What to Do When You Find an Abandoned Animal
Help! I found an animal!
Like many other types of wildlife, when someone finds a baby bird away from its nest, it may just be learning to live on its own which is part of the natural process. If the bird shows obvious signs of injury, such as asymmetric wings, limping, inability to stand, ruffled or wet feathers, or if it was picked up by a pet or other animal, it may indeed need help. Please follow the instructions at the bottom of the page.
The next step to determine whether it could use your help is to determine if it is a nestling or a fledgling.
A nestling will have very few if any feathers. It will not be able to hop and will not have the ability to grasp a stick or your finger. Its wing feathers way also look like tubes because they haven’t broken through their sheath. All attempts should be made to put it back in its nest. It is best to re-nest these birds in the daytime; it is ok to keep it overnight in a warm, dry, ventilated box overnight. If there is no nest or the nest has fallen, you can construct a new one out of a wicker basket filled partially with bedding. It is important to mount it securely as close to the original nest as possible. If you stay at a safe distance, the parents should return to feed it within 2 hours. You have to keep your eyes open because the feedings happen fast. If the parents do not return, call us!
The best course of action is to ensure all pets are kept away and let it be. It is okay to move it to a nearby shrub for protection. Its mother will not reject it because you handled it.
If the bird has obvious injuries or the parents do not return to feed the nestling, it may need to be rescued. Put it a warm, dry, ventilated box with a pillowcase or towel; never leave it in direct sunlight. You can drop it off at the center or call us to come get it.
If you find a baby or a cottontail, it is important to try and determine whether they are still dependent on their parents or if they are good to go on their own.
As always, if they have any obvious injuries, such as a limp, open wounds or any external bleeding or if they were attacked by an animal of any kind, it is best to call The Wildlife Center of Southwest Florida.
A good rule of thumb is to determine if they are independent: If they are the size of a softball (about 11-12 inches) or larger, are alert with ears up and eyes open, they are probably OK; learning to make it on their own and it’s best to keep the family pets (dogs, cats, etc) away and just let them be.
If they are still dependent on their parents they will be smaller than a softball, their eyes may be closed and their ears may be laid back against their body.
Please check for nests before mowing your lawn! You can protect the nest while you do so by placing a laundry basket over it. Once you finish with your lawn please remove the basket.
A cottontail’s nest is usually a shallow divot or depression on the ground, generally these nests are under a plant or a tree with some brush covering it. The mother will come back for feedings at dawn and dusk. Cottontails do not burrow. The nests are lined with various grasses and their mother's fur.
Cottontails have no scent, the mother stays away from the nest (except for feeding times) to prevent predation.
If you find a disturbed nest we advise that you lay an array of small twigs in a criss cross pattern over the nest. You can check the next later on to see if the twigs have been disturbed; if they have been disturbed, it is a good sign the mother has been back for feedings. If the nest is left undisturbed for 12 hours, the cottontails inside probably need your help. We ask that you give us a call.
The chances are if you found a baby fawn, it is probably doing just fine on its own. The parents leave fawns alone on the average for six hours. It is natural to think that if you see a fawn left alone for an extended period of time that it needs help. While the parents are out looking for food, fawns are very well camouflaged, will lay perfectly still while waiting, and have almost no scent that the predators can detect.
Some good signs to determine if a fawn needs help is if it is laying next to an injured or deceased parent, its front legs are splayed out, if it is limping, has swelling around the eyes, is constantly calling out is covered with ticks, in which case, you should call The Wildlife Center of Venice. Otherwise, it is probably doing fine.
As always, it is best not to try to feed it or keep it as a pet. Young fawns are very hard to raise, can pack a pretty solid kick, and are best not getting imprinted (getting used to human contact).
With their big teeth, hissing and the long rat tail opossum’s can be very scary looking. They are in fact North America’s only marsupial (meaning they carry their babies in a pouch) and are rarely aggressive. These guys get a bad rap because when they are stressed, they play dead (for up to four hours!) and will foam at the mouth. Due to this they are commonly associated with rabies, however this is a defense mechanism. In fact, they are quite the opposite, as they are almost totally immune to rabies.
Opossum’s spend their time foraging through the brush and are meticulous groomers. They also eat the ticks that they collect on their travels, many ticks which can contain Lyme disease. In fact, studies have shown that one opossum will eat about 5,000 ticks a year. Their diet consists of insects, slugs, snakes, mice, and rats as well. While they may look scary, they are good neighbors to have around. Many times, during breeding season, if the mother has been killed, they still have a pouch full of babies that need our help. We ask that you call us, so these babies have a chance.
Opossum’s will remain in their mother’s pouch until they are two months old. Then they will ride on their mother’s back until they are about four months old. These mammals are fully independent when they are 7 to 8 inches from head to butt.
Should you find an opossum that needs help, using gloves please place the animal carefully in a covered box. This will be the least stressful for them.
A common myth about raccoons is that if you see one in the daytime, many think that it must have rabies. They are mostly nocturnal, but perfectly healthy raccoons will be seen during the daytime. Most times, when a raccoon is acting strangely, it is likely distemper instead which is not harmful to humans. It is virtually impossible to tell whether a raccoon has rabies or distemper without a blood test.
