director to order that the city actively enforce its non-feeding ordinance.
  3. It is illegal to feed wildlife. Ventura County animal control ordinance prohibits feeding wild animals except for the use of bird feeders. The Marine Mammal Protection Act imposes hefty fines for persons who harass, disturb or interfere with the natural behaviors of marine mammals such as whales, sea lions, harbor seals, pelicans, etc. - this would include providing food to attract the animals or encourage domesticity. It is also illegal to possess any native wildlife without a permit: if you find an injured animal, you should call a licensed rehabilitator in your area immediately.
  4. Wild animals have specialized diets and can die from the wrong foods. Many people feed wildlife as a form of entertainment; but bread, popcorn, French fries and picnic leftovers can cause disease, death, mouth injuries and throat obstructions in animals adapted to eat other foods. Feeding the wrong diet to a baby animal even for a day or two can permanently damage developing muscles, bones and tissues, making survival impossible. Even feeding supposedly “healthy” food is harmful because it alters the animal's foraging patterns and can cause overpopulation which ultimately leads to starvation.
  5. Feeding causes wildlife to lose their natural fear of humans. These animals become easy targets for people who do not respect wildlife and would hurt them intentionally. Also, there are many people who are afraid of wildlife and may injure an animal in an attempt to defend themselves against a mistaken “attack.”
  6. You always risk injury when you do not keep a respectful distance from wild animals who may misinterpret your actions. Wild animals defend themselves with teeth, beaks, claws, talons, spines, venom, and toxins to name a few adaptions. There is no guarantee that a wild animal knows where the food stops and your fingers begin. Sadly, it is usually the animal which loses when the person feeding complains of being “attacked.” For some reason, many people who would never consider petting a stray dog will readily approach a wild animal.
  7. Providing food in residential areas often leads to property damage and unwelcome wild “houseguests.” Wildlife Care of Ventura County receives hundreds of calls each year from people complaining of damage and disruption to their homes and landscaping from deer, raccoons and other wildlife. Often this is because someone is attracting the animal with food either on purpose or inadvertently by leaving out pet food or not securing garbage.
  8. Feeding changes behavior patterns, sometimes with catastrophic results. As each county is seeing with the behavior in our local Coyotes. Humans increase the likelihood of conflicts with coyotes by deliberately or inadvertently feeding the animals, whether by handouts or by providing access to food sources such as garbage, pet food or livestock carcasses. When people provide food, coyotes quickly lose their natural fear of humans and become increasingly aggressive. They also become dependent on the easy food source people provide . Once a coyote stops hunting on its own and loses its fear of people, it becomes dangerous and may attack without warning. The only protection that we have from the wild animals is that they fear us, once we change that dynamic we are left with a wild animal who is not afraid and will do what he needs to... to survive. As in Griffith Park where a number of the Coyotes have become so desensitized to people that they come right up and take food from them or the children, because the children are smaller and less intimidating. The Coyotes are adapting and are only doing what they are taught by people...what ever the reason the end result will always be the same the offending animal will be killed.

Another such case in 1988 when vendors in Monterey were selling fish to feed to the brown pelicans and sea lions. As a result, many of the birds did not migrate and the reduced winter food supply couldn't support them. The Monterey Wildlife Center received hundreds of pelicans sick from erysphelatrix, a disease the birds contracted from eating the spoiled fish they learned to scavenge from the wharf garbage bins. The starving pelicans also were snatching at people's food with their sharp beaks.

Feeding causes injuries and harmful interactions between wildlife species. On land feeding stations whether it be bird feeders or feral cat colonies create an unnatural congregation of species that normally would not exist in the wild. And many wild animals take advantage of this and become dependent on a food source that is not balanced, transmit disease being in such close proximity and sustain injuries from other competitors. In addition to having larger litters because of the abundance of food and the carrying capacity of the area. Predators also adapt and learn of the communal feeding stations.

Another such instance, when fishing operations discard leftover offal into the ocean after fish cleaning, it forces confrontations between species who otherwise would not interact. Suddenly, pelicans, who dive for fish near the surface of the water, and harbor seals, who forage for food in the water column and near the ocean floor, are forced to compete for food in the same area, causing injuries which otherwise would not occur. Also, while many marine mammals and birds eat whole fish, the skin and bones of fish by itself is not easily digestible, has little caloric value, and can cause choking and injuries. Fish bones can be very sharp, and Wildlife Care volunteers have had to remove many fish skeletons from the delicate pouches and throats of pelicans whose mouths are adapted to swallow whole fish, not crunch bones. Punctures and lacerations are easily infected, causing a slow death when animals cannot forage or swallow.

Remember: when people and wildlife interact, wildlife often ends up losing. Always enjoy wildlife from a distance!

–By Anne Muraski reprinted from the Quarterly Release, Friends of Monterey County Wildlife's Newsletter

Living With Racoons

As human development encroaches on more and more wild habitat, the highly adaptable raccoon has been forced to find a home in our neighborhoods. If you leave pet food outside or your garbage isn’t sealed properly you are feeding and attracting these animals to your yard,without knowing it. Trapping or moving raccoons is illegal without a permit and simply does not solve the problem. Concentrate on removing the attraction, not the animal.

Dead wildlife is the responsibility of the property owner to dispose of (even deer). If the animal is a traffic hazard, the appropriate jurisdiction (City, County, Park Authority, or VDOT for State roads) should be called. Dead wildlife is supposed to be put in a plastic bag and taken to the animal shelter for disposal. It may also be buried at least 6 inches deep, out of public view, and away from trails, streets, ponds and streams. It should be handled carefully with gloves (discarded afterward) or a shovel. If you are concerned that the animal might have been rabid, please call your local animal control.

You should take special care in handling a dead snake. A snake’s body is capable of "biting" through reflex action up to several hours after death. If the snake is venomous, it can also inject venom after death.

How do you know if an animal is dead?
Obvious signs are rigor mortis (stiffening) and the eyes have an open stare. If the animal is still warm, check for signs of respiration. Possums can feign death when frightened and slow down their respiration. If there is any doubt, or a possibility the animal is just stunned, it should be placed in a covered box in a quiet place for 2 to 3 hours.

Reporting animal cruelty
If you are concerned about animal abuse you should contact the local animal shelter or Humane Society. Cases involving federally protected birds should also be reported to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Rabies and Cause for Concern

When nocturnal animals (raccoons, skunks, opossums, and foxes) are seen in the daylight, many people believe that is a sign of rabies. However, in spring and early summer this is not unusual because mothers and juveniles who are searching for food will hunt whenever they have to. They may even tussle with household pets for food if it is left outside. Certain other habits, such as nesting in a chimney or attic, are also normal behavior.

Detecting Sick Behavior

  • Lethargy, stupor, falling over, walking around in circles, aimless wandering
  • Unexplained aggression or tameness toward pets or humans. Often times aggression is explainable because of hunger, being threatened or cornered by a pet.
  • Eye or nose discharge.
  • Partial or complete rear paralysis; often mistaken for an injured leg or hindquarters.

Moving Sick or Injured Animals

  • If the animal can be safely contained or is too sick to move, refer to rehabilitator.
  • If the animal is so mobile that it cannot be contained, it does not need rehabilitation. If you suspect illness, contact your local Animal Control agency.
  • Because of the risk of rabies, many Animal Control Agencies will euthanize such animals routinely. If you or your pet were bi5en by a rabies vector species seek medical/veterinary advice immediately.
  • If the animal is obviously injured, rather than sick, do not handle the animal directly. A shovel, box, trash can, live trap, or net can be used for containment, or it can be lured into the garage and contained there.

Read more about rabies in the General Rabies Info section.