When you’re out birding, you may come across an animal that appears injured or orphaned and want to offer assistance. The first step is to make sure that the situation is safe for you to intervene. You should never put yourself or others at risk to make a rescue. The next step is to determine if the animal actually needs assistance or not. Young birds who are fledging and learning to fly and baby mammals who are naturally left by their mothers for long periods of time like deer fawn and cottontails are often mistakenly kidnapped by well meaning rescuers.
There are some great resources to use when making this determination. Here are some quick links to rehab centers. For a baby bird, use this flow chart. You can also watch this video that features Debs Park (relevant information starts around 3:30). If the bird is active, mostly feathered, and is being attended by adult birds, it is a fledgling and you should leave it alone unless you see signs of injury or illness.
You can call Pasadena Humane Society’s Wildlife Line at 626-792-7151. If you can take a picture without stressing out the animal, that can aid in assessing the situation. For all baby animals, if it appears cold, injured, bleeding, covered in fleas, or sick, or if it has been in the mouth of a cat or a dog, it needs to be taken to a qualified wildlife rehabiltator.
If you determine the animal needs assistance, you will need to contain it and keep it somewhere warm and quiet until you can transport it. An appropriately sized cardboard box with airholes and lined with a sheet or towel works well for most animals. A small paper lunch bag works great for small birds, and a kennel might be necessary for larger animals. Most birds can be caught by throwing a sheet or pillowcase on them to cover their eyes and then gently pinning their wings to their sides and scooping them into the box.
- Make sure the lid of the container is secure as you do not want the animal to escape in your car!
- Please don’t talk to the animal and discourage others who may want to see or touch the animal. It is very stressful for the animal, and they can actually die from this stress.
- Do not offer any food or water! Giving them food if they are very thin, or giving the wrong kind of food can be very harmful. Likewise, aspiration (inhaling water into the lungs) and hypothermia can result from improperly offered water.
Transport the animal as soon as you are able to the appropriate facility. While some centers like Pasadena Humane Society may be able to transport the animal for you, others may not have the resources to do so.
For common baby mammals:
Rabbits: Baby bunnies are only visited by the mother twice a day. If you’ve uncovered a nest in your yard, simply cover it back up with a light layer of grass. If you find a baby bunny by itself, look to see if its eyes are open, its ears are up, and its fur is fluffy. If so, it is likely old enough to be on its own. If you suspect a cat or dog has attacked it, seek care.
Squirrels: Squirrels sometimes fall from their nest for a variety of reasons (predator, tree trimming). If you can see the nest, and it is safe to do so, try creating a replacement nest, put the baby in it, and place it near the site. The mother may hear the vocalizations and come retrieve her baby. Monitor for a few hours, and if she doesn’t return, seek care.
Opossums: Juvenile opossums disperse from their mothers when they are about six to eight inches long from nose to tail, with open, bright eyes and fluffy fur. If they are smaller, or appear sick or injured, seek care.
Deer: Fawns are only attended by their mothers a few times a day. If you find a fawn and don’t have reason to suspect it has been abandoned (ie a dead mother nearby), leave it alone.
For adult animals, please consult a wildlife rehabber for species specific instruction.
Local Wildlife Rescue Options:
Pasadena Humane Society
361 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, CA 91105
PHS covers the service areas of Altadena, Arcadia, Bradbury, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta-Montrose, Monrovia, Pasadena, San Marino, Sierra Madre, or South Pasadena. It is an open door shelter, and can accept all forms of companion animals, wildlife, and feral animals for stabilization and care. Due to limited facilities, many wildlife species are transferred to California Wildlife Center or International Bird Rescue for continued care after their initial intake.
California Wildlife Center
26026 Piuma Rd, Calabasas, CA 91302
CWC is located on the west side, and can take all forms of native wildlife including marine mammals. Since many animals (other than seabirds) that go to PHS will eventually be transported to CWC, it may benefit the animal to be taken to CWC directly if you are able to transport them. You can call PHS or CWC to determine the best course of action.
International Bird Rescue
3601 S Gaffey St, San Pedro, CA 90731
IBR cares exclusively for seabirds, waterfowl, and oiled wildlife. If you find oiled wildlife, do not touch them for any reason and call IBR and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (877) UCD-OWCN) immediately. Do not attempt to handle or wash the animal.
The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center—operated by The Fund for Animals in partnership with The HSUS—is an oasis in Ramona, Calif., where orphaned and other injured wildlife are treated with the goal of releasing them back into the wild. In addition, The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center cares for nearly 40 full-time residents rescued from the exotic pet trade and other acts of cruelty.
Wildlife Care of SoCal volunteers work out of their own homes with injured and orphaned wild animals, using specialized techniques and diets to facilitate their recoveries and ultimate release. Often at their own expense and on their own time answering wildlife calls from the public, transporting and doing field rescue of injured wildlife in addition to fundraising and educating people on how to coexist with these new urban immigrants.
*Final note- Please remember that it is illegal to own or care for wildlife without the proper permits. Not only that, it can be incredibly harmful to the animal if you attempt to offer care without proper medical and husbandry knowledge. Finally, wild animals make lousy pets that will never have a chance to live out their natural, wild lives if you keep them. Please be respectful towards the animal care staff at wildlife centers even if you are upset or emotional about the situation. They only want what is best for the animal. And if you can, consider leaving a donation. Thanks!*