Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Helping injured and orphaned wildlife

Before you make a decision to intervene.

    The most important thing to do is to patiently observe the animal in its surroundings to decide if it actually needs help. In nature, young animals sometimes become separated from their parents and need help. If the mother's dead body has been seen or the baby is obviously injured or ill, intervention is necessary. In many cases, however, when young animals appear orphaned they are actually being well cared for. Over 75% of young animals that are rescued by well-intentioned people do not need help.
For instance, if a baby bird is fully feathered and hopping around, it has probably reached that age when it is practicing flying and foraging skills. The parents are still protecting and feeding them at this stage, which lasts only a few days. Confining any cats, dogs, and children and placing the baby bird in a safer area if necessary (up on a branch or under a bush) is the best way you can help. Look from a distance for obvious injury, blood, or an animal not using a leg or wing. In general, if an animal can easily get away from you, it does not need help. (This does not include babies.)
Keep in mind that it is illegal to harass, harm, or possess wildlife. Enjoy observing wild animals in their natural surroundings, but don't try to touch them. If you observe someone harming, harassing, or caging wildlife, contact the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Your quick actions may help save a wild life!
Is it really an orphan?

Each year, especially in spring, many people call us who have found a baby bird or mammal. These well-meaning individuals usually assume the babies are orphans and need help. However, unlike human babies, wild babies are not constantly watched by their parents and spend large amounts of time alone. This is especially true of mammals. In most cases, wild animal babies should be left alone. A young animal's best chance for survival is to be raised by its natural parents. It is important to make every effort to try to return the young to its mother. ONLY after all efforts to reunite them have been exhausted should the orphan be removed from the wild. The following is what we recommend to do in specific situations.

How can you tell if an animal needs your help or should be left alone? Here are some general signs to look for:
• A wild animal presented to you by a cat or dog
• Bleeding
• An apparent or obvious broken limb
• A featherless or nearly featherless bird (nestling) on the ground
• Shivering
• Evidence of a dead parent nearby

If a wild animal exhibits any of the above signs, you should immediately call one of the following local resources for assistance. You will find listings for most of these in your telephone directory.
• Wildlife rehabilitator
• Animal shelter
• Animal control agency
• Wildlife/exotic animals veterinarian
• Nature center
• Wild bird store
• State wildlife agency

Once you've contacted the right person, describe the animal and his physical condition as accurately as possible. Unless directed otherwise, here's how you can make an animal more comfortable for transport or while you're waiting for help to arrive:
• Punch holes, from the inside out, into a cardboard box or other container. A paper bag may be suitable for most songbirds.
• Line the box with an old T-shirt or other soft cloth.
• Put on gloves.
• Use a towel or pillowcase to cover the animal, then scoop him up gently and place him in the container.
• Do not give the animal food or water. He could choke, develop digestive problems, or drown. Many injured animals are in shock, and eating or drinking can make it worse.
• Place the container in a warm, dark, quiet place—away from pets, children, and noise—until you can transport the animal.
• Transport the animal as soon as possible. While in the car, keep the carrier out of the sun and away from direct air conditioning or heat. Keep the car radio off and talking to a minimum.
• Never handle an adult animal without first consulting with a wildlife professional. Even small animals can injure you.

Additional Information to Read:

Nestling birds 
Young birds that are mostly naked (featherless or feathers just starting to come in) are called "nestlings". These birds stay in the nest and the parents come to feed them there. They are sometimes found on the ground directly below the nest. This occurs either because the baby fell out, blew out (common after wind storms) or was pushed out by a sibling. One must realize that this last behavior is actually adaptive for some species. This way, only the strongest of the brood survive and go on to raise young themselves. If you find a nestling out of the nest, the best thing to do is to try to place the bird back in it nest, if at all possible. If the nest cannot be reached for some reason, the following works very well: Make a "makeshift" nest out of a clean Cool Whip or margarine container. Make holes in the bottom to allow for water drainage. Line the bowl with dried grass, straw, or pine needles. Then tack the nest back up in the tree as close to the original nest as possible. Finally, place the baby bird in the nest and leave. The parents will usually come back .in a short time. Sometimes you will see the mother going back and forth between each nest feeding both sets of babies. The only time we recommend bringing the baby birds in is if you KNOW the mother is dead or if the babies are injured in any way. The natural parents do a much better job at raising their young than we could ever do. A baby bird that is featherless must be fed every 15-20 minutes from about sunrise to sunset! It is a myth that if you touch the baby, the mother will reject it. This is simply NOT true! Birds in general have a very poor sense of smell and will be more bothered by your presence near the babies and not that you have touched them. After you leave the area, they will resume normal activities.

Fledgling birds 
People often see baby birds that are partially feathered, sitting on the ground below a tree and automatically assume they fell out of the nest and need to be helped. At this stage in a bird's development, they are considered "fledglings". Fledglings NORMALLY will jump or fall out of the nest. This is their "flight training" stage. The mother bird will then continue feeding the birds on the ground until the bird is able to fly. Unless injured, these birds should be left where they are. Efforts should be made to keep cats, dogs, and curious onlookers away from the bird so the mother can continue to care for it.

