If you have found an animal, please read through to help determine whether or not it is in need of assistance.
Helping wildlife takes a big heart, and a little education. Not all wildlife needs our help, and sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all. It can be hard to tell if a wild animal needs to be rescued or should be left alone, so keep reading for some useful tips to learn the right thing to do.
When in doubt Contact Us.
I Found a Bird
An injured or sick bird is unlikely to survive on its own. Look for any of the following signs to confirm that the bird needs immediate transport to a registered wildlife rehabilitation centre.
trouble standing or flying
a “puffed-up” appearance with ruffled feathers
holding the head at an awkward angle
Birds are very easily stressed, and any amount of handling can add to their risk of death. Click here to learn how to safely handle and transport wildlife to our centre.
Most birds caught by cats sustain injuries and/or get serious infections. They need special care and require immediate transport to a wildlife rehabilitator, even if the bird doesn’t look hurt.
Click here to learn more about birds injured by cats.
A bird that has collided with a car, window, or building may or may not need transport to a registered wildlife rehabilitation centre. Watch the bird from a distance, if it exhibits any of the signs listed at the beginning of this section click here to learn how to safely handle and transport the wildlife to our centre.
A bird that is sick due to poisoning will exhibit some of the signs listed above and will need immediate transport to our centre. Click here to learn more about the signs of poisoning and what you can do.
A bird which is not flying does not necessarily have an injury. Many young birds normally cannot fly for the first few days after leaving the nest and should be left alone. There are three major categories of baby bird you are likely to encounter: nestling songbirds, fledgling birds, and young waterbirds and gamebirds.
A nestling songbird is bare of feathers, or has large bare patches with some partially grown feathers, and cannot stand or walk. Nestlings are normally found in a nest and regularly visited by their parents. If you find a nestling outside of a nest it is in trouble and should go to a rehabilitator. If you fear a nest of young birds may be orphaned use binocular to watch from a distance as the parents will not return if you are too close. If no parents appear within 30-60 minutes the young are likely orphaned.
A fledgling bird is covered in partially or fully grown feathers except for a short tail. It can hop and walk. It is normally found on the ground until it learns to fly a few days after leaving the nest. The parents visit briefly to feed the baby every 20-60 minutes, but the visits are very short since they must keep track of many youngsters at once. Because the visits are so short, it is easy for inexperienced observers to miss them and mistake these birds for orphans. The key is that fledglings that are being cared for are bright and active. Orphans look sick and weak.
Do not rescue a fledgling unless it is cat-caught or obviously injured or sick.
Young Waterbirds or Gamebirds
A young waterbird or gamebird is completely covered in a thick coat of fuzz, has a duck-like or pointed beak, and can walk and run. These birds do not stay in their nest after hatching, but travel with their family until they are fully feathered. If you see one of these birds, step back and look around for a parent, which won’t approach if you are too close. If no parent appears to claim the young bird within an hour, they are probably orphaned and should go to a wildlife rehabilitation centre.
I Found a Mammal
A mammal which is sick or injured will often act weak or sleepy and may be easy to approach, but do so with caution.
DO NOT assume there are no other animals in the area. A parent of the wild animal could be close by.
DO NOT assume the animal needs rescuing. Not all animals need help, and you may do more harm than good.
If you observe limping, bleeding, or entanglement in a foreign object such as fishing line or garbage, the animal needs to help -- BUT be very mindful of your own safety. Most mammals have strong jaws and sharp teeth which they may use to defend themselves. It is best to avoid handling them directly. Call the Department of Lands and Forestry for assistance, or Contact Us for advice before attempting a rescue.
Cat or dog mauling
Mammals caught by cats or dogs often have serious internal injuries which may not be apparent. Cat's mouths harbor bacteria which is deadly to small animals, and even a small puncture wound can cause a fatal infection. Because of this, we recommend that all wildlife caught by cats be brought to a wildlife rehabilitation centre for treatment, even if they do not appear to be hurt.
Click here to learn more about mammals injured by cats.
A young animal found on its own does not necessarily need rescuing. Many mammals leave their young unattended while they forage for food, and these animals should be left alone. There are three main categories of young mammal commonly encountered in Nova Scotia: Baby hares, infant mammals, and juvenile mammals.
A baby hare (rabbit) may be found lying alone in a sheltered area. Mothers of these species leave their young alone while they search for food and only visit briefly to let them nurse a few times a day. If you find one of these babies, leave it alone unless the baby is crying, is injured, has not moved to a new location within 48 hours or is in an exposed area such as the middle of a road, in which case it should be brought to a wildlife rehabilitator. It is extremely important to not touch these babies. Human scent may make a wild animal parent reluctant to care for its young.
