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Step 5: Getting A Wildlife Casualty to Rescue

If you have a small casualty they can be transported to rescue in the box in which they are contained. Ensure there is a towel in the box with them so they have something to grip, and, if you haven’t already done so, remove any food or water so this doesn’t spill on the journey.

If you have access to a car then the box can then be placed on the seat and secured with the seat belt to prevent the box from moving too much and causing the animal distress. Try to keep the car quiet by keeping conversation to a minimum and the stereo off – remember that to the casualty, human voices are a source of fear.

 

What if I don’t drive?

Your first instinct may be to expect the rescue to pick the animal up from you. TV might have given the impression that animal rescues have a fleet of shiny white vans and uniformed employees on hand to pick animals up but the reality for most wildlife rescues is that they rely on unpaid volunteers who are fully occupied cleaning, feeding and medicating their many patients. If they were to leave the rescue to collect casualties, the welfare of the animals in their care would be compromised.

If you find a casualty and can’t drive it to the rescue yourself, please try your very best to get it there using one of the solutions below before politely asking the rescue whether they may have a volunteer available to help (and being understanding if they don’t).

  1. Take public transport. The casualty won’t find this any more or less stressful than travelling in a car. Just cover their box/carrier with a towel so they can’t see out.
  2. Ask a friend, family member or neighbour to drive you or take the animal to rescue on your behalf.
  3. Contact a local pet ambulance service. Many such businesses do rescue work on the side and may be happy to deliver the wildlife casualty for free or at a reduced rate. You can find them by googling ‘pet ambulance’ and your area.
  4. Post in a local social media group to ask for help. This is very often successful as most groups will contain an animal lover happy to help. Your chances of finding someone are even better if you post in a local vegetarian/vegan group or one dedicated to pets. Just put your town into the site’s search bar and you should see various options come up.
  5. Call an Uber. Many Uber drivers are happy to deliver contained casualties to rescues themselves so you wouldn’t need to travel with the animal. In cases of genuine hardship, where you have exhausted all other options, we may be able to help you with the costs of this. There’s full guidance on how to do this at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/uber/
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Step 4: Short term care of a wildlife casualty

Although getting an animal to a wildlife rescue promptly (ideally within a few hours) is essential, what you do or don’t do in the hopefully small amount of time the animal is with you while you seek help, can make a life or death difference to the animal. Here are some important steps to follow

  1. If you haven’t already done so, refer to our guidance on capturing and containing the animal here.
  2. Once you have the animal contained, it’s important to bring them inside if at all possible. This helps to prevent escape and protects them from the weather. Placing the box inside your bath or shower and closing the bathroom door is ideal. If you can’t bring the animal into the house then a shed or garage is the next best thing. Left outside, the animal could get too hot, too cold, rained on (leading to hypothermia), attacked by predators, or they could wander off and miss out on being helped.
  3. Keep the animal as quiet as possible, avoiding the temptation to check on them, stroke them etc. Try to keep children and pets away and keep the area quiet.
  4. Don’t offer anything to eat or drink. This may seem counter-intuitive but feeding an animal which is cold, dehydrated, or in shock can actually cause fatal complications. If the animal is in a quiet, dark place, they will usually sleep and not need to eat or drink. We/a wildlife rescue can advise you on any exceptions to this but always check with an expert first. Never attempt to force feed/syringe fluids into a bird’s beak as it is very easy for the liquid to get into their airway, and never give cow’s milk or alcohol to any wildlife.
  5. Keep the animal warm and dry (even water birds should not be allowed to bathe when unwell). For a bright, active adult, just being inside in a warm room should suffice. But babies, any animal which has gotten wet, or animals which have experienced a trauma such as being caught by a cat or being hit by a car, are likely to need supplemental heat. Make up a hot water bottle, wrap it in a towel, and place it at one end of the box the animal is in. Make sure that the animal can move away from the heat if it needs to and monitor it for signs of overheating (babies may feel hot to touch, adults may pant or spread themselves out flat).

NB: this advice is designed to cover the first couple of hours or overnight. If you are not able to get the animal to a wildlife rescue promptly, please speak to one of the large wildlife rescues with a 24 hour phone line for further advice about care beyond this period. You’ll find details of some of these at helpwildlife.co.uk/help

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Who to Call for Help

If you have found a possibly sick, injured or orphaned wild bird or animal then it is essential that you act quickly. Our advice pages will help you to assess whether intervention is required and advise you on how to capture and contain the animal. But what then? Below we assess the pros and cons of your main options.

Note: This article is for information purposes…if you have found a wildlife casualty, the short answer is, your first port of call should be a dedicated wildlife rescue. You can search for wildlife rescues by putting your location into our directory. If you struggle to find a wildlife rescue (and please contact our helpdesk if so), then the next best option is the RSPCA. If they cannot help or the animal is clearly in need of urgent medical help, then a vet is the next best option. NEVER try to care for a wildlife casualty yourself.


There are four main options you might think of for help with your wildlife casualty. We’ve set them out here in what we consider to be reverse order of suitability.

 

Option 1 – Care for it yourself

You may well be tempted to care for the casualty yourself. You’ll likely have formed an emotional attachment to it, especially if it’s a baby or displays no fear or aggression. However, please bear in mind that any wild bird or animal which allows itself to be captured by a human is in serious trouble. If an adult it must be very unwell, if a baby it is still at the stage when it is entirely dependent. An injured creature will need medical attention which you will be unable to provide. An orphaned, abandoned or injured baby will need regular feeding, in some cases as often as every 15 minutes and sometimes through the night. Specialist feeds are needed as is considerable skill to get quantities right and deliver the feed correctly – getting this wrong can lead to choking or inhalation pneumonia.