If you do find a REAL orphan or injured baby bird, please do the following:
1. Take it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. The longer the delay, the less chance it has of surviving.
2. Keep the baby bird warm and in a quiet, dark place (a small cardboard box with paper towels works well).
3. DO NOT give the baby bird any liquids! They get all they need from their food and often will inhale any liquid, which can be harmful to them.

Rabbits make their nests in small depressions in the grass. The nests are lined with fur from the mother and loosely covered with grass. If a nest is disturbed or a baby is found, do the following:
Replace them back in the nest unless they are injured or you KNOW the mother has been killed. Female cottontails only come to feed their young early in the morning and at dusk. It is normal to see a nest of babies with the mother nowhere in sight. This decreases the chance of alerting predators to the nest's location. If you are not sure if the mother is coming back to feed them, try placing a string over the nest. If the string has not been moved by the following morning, she has not been back. If the babies feel cool and appear restless, bring them to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. In the meantime, keep them in a warm, dark box with toweling in a quiet location. It is crucial with cottontail babies to bring them in only as a last resort. Baby rabbits have a high death rate when hand raised, due in part to the stress of being handled by humans. Their requirements are very specialized and difficult to duplicate in captivity. When baby rabbits are about 5 inches long they are totally on their own and away from their mother. These rabbits do NOT need to brought in unless they are injured.

These babies are often found after a nest has been blown down by a storm. They are best placed into a box or plastic container and tacked to a tree, high enough so cats and dogs can't reach it. Only if a baby has been injured or is obviously cold and weak, should you try to bring it in. The mother will usually come retrieve them within a couple of hours when people are not around. Keep dogs, cats, and children away. It may be necessary to keep them warm overnight and try again the next day.

Do Not try to raise a baby animal yourself!

Proper care and nutrition are crucial to the survival of the baby and any deficiency will more than likely cost the animal its life. Sometimes, people bring in babies they have been caring for and are now having problems. These animals usually have metabolic, bone, and digestive problems from an improper diet. In addition, baby animals easily imprint onto whoever is feeding them and steps are needed to prevent this. An animal that is imprinted cannot be successfully released into the wild and may have to be destroyed.

Handling and transporting injured wildlife:
Remember the number one rule of handling wildlife is to keep your own safety foremost in your mind. You can't help the injured animal if teeth, talons, or beak injure you first! Use gloves to handle all large birds and adult mammals. Always use a towel to cover and pick up the animal. Even though a small bird or young mammal may not be able to hurt you, gently wrapping it in a cloth as you pick it up gives you a better grip, helps keep the wings or legs from being further damaged as it struggles, and covers its eyes. If it cannot see you, it has one less reason to be scared. Place the animal in a cardboard box large enough for it to stand and turn around, but not so large that it can jump or fly and do further harm to itself. Close the box securely.

When transporting, remember three important things: heat, dark, and quiet Have the car warm and use a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel if it is very cold out. Have the radio OFF and keep voices low and to a minimum. It may be tempting to let you child have the experience of holding it or carrying it, but please explain that YOU MUST FIRST THINK OF THE NEEDS OF THE ANIMAL.

Remember you are dealing with a wild animal, not a kitten or puppy used to the presence of humans. Rather than giving it comfort, our voice or touch causes additional stress to an already compromised wild animal.

It is especially important to write down the exact location of where you found the animal the rehabilitator will return it to its home territory and family when it is ready for release.

Wild animals as pets? Why the answer is always no.
• Young animals may seem tame but become aggressive and unpredictable as they get older.
• Captivity is not natural and is a constant stress to a wild animal.
• Wild animals carry many parasites and diseases that can be harmful to people.
• Wild animals need care by individuals knowledgeable about their specific needs, nutritional, behavioral, social, and environmental.
• Wild animals deserve our respect and our understanding of their right and need for a life of freedom in their natural environment.
Remember, many animals who appear to be orphaned are not. Unless one or more of the signs mentioned above is present, do not attempt to rescue animals in any of the following circumstances:
• A fawn (baby deer) who is curled up in the grass and appears approachable. His mother is most likely out of sight, but nearby and watching you.
• A bird who is fully feathered on his body with evidence of tail feathers, hopping on the ground, but unable to fly. This is a fledgling (adolescent bird), and his parents are probably nearby.
• A rabbit who is four inches long with open eyes and erect ears. She is independent from her mother and able to fend for herself.
• An opossum who is nine to ten inches or longer, not including the tail. He is independent.
• A squirrel who is nearly full sized, has a full and fluffy tail, and is able to run, jump, and climb. She is independent.

Fayette County Rehabilitator of Injured and Orphaned Animals Contact: Gilbertson Nature Center, Fayette County Conservation Board, 22580 A Ave, Elgin, Iowa 52141, 563-426-5740 (work).

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Officer: Fayette County = Chris Jones 319-939-4448; Clayton County = Jerry Farmer 563-880-0422