Infant mammals have thin or no fur, small legs/feet and closed eyes and should be inside a nest or den. An infant found outside a den may have been temporarily left by its mother while she transferred the litter to another den site, or it may be an orphan emerging from the safety of the den out of desperation. The only way to tell is to give the mother a chance to retrieve the baby:
Place the infant in a shallow container with a heat source as described in the Rescue and Transport section. Leave the baby close to where you found it and monitor from a distance for several hours. Nocturnal animals such as raccoons and skunks should be left out after dark. If no mother appears to take it, the baby is likely orphaned. Check the surrounding area for the den and other orphans, and contact a wildlife rehabilitator. If a nest or den has been disturbed, monitor from a distance for a few hours. The mother should move her young to a new nest site, but if she is nowhere to be found they will have to go to a wildlife rehabilitator.
Juvenile mammals are fully furred, have open eyes and are at/near adult size. As juveniles become mobile they explore the area around their den and begin to forage. The mother is usually present but may not be immediately visible. As long as they appear healthy, active and keep their distance from humans, mammals at this stage should be left alone. Even if they seem all alone, the mother is likely nearby. If they become weak, are calling frequently or approach humans they are likely orphaned and will need to enter rehabilitation.
I Found a Reptile/Amphibian
Many turtles and snakes in Nova Scotia are protected, and it is illegal to posses or relocate these animals without a permit for any reason other than relocation for medical care.
If you find a reptile or amphibian without any noticeable injuries, the best thing you can do is leave it alone. If the animal appears to be injured or in distress, call the Department of Lands and Forestry or the CWRC before attempting a rescue.
If you must handle the animal it is important that you take great care to make as little contact as possible. Chemicals and oils on your skin from things like sunscreen or insect repellent can cause harm to reptiles and amphibians, and contact with these animals can spread the bacteria like salmonella to humans. By limiting your direct contact you are protecting both the animal and yourself.
Rescue and Transport
Wildlife rescue can be a tricky business, and it is crucial for both the animal and the rescuers safety to practice safe handling techniques. There is always a risk of injury to the rescuer, and an untrained person should not attempt to rescue anything they are not comfortable with. Large birds of prey (eagles, hawks or owls), herons, large seabirds, and all large mammals require the assistance of the Department of Lands and Forestry. Please Contact Us or Call Them directly.
At this time we do not pick-up and transport wildlife to our centre. Do not bring an animal in without calling first so we can make sure the rescue is necessary and that someone will be available to admit the animal.
There are four important steps to a successful wildlife rescue:
Prepare a container
Capture the animal
Minimize stress during transport
Don’t put yourself in a dangerous situation to make a rescue! Always use appropriate protection (e.g. heavy gloves for handling mammals, eye protection for rescuing seabirds). Remember that wild animals do not know that you are trying to help and may bite, kick or scratch in self-defense. Try to avoid touching the animal directly. Always observe basic hygiene when dealing with wildlife. If you are bitten or scratched by any wild animal, consult your physician for advice.
Prepare a Container
A cardboard box just a bit larger than the animal is perfect for most birds. Sturdier containers, such as a pet carrier or a plastic bin with holes cut for ventilation, can be used for birds or mammals. Make sure the container is securely closed on all sides. Never use wire cages for wild birds, as they may injure themselves on the wire.
When possible containers should be lined with a soft cloth (such as an old towel or t-shirt).
Baby animals without well-developed feathers or fur need a heat source if they are not expected arrive at the centre within one hour. You can use a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel or even a sock filled with uncooked rice, tied shut and microwaved for a minute. There needs to be enough space in the container for the babies to move away if they overheat. Make sure the heat source is not too warm for you to hold comfortably, and that it cannot fall or spill.
Capture the Animal
If the animal is mostly still, you can capture it by gently pushing the animal into the container with a broom or similar object, or by inverting the open container (without the cloth lining) over it, shimmying a wide, flat piece of wood under the container to form a “floor”, then securing the floor with rope or duct tape. Since these involve no direct contact with the animal, these are the safest ways to rescue.
If the animal is moving quickly, you will have to use a towel and gloves or a net. It is often helpful to first gently herd the animal to a place where it can be cornered (such as a fence or side of a building) and cannot easily escape.
Towel capture works well for most birds and small mammals. The cloth blocks the animal’s vision and calms it while providing a protective barrier. If the animal is a large bird or a mammal, heavy gloves should be worn as further protection. To capture with a towel, quietly approach the animal and put the cloth over its whole body, pick it up cloth and all, and place it in the prepared container.
Do not leave the animal wrapped in the towel, as it will overheat.
Why is stress such a big deal?
Stress weakens the immune system, causes poor wound healing and can even kill the animal. To minimize stress, keep the container in a quiet, dark place. Once the animal is contained, leave it alone. Most wild animals see humans as terrifying predators. Animals described as “tame” or “friendly” by the finders often turn out to be either frozen in fear or too weak to resist the finders’ attentions. Please respect the animal’s wild nature.
Do not give the animal food or water unless instructed to do so by a wildlife rehabilitator.
The wrong kind of food, or even the right kind of food given to a sick, starving or injured animal not ready for it can make the situation much worse.
Once the animal is contained in a low-stress environment, give us a call to plan transport to the centre as soon as possible so it can receive the medical care it needs.