You need also to consider the long term care plan. Even if you can get the bird or animal through its initial problem, do you have facilities to rehabilitate it such as an aviary or soft release enclosure? It’s vital that releasing a wild bird or animal back to the wild is done gradually and into an area which is suitable and not already occupied by others in the case of territorial species. For most babies, it is absolutely critical that they are raised with others of their species in order to avoid imprinting and to ensure they are socialised and know how to interact with others. This is a vital skill in the wild and, in some species, a baby raised in isolation may never be suitable for release. Read more about the dangers of trying to care for a casualty yourself at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/DIY.

 

Option 2 – Call a vet

In the UK, vets receive no training in the treatment of wildlife. Whilst there are inevitably many similarities between wild and domestic animals, there are also very many differences. Calling a vet may be appropriate in some cases, such as ensuring that a catted animal receives a prompt, life saving dose of antibiotics, but it must be considered that vets will not generally have experience in or facilities for the long term rehabilitation of wildlife. A veterinary surgery is also a bright, noisy place full of what your casualty will see as predators – just the stress of such an environment could prove fatal.

There is a common myth that vets are obliged to treat wildlife for free. In fact they are obliged only to relieve suffering i.e. provide pain relief or euthanasia. The RSPCA have a scheme whereby they contribute towards costs of vets caring for wildlife but this only applies to animals over 1kg in weight! This may lead to casualties being euthanased unnecessarily if the vet practice is unable or unwilling to cover the costs themselves or spend time finding a wildlife rescue to pass the animal to. If you do contact a vet, you should either have a wildlife rescue on standby to take the casualty to after initial treatment or ensure that the vet has good links with a local rescue and will pass the casualty on to them.

 

Option 3 – Call a domestic animal charity/RSPCA/RSPB

There certainly are many domestic animal charities who also take in wildlife and do an excellent job. But wild animals can be very different to domestic pets and have very different needs. They should also be kept away from domestic animals in order to minimise stress. A specialist wildlife rescue is a better option.

The RSPB receive thousands of calls about injured birds every year but they are not a bird rescue. They are a conservation charity and do not have bird hospitals to care for patients. They are extremely supportive of wildlife rescue and refer callers to their helpline to our site to find them help.

The RSPCA operate several dedicated wildlife centres in the UK and these are often at the cutting edge of care and rehabilitation techniques. However, their national advice line is manned by contracted staff working from a script and the advice given is unfortunately frequently incorrect and dangerous. Euthanasia rates for wildlife collected by their Collection Officers and Inspectors are also high1.

 

Option 4 – Call a wildlife rescue

We believe that contacting a group dedicated specifically to the care and rehabilitation of wildlife is the best chance for your casualty. They should have experience caring for the type of animal you’ve found, trained volunteers to provide the care it needs, links with a wildlife-friendly vet for treatment, and facilities to rehabilitate it back into the wild. To find one near to you, you can search the rescue directory.

Note: A listing on our site is not an endorsement and you are strongly advised to check the policies of each organisation before surrendering an animal to them.


1. In a comment to the Daily Mail, a spokesperson said that, in 2017, “of the 60,423 wild animals rescued or collected by the RSPCA…23,908 were put to sleep where they were found”. This represents a euthanasia rate of 40%. ‘Where they were found’ seems to suggest that these were animals put to sleep by the Inspector or ACO and presumably therefore does not include those later assessed as needing euthanasia by the centre they were taken to.

 

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Step 3: Finding and Contacting a Wildlife Rescue

Who to Contact for Help

If you have found a sick or injured wild animal, we strongly recommend seeking help from one of the specialist wildlife rescues in our directory rather than trying to care for it yourself, or calling general/domestic animal-focused organisations such as vets or the RSPCA. We explain why in more detail at helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/care-options

 

How to Find a Wildlife Rescue

You can see details of wildlife rescues in your area by putting your location into the search facility at helpwildlife.co.uk/map. If you don’t see any suitable options in your initial search, you can check the second tier of our directory by clicking the drop-down arrow in the left most box and selecting ‘Small Rescues’.

The third tier of our directory (‘Heroes’) is not visible to the public and is made up of very small volume rescues or individual rehabbers. If you’ve had no luck finding help from the first two tiers of the directory you can contact our helpdesk and our volunteers will provide assistance, including checking the Heroes list for anyone in your area.

 

How to Contact a Wildlife Rescue

In an ideal world, you’ll telephone a wildlife rescue, get through to them immediately and drop the animal off within the hour for assessment and care. But wildlife rescues are struggling – there aren’t enough of them, funding is scarce, and it’s usually the same over-worked volunteer answering the phone and trying to take care of all the animals.

Here are our tips for getting the help you need

  1. Always telephone when seeking help rather than sending Facebook messages, emails etc. as rescues may not have time to check electronic messages very often. There are some rescues who co-ordinate via Messenger or WhatsApp but only use these methods if directly instructed to do so by their website or voicemail for example.
  2. You may well not get an immediate answer as it’s likely that volunteers could be busy caring for other animals. Leave a message and/or send a follow up text, making sure to include your phone number and details of the animal you need help with, and wait for them to call back.
  3. Be persistent but patient. Call multiple rescues (not just the closest) and leave messages/send texts. If you don’t hear back within a couple of hours, call again, leave another message and let them know you called before and you’ve tried other rescues but you still need help – that will help them triage the messages they need to return. Move on to rescues on other tiers of our directory or rescues that are further away if you need to. Rescues often get full and may not have the time to return messages about animals they do not have space for.
  4. Keep a note of who you’ve called and what the outcome was. It’s so easy to lose track so making a note will help you keep things straight and know who to keep trying and who has said they’re full. If you raise a request with our helpdesk this will also help our volunteers know where to direct you to next.