Some signs that a raccoon needs help are obvious injuries such as limping, bleeding, if it is very thin or lethargic, runny nose or watering eyes, if it is stumbling or walking in circles, or if it has lost its fear of humans. Because of the diseases that they can carry, we do not recommend that you handle them even if they are babies. Many of our volunteer rescuers have been vaccinated and will be glad to help.
If you do see a baby that is alone, keep in mind that the mom is not with the kids 24/7. They often leave them alone for 4–5 hours and will return to feed them if no humans are around. It is best to stay out of sight and see if the parents return. If they do not return, please give us a call at (941) 484-9657.
Fun facts: Raccoons are pretty darn smart. They have evolving intelligence and great thinking and problem-solving skills. Their intelligence is close to but not as high as monkeys and apes. Raccoons are very adaptable and can survive in just about any type of environment, city, country, mountains. Raccoons are very vocal and use over 50 sounds to communicate.
HELP! I FOUND A SNAKE!
This may look like a cottonmouth (also called a water moccasin), but it is actually a harmless banded water snake. Florida does have a lot of snakes and our first instinct is to assume that
when we see a snake, that is it probably venomous. An extremely low percent of the snake population here in Florida are venomous. Many of the harmless species, many of which prey on the venomous snakes are killed needlessly because of the misidentification.
All snakes are defensive, scared of humans and will run from you given the chance. Most snakes are greatly beneficial to have around: their primary food source are rates and mice. If you see a snake in your yard and are uncomfortable with them, spray them with a garden hose. The snake will take off immediately and you probably will not see them again for some time. They are not as dangerous as we are led to believe.
Many home remedies such as putting mothballs out is not only illegal but also it is ineffective. Snake – B- Gone and other questionable commercial remedies may poison the snakes but also, it will poison their natural predators as well. The Wildlife Center of Southwest Florida routinely receives a lot of sick animals such as owls, hawks, and bobcats who have eaten poison from bait traps or ineffective snake baits. Below is a guide to help you properly identify the more common snakes here in Florida as well as the venomous snakes in Florida, from their look a like’s (which are extremely beneficial to have around).
HELP I FOUND A SQUIRREL!
Squirrels are quite common patients here at The Wildlife Center of Southwest Florida and sometimes, they do not need our help. Many times, they are also brought to us because they were not seen with parents. If you see an adult or baby squirrel that has been attacked by an animal, shows any signs of injury such as limping, bleeding, or rough/wet fur, please call us here at The Wildlife Center of Southwest Florida.
Please do not feed any squirrels or keep them as pets (or any wildlife as pets). They require a strict diet to stay in good health.
If you have found a baby squirrel, it may or may not need your help. Like many other species baby squirrels are often left alone for up to five hours by their parents between feedings. Many times, there will be more often than one baby in the area. After searching the immediate area for any other babies, grab a small box that the babies cannot climb out of and put a warm towel or pillowcase in the bottom. Gently pick up the babies and put them in the box and move the box to the base of the tree that had the nest. If no nest is present, put the box in the shade under the closest tree. Observe from a safe distance; the parents will stay out of sight if they are aware of your presence. The parents should relocate the babies one by one. If there is no activity within a few hours keep them in a warm dry place and call us at 941-484-9657.
Turtles and tortoises are often confused. The biggest difference between the two is that turtles, for the most part, live in the water and tortoises live on land. Tortoises have strong, sturdy feet, and turtles have webbed feet with claws or flippers. For our intents and purposes, when they need help, they should be treated similarly.
Both tortoises and turtles are on their own at a very early age and need no help form parents. If you find a baby turtle with no injuries, he is very likely doing just fine. A good sign that a turtle or tortoise needs help is if it has a cracked or broken shell, swelling of eyelids or ears, a discharge coming from its eyes or nose or if it is “blowing bubbles,” which is a sign of respiratory infection. The best thing to do is to put on a pair of gloves, grab it from either side of the shell, place it into a box, and/or call The Wildlife Center of Venice. It is very important never to grab it by the tail because it can cause spinal injuries. Also, some turtles have very long necks so be sure to grab it near the middle or slightly towards the back. Since some turtles are slippery and will kick a bit, it is a good idea when moving a turtle or tortoise, to keep it low to the ground in case it escapes from your grasp. Never leave rescued wildlife in direct sunlight!!
The same can be done to help turtles or tortoises that are crossing the road and it is important to move them at least 10 feet off of the side of the road in the direction that they were heading. Swerving around tortoises that are on the road isn’t recommended; the driver behind you may not see it until the last minute. It is never a good idea to put a tortoise or turtle in the water; tortoises can’t swim and will drown. Both turtles and tortoises are territorial and should not be relocated.
Fun facts: Gopher tortoises that are commonly seen in our neighborhoods are listed as threatened species and are very important to the rest of Florida Wildlife. Their burrows can be 50 feet long and 8 feet deep, and 360 different species have been noted to make their homes in their burrows. Only 5% of all gopher tortoise eggs ever make it through their first year of life. Some of the luckier ones have been known to live up to 75 years!