What to do with Found Wildlife

Spring is Coming!

Winter may still have some lingering thoughts, but spring has already sprung in the Hampton Roads area! Baby squirrels are coming into care, and others will follow – doves, rabbits, baby birds – you name it!

As a wildlife rehabilitator, I often get people calling with found wildlife. “We’ve found a nest of bunnies…”, “There’s a baby bird in my yard…”, “I saw a turtle get hit by a car…” – “What can I do??”.

Well, that depends on the situation. Here are some things you can do yourself to determine whether the wildlife you found actually needs help.

Does it really need help? Is it:

  • Clearly injured (example: has a broken wing or leg, is bleeding, unconscious)
  • Caught by a cat, dog, or other predator
  • Been found by children and/or passed around
  • Weak and shivering or emaciated
  • Found with ants, flies, maggots, or large numbers of ticks
  • An animal suspected of being their parent was killed nearby
  • They are in immediate danger (example: in the middle of the road)

If yes to one or more of the above, it needs to be taken to a rehabilitator.

Here is some basic information about what to do:

Warm the animal up!

  1. Many birds and mammals found stunned, hit by vehicles, etc. will most likely be losing body heat due to shock
  2. During the spring and summer, young animals are prone to hypothermia because they are no longer in their nest or with siblings to share body heat.

There are several methods for warming animals:
1) Heating pad set on low can be placed underneath half of the container holding the animal

2) Plastic soda bottles or doubled zip lock baggies filled with warm water can be wrapped in cloth or placed inside socks and placed near the animal

3) An old sock filled with about one cup of raw, uncooked rice and heated in the microwave for 45-60 seconds will maintain heat for an hour or two

  • Wrap the source of heat in layers of cloth or towel until the temperature feels safe enough to place beside the animal
  • Neonate birds or mammals should be turned every 15 minutes so the body warms evenly while they transport it to a permitted rehabilitator
  • Also note: Raptors usually do not require heat unless they are hypothermic! Raptors will quickly overheat due to stress, and some birds may become hyperthermic (overheated) and die on the short drive to the rehabilitator
  • Get the animal ready for transport:


  • Baby animals and birds are fragile and usually do not bite. However, use caution with any wild creature
  • Use gloves and/or a small towel and gently pick up the baby
  • Place in a small box, cat, or dog crate lined with a towel or soft paper towels or tissue
  • Cover the box so the baby doesn’t escape
  • DO NOT give food or water before transporting to the rehabilitator


  • Minimize contact between person and a potentially dangerous adult animal by telling them to wear thick gloves and/or use a heavy towel to cover it
  • Place in a dog or cat crate
  • In the case of most birds, cardboard boxes may be used (not wet birds!)
  • Use good judgment and exercise extreme caution as the animal or bird does not realize they are trying to help
  • Any injured adult could potentially be caring for young, especially if it is a female
  • Stay alert for possible babies in the area
  • DO NOT give food or water
  • The confined animal can now be transported to a permitted wildlife rehabilitator


  • There are NO orphaned reptiles – any hatchlings must be released within 1 mile of where they were found, unless injured or temp is </= 50f at night
  • All injured reptiles need to go to a permitted rehabilitator

Transporting – a very important part of the rehabilitation process. We couldn’t continue our work without people like you!
Here are some reasons why your ability to transport helps the wildlife you found:

  • It may take many hours to find a transporter and the animal found needs helps ASAP
  • Most wildlife rehabilitators are caring for multiple patients and cannot pick up wildlife

Other information you should know

  • If you do not have a vehicle, please ask a neighbor, friend, or family member to help
  • If you are at work, can it be transported during lunch or after work, or find a coworker who may be willing to help?
  • If absolutely cannot transport the animal it MUST be contained the animal under a basket, in a yard, etc

Why you should not give food or water

  • Aspiration of food or fluid can cause pneumonia
  • Dehydrated animals will die if given food before being rehydrated
  • Birds must be identified to determine proper diet
  • The wrong diet or baby formula can be very harmful

Why you cannot raise or keep wildlife:

  • Young animals and birds require a large amount of care
  • Birds may need feedings every 10 – 15 minutes, and mammals may need 2 – 4 hours feedings around the clock
  • Wild animals do not make good pets – at maturity, most will become aggressive
  • Proper nutrition is essential for the animal’s survival
  • Wildlife can carry illnesses that can be transferred to humans and pets
  • It is illegal in the state of Virginia to keep native wildlife without proper permits

So, you’ve got this information, who are you going to call? Several rehabilitation organizations in the Hampton Roads area take in all forms of wildlife.

Here are a few:

  • TREE 757.235.3189 (Lisa Barlow) – Works with: Birds of Prey (hawks/owls/eagles/vultures), Pelican/Seabirds, Fox, Bobcat, Skunk, Groundhog, Reptiles & Amphibians
  • Wildlife Response (Hotline) 757.543.7000 – Works with – most mammals. Will need to leave a message, volunteers call back
  • Second Chance Wildlife 757.589.1819 – works with small mammals
  • VDWR 1.855.571.9003 Call for – Bear, adult Deer, Coyote, Nutria, Mute Swan

To find a permitted wildlife rehabilitator outside of Virginia, please look for your state game department or wildlife rehabilitation organization.

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