If you’re struggling to find the help you need, you can contact our helpdesk and our volunteers will provide assistance, including checking the Heroes list for anyone in your area.

 

Some Other Things to Remember

  1. Most rescuers are volunteers who dedicate their lives to animals alongside jobs and families. We understand how stressful and frustrating it can be when you can’t get hold of a rescue but please don’t take it out on the people trying their best to help.
  2. Wildlife rescues rely entirely on donations from the public. Please give whatever you can spare to help cover the costs of your animal’s care and treatment.
  3. Most wildlife rescues are run entirely by volunteers and have very limited resources. Sending someone to pick an animal up from you means the animals in their care getting less attention. There’s advice about ways to get animals to rescue here.

 

Next Steps

While you’re waiting to secure help from a wildlife rescue, there are some important things you can do to maximise the animal’s chances of survival. You can read more about them here.

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Step 2: Capturing a Wild Animal in Need of Help

Firstly, it’s important to say, this guidance relates to small, non-dangerous animals only. Please do not ever attempt to capture adult Deer, Badgers, Foxes, Otters, Swans, Geese, large Birds of Prey, or Herons yourself as these animals can cause serious injury. Please also do not free animals which are trapped in fencing or netting without guidance from a rescue. It’s impossible to cover every species and scenario here so, if you need further guidance, please contact our helpdesk and our volunteers will be happy to provide bespoke advice.

Secondly, although the risk of catching anything from a wild animal is extremely small, whenever you handle a wild animal it’s sensible to take hygiene precautions. You may wish to pick them up with gloves or a towel to avoid touching them directly. After handling, always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and/or use an anti-bacterial hand gel.

Before you capture any animal, have something to contain it in ready. In most cases, a large cardboard box lined with a towel is ideal. For larger or very lively animals a carry box designed for cats might be better. If using a cardboard box make sure the lid is secured to prevent escape and there are sufficient air holes.

 

Flighted Birds

If the bird is mobile or can still fly you can try to tempt it into a shed, garage or other roofed area to make capture easier. A trail of food may work for confident species such as pigeons. You can also try setting a makeshift ‘trap’ to catch it with. There’s a diagram on how to do this here. Once caught, follow the section on non-flighted birds below for tips on how to handle the bird.

 

Non-flighted birds

An adult bird which cannot fly is likely to still try to run away from you. Try to ‘herd’ them into a corner or against a wall to reduce the directions in which they can run. Then you and a helper can approach from different sides. Holding a large towel each also helps you to block off as much of their escape route as possible. If they’re near a road or other hazard, put yourself between them and the hazard so they don’t run towards it to escape you. Similarly, if you’re trying to catch waterfowl, put yourself between them and the water so they can’t escape on to it.

If you want to avoid touching the bird, you can try placing a cat carrier or cardboard box on its side up against a fence or other barrier and gently herding the bird into it.

Most small birds can be handled without risk of injury to the handler but many people who contact us are scared to handle a bird for fear of hurting them. It’s helpful for both handler and bird to place a towel over the bird in order to contain the wings, reduce the friction between hands and feathers, keep the bird calm, and put a barrier between your hands and their beak and feet. Hold the wings against the bird’s body and try to avoid the bird flapping as this will stress it and can cause feather loss.

Always get the bird into a box as quickly as possible and keep the beak away from your face. Avoid contact with the feet of birds of prey too as they have very sharp talons.

If you need to rescue a baby and there are protective parents around, an umbrella is a great way to keep a gentle barrier between you and upset parent birds.

Bats

Before attempting to capture a bat, please note the following important information

  • It is illegal to handle a bat unless to rescue it from danger or help a sick or injured bat.
  • Although very rare, some bats in the UK have been found to carry rabies.
  • It’s dangerous to try and capture a bat in mid flight. You’re unlikely to succeed but if you do you may injure the bat.

In light of the above information, we recommend that you contact a licensed bat carer before touching the bat where possible. We list many in our directory of rescues or you can also contact the Bat Conservation Trust directly.

If the bat is in immediate danger and you need to move it, pick it up using light gloves or a tea towel. In truth they don’t often bite and the smaller species would struggle to break your skin if they did anyway. But this helps to protect you from any rabies risk and is gentler for the bat.

 

Hedgehogs

As a hedgehog’s usual defence is to keep still and curl up, they shouldn’t prove too difficult to capture. It is best to pick them up using thick gloves or a towel to protect you from their spines. Make sure the box you put them in is tall and/or has a lid as hedgehogs are surprisingly good climbers.

 

Squirrels and small rodents

Don’t be fooled by the small stature of rodents. Even a tiny mouse can give you a surprisingly painful bite and a squirrel can cause significant injury. Whilst the ability of rats and mice to carry and spread disease is grossly exaggerated, it is sensible to avoid being bitten by them, so handle with care using gloves or a thick towel.

Cover the animal with a towel and try to “shuffle” it gently into a box turned on its side. That way you don’t need to actually pick the animal up. If this isn’t possible or the casualty has injuries which doing this may make worse, use the towel to ensure the animal cannot see your hands before picking it up. ‘Scooping’ with both hands rather than grabbing with one will cause less stress but cup your hands around the animal as you do so they don’t jump forward out of your hands and risk falling and hurting themselves.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve got the animal contained, your next step will be finding a wildlife rescue.

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Step 1: Assessing if Help is Needed

It’s essential that a wild animal in need of assistance is helped but it’s also very important that wild animals are not plucked from the wild unnecessarily. Finding the right balance can sometimes be difficult and that’s where we hope to help.

 

Search our Advice Articles

We have an extensive library of articles on our website which aim to cover some of the common reasons why a member of the public might think an animal needs help. You can search these articles below or browse them all at helpwidlife.co.uk/advice.

 

 

There are also some general principles you can use as well.

 

Always seek help from a rescue if an animal has

  • a visible wound or growth
  • fly eggs or live maggots on them
  • been or is caught in netting, a trap or snare, or tangled in fishing line/string etc (see this article for more information)
  • been covered with oil or similar substance (more information here)
  • been in the mouth of a cat or dog (more advice here)
  • been hit by a car

 

Rescue help is probably not needed for

  • a healthy looking fledgling (fully feathered) bird on the ground (more information here)
  • adult waterfowl with airplane/angel wing (see this article for more information)
  • baby deer or hares (leverets) without their mother (it’s normal for them to be left alone)
  • a nest of fox cubs, baby hedgehogs or rodents without their mother (Mum won’t spend all her time with the babies)

If you remain unsure or need bespoke advice you can email our helpdesk or there are details of some telephone advice lines at helpwildlife.co.uk/help.

 

Next Steps

If the animal does need help, the next step, if it’s safe to do so, is to capture it. There’s advice on that step here.
If it’s a large or potentially dangerous animal such as a deer, fox, badger, swan or goose, proceed directly to our advice on finding and contacting a wildlife rescue.

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When to Help Waterfowl

Waterfowl refers to birds which live on ponds and lakes such as Swans, Geese, Ducks and their smaller cousins such as Coots and Moorhens. This page covers adult birds. If you need advice on baby water fowl, please see here.

Living on water affords them some protection from natural predators but unfortunately they are commonly affected by fishing line, pollution and dog attacks.

When to Rescue

Birds hit by a car or attacked by a dog
The bird should be treated for shock and properly assessed for injuries.

Any bird with an obvious injury
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is visibly damaged, the bird will need help.

Birds with fishing line wrapped round them or in their mouth
There’s some more information on this here.

A domestic duck or goose abandoned in the wild
This is unfortunately common. These can often be distinguished from wild birds by their colouring (wild ducks aren’t usually white) or shape (heavy in the body with small wings meaning they can’t fly). They won’t survive in the wild and need to be rescued.

 

When to take other action

A bird with a deformed wing
This is a relatively common condition where the part of the wing or wings grow at right angles to the body rendering the bird flightless. Whether they should be rescued depends a lot on their age and the environment they live in. There’s more information here.

Birds on an oiled body of water
See here for more details of when to help

A duck nesting in a garden or other unsuitable location
See the advice here

 

When to leave alone

A bird standing on one leg or tucking its leg up on to its body
These are normal postures for waterfowl. Unless you see the bird limping, or the leg has a visible wound, this isn’t a cause for concern.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help, small casualties can be contained and taken to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

However, you should not attempt to capture large birds such as swans and geese yourself. Whilst tales of swans breaking your arm are somewhat exaggerated, these are big, powerful birds who could certainly cause a few bruises and should only be handled by experts. In these cases you should telephone a wildlife rescue and, if possible, wait with the animal until they arrive so that you can provide them with an up to date location.

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Owls and Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey refers to birds such as kestrels and hawks as well as owls.

Whilst these pages are primarily concerned with wild animals, it is not uncommon for captive bred birds to fly away from their handlers and become disorientated so we also touch on what to do in that situation.

This page covers adult birds. If you need help with a baby bird of prey or owl, please see here.

When to rescue

If the bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat, regardless of species, will need rescue and treatment. There are bacteria on cat’s teeth which will pass into the bird’s bloodstream when it is bitten. Without antibiotics within a few hours of the attack the bird may develop fatal septicaemia. Any bird caught by a dog should be properly assessed for injuries.

If the bird is obviously injured
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is obviously damaged then the bird needs help. Survival in the wild is unlikely with an injury.

A bird has been hit by a car
This is common as they learn to fly. The baby may just be stunned but make sure it’s safe and contact a wildlife rescue for advice.

An adult bird which can be approached
An adult bird of prey should see a human as a threat and try to get away. If it makes no effort to fly off, or is unable to, then it’s in serious trouble.

 

When to take other action

A bird with straps rounds its legs
This is an escaped captive bird. It probably won’t survive in the wild and, if it does, it will have a negative impact on the local ecosystem. Report the sighting to your local falconry centre.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

 

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When to Help Garden Birds

Garden birds refers to the sort of birds you might find visiting your garden e.g. sparrows, starlings, blackbirds, tits, finches, crows, magpies, woodpigeons etc. This article provides advice on when to help adults of these species – for advice on when to help a baby garden bird, please see here.

Garden birds often need help after cat attacks or flying into windows.

When to rescue

Birds caught by a cat or dog
Any bird caught by a predator will need to be checked for injuries and given antibiotics. Bacteria on the cat’s teeth can cause fatal septicaemia if they get into the bloodstream.

Birds hit by a car
They may be lucky and escape major injury but it’s best they go to rescue for treatment for shock at the very least.

Any bird with an obvious injury
Such as a dropped wing, leg injury or obvious wound. The bird will need specialist treatment and rehabilitation.

An adult bird which can be easily approached
All garden birds should naturally be fearful of people. If an adult allows you to get close and cannot or does not try to escape, there is a serious issue and the birds needs help.

A grounded swift
These red-listed birds cannot easily take off from the ground. Sometimes they just need help getting air borne again but it’s best that a rescue checks them over first in case there is a medical reason why they ended up grounded.

A bird with visible growths around its face or legs
The bird may be suffering from trichomoniasis or pox, both of which are fatal without treatment.

 

When to take other action

A bird which has flown into a window
Make sure the bird is safe from cats and other predators and observe. If the bird doesn’t fly away within a few minutes they should be picked up and put into a secure box in a warm, quiet place. Often they just need to rest for a few hours or overnight and can then be released. If there are any obvious injuries or the bird doesn’t recover quickly then do contact a wildlife rescue.

 

When to leave alone

A bird which looks ‘scruffy’ around the head and neck area
Many species moult at the end of the breeding season (late Summer/early Autumn) which can leave them looking pretty tatty. This is normal, though, and nothing to worry about.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Baby Waterfowl

Waterfowl refers to birds which live on ponds and lakes such as Swans, Geese, Ducks and their smaller cousins such as Coots and Moorhens. Common issues with these babies are injuries from fishing line or other litter, being seen on their own or failing to thrive. Be aware that older babies of larger species such as swans and geese can be quite strong so should not be handled by the public. Waterfowl parents can also be very protective so do be cautious when interacting with their young.

 

When to rescue

If the bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat will need rescue and treatment. There are bacteria on cat’s teeth which will pass into the bird’s bloodstream when it is bitten. Without antibiotics within a few hours of the attack the bird may develop fatal septicaemia. Any bird caught by a dog should be properly assessed for injuries.

If the bird is obviously injured
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is obviously damaged then the bird needs help. Survival in the wild is unlikely with an injury.

A baby is unwell
If a baby is tending to be separate from the rest of the brood, is struggling to swim, looks weak etc then it is likely to be unwell and in need of help.

A bird has been hit by a car
This is common as they learn to fly. The baby may just be stunned but make sure it’s safe and contact a wildlife rescue for advice.

A bird with fishing line or other litter on it
Litter can cause injuries and restrict growth so please contact a rescue immediately if you see waterfowl affected by it.

Birds affected by oil or other pollution

See this article for more information.

 

When to take other action

No sign of parents
Baby waterfowl usually spend all their time with one or both parents. A single chick on its own or a group of babies with no adult around is not normal. Observe from a distance to make sure there isn’t an adult nearby and call a wildlife rescue for advice if none appears.

A duck nesting in an unsuitable location
For example, a garden, hanging basket, on a swimming pool etc. See the advice here.

A bird with ‘airplane’ or ‘angel’ wing
This is a relatively common condition where the part of the wing or wings grow at right angles to the body rendering the bird flightless. Whether they should be rescued depends a lot on their age and the environment they live in. There’s more information here.

An older cygnet being attacked by their parents
Young swans leave home during Autumn and Winter and this usually happens without too much drama. Occasionally, the cygnet will fail to leave because it doesn’t have enough space to take off or it’s weak or unwell. When this happens, the parents can become very aggressive and even kill the youngster. Contact your local wildlife rescue for advice in this situation.

 

When to leave alone

Apparently ’One legged’ birds
Many species of waterfowl commonly tuck one leg up while swimming or standing. This is usually to either warm up a cold foot or to help with cooling on a hot day. It’s nothing to be concerned about as long as they leg has no visible damage.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders

However, you should not attempt to capture older babies of large birds such as swans and geese yourself. Whilst tales of swans breaking your arm are somewhat exaggerated, these are big, powerful birds who could certainly cause a few bruises and should only be handled by experts. In these cases you should telephone a wildlife rescue and, if possible, wait with the animal until they arrive so that you can provide them with an up to date location.

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Baby Gulls

Naturally cliff nesting birds, gulls have adapted to nest on roofs inland to take advantage of available food. They begin nesting in May and aren’t great nest builders so it’s not at all uncommon for their babies to fall off roofs and end up on the ground. Although they may need some assistance, in most instances it’s possible to help without calling on an already stretched wildlife rescue.

When to rescue

If the bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat will need rescue and treatment. There are bacteria on cat’s teeth which will pass into the bird’s bloodstream when it is bitten. Without antibiotics within a few hours of the attack the bird may develop fatal septicaemia. Any bird caught by a dog should be properly assessed for injuries.

If the bird is obviously injured
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is obviously damaged then the bird needs help. Survival in the wild is unlikely with an injury.

A bird has flown into a window or been hit by a car
This is common as they learn to fly. The baby may just be stunned but make sure it’s safe and contact a wildlife rescue for advice.

 

When to take other action

A fluffy or partially feathered baby on the ground
These babies are at risk and should be placed back in the nest or as close to it as possible e.g. on a nearby house or garage roof. Take care to place them as close to their original nest site as possible and not near to neighbouring gulls’ nests or they may get attacked. Contact a rescue for advice if needed but please make every effort to get the baby back to the nest yourself if possible – most rescues don’t have long ladders. Ask neighbours or on your local Facebook group to source a ladder or sometimes the fire brigade will be willing to help if they’re not otherwise busy.

 

When to leave alone

A healthy fledgling on the ground
A fledgling is a baby with all the long flight feathers on their wings. At rest, the tips of their wings should meet just above their tail. Like most birds, gulls leave the nest before they’re fully able to fly. It’s common for them to spend time building strength in their wings from the ground and this may take up to about a week. Unless they are injured or in immediate danger, they are best left alone. If in danger, try first to just move them to a nearby safer location.

A baby gull is crying, and the parents don’t seem to be feeding it
It is normal for baby gulls to call to their parents. Gulls also feed their young much less often than many other species at only a handful of times a day. As long as the baby is uninjured and off the ground (or a fledgling) and the parents are in the area, this isn’t a cause for concern.

The gulls are a nuisance
Nesting gulls can cause some issues as they become quite protective of their nest areas. However, gulls and their nests are protected by law and removing the eggs or babies or interfering with the nest just because they are unwanted is illegal. The issue should only last a few weeks and using an umbrella to protect yourself from swooping parents can help protect you.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Baby Feral Pigeons

When considering whether to help a baby pigeon, the advice for young Stock Doves, Collared Doves and Woodpigeons is broadly the same for other garden birds (see here). However, feral pigeons are, by nature, cliff nesting birds so their habits and behaviours are quite different.

It’s also worth clarifying that, contrary to popular belief, pigeons are not ‘classed as vermin’ and there are no legal issues preventing you from helping them. They also have broadly similar legal protection to other birds meaning it’s an offence to disturb their nests or to cause or fail to prevent their suffering.

Baby pigeons can, broadly, be grouped into three different stages of development. Hatchlings are covered in yellow fluff with maybe a bit of ‘stubble’ where feathers are starting to grow. Nestlings will be partially or even mostly feathered but will have a short tail and may have some yellow fluff remaining around their head and neck. Fledgling pigeons will look largely the same as adults with the main difference being the lack of iridescent feathers on their neck.

Hatchling Nestling Fledgling

When to rescue

If the bird has been caught by a cat
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat will need rescue and treatment. There are bacteria on cat’s teeth which will pass into the bird’s bloodstream when it is bitten. Without antibiotics within a few hours of the attack the bird may develop fatal septicaemia.

If the bird is obviously injured
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is obviously damaged then the bird needs help. Survival in the wild is unlikely with an injury.

A hatchling or nestling feral pigeon on the ground and you can’t find the nest
The parents will only feed the baby if it is in the original nest. Unlike most other species, they will not find and continue to care for it if you place it in a bush or tree. If you can’t return them to the original nest, the baby will need to be rescued.

A calcium deficient collared dove

A young collared dove with weak legs and/or sheathed feathers
Collared doves aren’t native to the UK. They naturally breed all year round but babies hatched in autumn and winter don’t get enough vitamin D to process calcium, leading to a calcium deficiency which manifests itself as a rickets-like problem with the legs and poorly developed feathers. These babies will not survive without help.

Both parents have been killed
Depending on the age of the babies, a single parent may cope with raising them alone. But if both parents are dead, they will certainly need to be rescued.

A woodpigeon with growths on its feet and round its beak
Young woodpigeons are particularly prone to suffering with a bird pox virus which causes round growths to appear on their face, legs and feet. Although there is no treatment, supportive care can help them through it.

 

When to take other action

A hatchling or nestling out of its nest which can be accessed
If you find a healthy, uninjured baby pigeon out of the nest and you can see and get to the nest, you can return it there for the parents to care for. Don’t worry, they won’t be upset by you handling the baby. Observe to make sure the parents return and continue caring for the baby.

 

When to leave alone

A well-looking fledgling out of the nest
As long as the baby is bright, active, runs away from you and attempts to fly when needed, they can be left alone.

An apparently abandoned nest of baby pigeons
Once the babies get to about a week old and start to grow feathers, they no longer need to be ‘brooded’ by the parents to stay warm. Pigeons only feed their babies 4-6 times a day so you won’t see them flitting back and forth frequently as you would many other species. Both parents are involved in raising the babies and both can feed them so it would be very unusual for them to be totally abandoned.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Baby Garden Birds

By garden birds we mean the birds most commonly found in your garden such as Sparrows, Blackbirds, Starlings, Tits, Robins etc, including corvids such as Crows, Magpies and Jays, as well as Woodpigeons and Collared Doves.

Although often seen in the garden, the nesting habits of feral pigeons are different as they were originally coast/cliff nesting birds. See this post for advice if the baby is a feral pigeon.

 

What are the issues?

Babies of the species discussed here leave the nest before they can fly so rescues receive very high numbers of calls about them every year. Most don’t need rescuing but there are important exceptions to this rule.

 

When to rescue

Bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird caught by a predator will need to be checked for injuries and given antibiotics. Bacteria on the cat’s teeth can cause fatal septicaemia if they get into the bloodstream.

Any bird with an obvious injury
Such as a dropped wing, leg injury or obvious wound. The bird will need specialist treatment and rehabilitation.

Both parents have been killed
If you know for sure that both parents are dead, the babies will need to be rescued. Some species will survive with one parent – contact a rescue for advice in this situation.

 

When to take other action

A hatchling starling. Hatchlings are bald or have little feathering and will be unable to stand up.

A hatchling out of the nest
A baby this young will not survive long out of the nest. They will either be taken by a predator or die of cold as they need to be brooded by a parent to keep warm. If at all possible, the baby should be returned to the nest. If this is not possible, making a makeshift nest and placing it in the same tree/bush might also work but do keep a close eye on the situation to check if the parents return to the baby. If the baby feels cold to the touch, it would be best to warm them in your hands or on a warm hot water bottle before putting them back outside and watching from a safe distance (ideally indoors). If the parents do not return to the baby within about an hour, contact a rescue for further advice.

A nestling out of the nest

A nestling blackbird. Nestlings are mostly feathered but with very little tail and their posture is ‘squat’.

These babies should be returned to the nest if at all possible. If not, making a makeshift nest and placing it in the same tree/bush might also work but do keep a close eye on the situation to check if the parents return to the baby. If the parents do not return to the baby within about an hour, contact a rescue for further advice.

 

The nest has been destroyed
If the nest of some fledgling birds is destroyed the babies can likely be left alone, just keep an eye on them and move them up into a bush or tree if needed. If the babies are at hatchling or nestling stage making a makeshift nest and placing it in the same tree/bush might work but do keep a close eye on the situation to check if the parents return to the new nest. If the parents do not return to the baby within about an hour, contact a rescue for further advice.

A fledgling blackbird. Fledglings will be fully feathered and have some tail, though perhaps not full length. Their wing feathers will reach to their tail.

A fledgling in danger from a cat, cars or any other threat
Hatchlings and nestlings should be returned to the nest as detailed above. Rescues get many calls each year about fledglings who the caller is worried may be caught by a cat. It isn’t practical, legal or ethical to take in young birds just in case they get harmed. In this situation, keep cats indoors (and ask your neighbours to do the same) and place the baby somewhere safe such as a bush or low tree branch. Leaving the nest before they can fly is normal and they should have mastered flying within a few days. There’s more on this here.

 

When to leave alone

A fledgling bird which is not injured and not in immediate danger
As mentioned above, leaving the nest before they can fly is normal for these species and they should have mastered flying within a few days. Just keep pets indoors as much as possible and let the baby get used to using their wings. There’s more on this here.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Baby Birds of Prey and Owls

This page covers babies of species such as kestrels, sparrowhawks and owls.

When dealing with baby owls in particular, it’s important to be sure of the species. If you’re unsure what species you’ve found this information from the Barn Owl Trust is very helpful. If in doubt as to whether to intervene, retreat to a safe distance and call a rescue for advice.

You should also be aware that even baby owls and birds of prey have dangerous talons so always use gloves or a towel to handle them.

When to rescue

If the bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat, regardless of its age or species, will need rescue and treatment. There are bacteria on cat’s teeth which will pass into the bird’s bloodstream when it is bitten. Without antibiotics within a few hours of the attack the bird may develop fatal septicaemia. Any bird caught by a dog should be properly assessed for injuries.

If the bird is obviously injured
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is obviously damaged then the bird needs help. Survival in the wild is unlikely with an injury.

A bird has been hit by a car
This is common as they learn to fly. The baby may just be stunned but make sure it’s safe and contact a wildlife rescue for advice.

When to take other action

A barn owl chick out of the nest
Baby barn owls need to be returned to the nest or the parents won’t feed it. Place the baby back in the nest if you can but contact a rescue if you cannot find the nest or you need help.

A Little Owl chick out of the nest
Ideally, they should be returned to the nest which should contain other babies. But their nests can be hard to spot so contact a rescue for help if in doubt.

When to leave alone

A fledgling bird out of the nest
If the chick is largely feathered it is probably just taking its first few practice flights. Only intervene if in immediate danger and then try to simply place it in a safe place. It’s fine to handle the baby to move it to safety, this won’t cause the parents to reject them.

A tawny owl chick at the bottom of a tree
It is normal for tawny babies to leave the nest before they can fly. If the baby is in danger, you can place it on a tree branch so it’s out of harm’s way. It is not necessary to return them to the nest. If the baby is unresponsive or laying on its side, it may be hurt or unwell – seek advice from a rescue.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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Animals Hit by a Car

Hundreds of thousands of wild birds and animals are killed and injured on Britain’s roads every year. The really sad thing is that so many are left to die a slow death as they are repeatedly run over when many could be saved with proper help.

Our articles often talk about whether or not you should intervene – in the case of an animal hit by a car, you should always contact a rescue to at least get the victim checked over.

Small animals should be contained and taken to a rescue ASAP. Larger animals such as foxes, badgers, swans and deer are potentially dangerous when scared or injured and require expert handling. Please do not attempt to capture or contain them. If a large animal is in the road, you may wish to call the police, as they will sometimes attend in this scenario to ease disruption and the safety risk to traffic. If the animal leaves the scene, try to see where it goes so you can direct the rescue to them when they arrive.

The most important thing you can do here (apart from calling a rescuer urgently), is minimise the casualty’s stress. If the casualty is not moving and it is safe to do so you can approach carefully and put a coat or blanket over its head. This will help to stop the casualty becoming too stressed. Some animals, especially deer, in these situations will freeze and lay still, making no attempt to get away. This does not mean they are tame – please keep your distance and never try to ‘comfort’ them; you will only be making them more stressed.

 

Finding Help

You’ll find detailed advice on next steps at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

 

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Reuniting Baby Squirrels

It’s important to know that it is now illegal to release Grey Squirrels into the wild or to care for them without a license. For this reason, rescue places are extremely limited so every effort should be made to leave uninjured squirrels in the wild. Where help is needed, it’s vital to find a rescue still able to help squirrels. Unlicensed organisations such as vets, R/SSPCA, and any unlicensed wildlife rescues are legally obliged to put any Grey Squirrels brought to them to sleep.

Squirrels breed twice a year, once in March/April and again August/September. At these times it’s common for babies to be found out of the nest. This can happen for various reasons such as

• cat or other predator attack
• being dropped when Mum was moving them between nests
• high winds or poorly secured nest
• nest destroyed by tree work
• older babies may wander from the nest if they get hungry or fall while playing/exploring

 

If the baby is sick or injured

If the baby squirrel has been caught by a cat or has any visible wounds it will need help from a wildlife rescue. The same is true if the baby is noticeably thin, weak or dehydrated or has fly eggs (which look like yellow grains of rice) on its body. In these cases please contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will help you to find a rescue able to care for squirrels.

 

If the baby is healthy and uninjured

It is always important not to take baby animals from the wild unless necessary but, with Grey Squirrels, this is extra important due to their legal status which means rescue spaces are very limited. Every effort must be made to reunite the baby with the mother. Squirrels are excellent parents and usually have a backup nest on standby. A Mum separated from her babies will usually return and move them to the other nest given time to do so.

Start by preparing a small cardboard box or basket. The box should be top (not front) opening and not too tall or the mother will be reluctant to fetch the baby from it. If needs be cut the sides down so it’s just tall enough to contain the baby.

Fill a hot water bottle, wrap it in a towel and place it in the box. Put the baby in on top of the wrapped hot water bottle. If you don’t have a hot water bottle you can also soak a washcloth in hot water and put this in a sealed ziploc bag. Add some natural materials to the box such as leaves, twigs, grass etc for baby to burrow in and to help counteract the human smell of the towel and bottle. Mum may be reluctant to come to the box or take the baby if there’s too much human scent around.

Place the box as close to where the nest is or you suspect it to be as possible. Ideally, suspending the box from a low tree branch or affixing it a little way up the trunk will help to keep baby safe from cats and other predators.

Leave the area so Mum feels safe to return but keep watch from a distance so you can intervene if there’s a problem such as the baby leaving the box or a predator threatening them. It can help to play baby squirrel distress noises to attract Mum back to the area. There are plenty of videos of this on Youtube – there’s a good one at https://youtu.be/rxr53i2lI8s. We suggest playing this every half an hour or so (more often may attract the attention of predators).

Wait until it’s dark to see if Mum returns. If it’s dark, nearly dark or raining heavily when you find the baby, take them indoors, keep them warm (refreshing the hot water bottle as needed), and try to reunite them in the morning/when the rain stops. Allow at least four hours of daylight for Mum to return and then, if there’s no sign of her, get in touch and we’ll help you to find a suitable rescue.

NB: Please do not try to feed the baby. They need a specialist formula and should never be given cow’s milk. Inexpert feeding can be fatal.

 

Finding Help

Should rescue help be needed, you’ll find detailed advice on keeping them safe and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Squirrels

As you are likely aware, there are two species of squirrel living in the UK – the native Red Squirrel and the introduced Grey. The advice below primarily relates to Grey Squirrels as this is by far the more likely species you will encounter.

Grey Squirrels are sometimes considered vermin but we believe that every animal has the same right to help when needed. Unfortunately, there are legal complications surrounding Grey Squirrels which mean it is illegal to help them without a license. As a result many organisations are forced to euthanase any Grey Squirrel casualty. If you need help with a Grey Squirrel, please get in touch for assistance with finding a rescue which is able to help them.

You also need to be aware that squirrels can give a very bad bite when scared so need to be handled with extreme caution.

 

When to rescue

A squirrel caught by a cat
The squirrel must receive antibiotic treatment within a few hours or the bacteria on the cats teeth may cause them to develop fatal septicaemia.

A squirrel caught by a dog or hit by a car
The squirrel must be assessed for injuries and treated for shock.

A squirrel with a serious injury
Given the legal situation, a mild injury such as a skin wound or sprain may be best left to heal in the wild. But if the squirrel has a major injury such as a broken limb or damaged eye, they will are likely to need help.

 

When to take other action

A baby squirrel out of the nest
It is normal for squirrel mothers to spend the day away from the babies and sometimes the youngsters will get bored and hungry and go for a wander. Mum will usually round them up when she returns. You can read our guide to reuniting them with Mum here.

A squirrel with bald patches and/or minor skin wounds
Like foxes, squirrels can suffer with sarcoptic mange which causes itching, leading to loss of fur and, in advanced cases, skin damage. This can be treated with a remedy added to their food. This article contains sources of the treatment (listed as a fox mange remedy but it works for squirrels too).

 

When to leave alone

An adult or juvenile squirrel approaching people for food
This is quite common, especially in parks where they are used to being fed by people. The squirrel may even climb up your leg. This it is nothing to worry about as long as the squirrel appears healthy, although it shouldn’t be encouraged.

A squirrel which appears ‘frozen’ or is making a squawking noise
Often when spooked, squirrels will climb up high and stay there for many hours until they feel safe. Usually they will come down at dusk. Intervening here is likely to do more harm than good by scaring the squirrel into jumping from a height.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Rodents

Rats and mice are often referred to as vermin but in our view all wild animals have an equal right to help when things go wrong. It’s important to note, there are no legal obstacles to rescuing and rehabilitating these animals, though not every rescue will be willing to treat them.

Rodents most often need help when attacked by cats or when their nests are disturbed, for example during gardening work.

 

When to rescue

Any animal caught by a cat
They must receive antibiotic treatment within a few hours or the bacteria on the cats teeth may cause fatal septicaemia.

An animal that can be easily approached
These are naturally very wary animals so if they cannot or do not try to run away they’re in trouble.

An animal with an obvious injury
An animal of any age with a visible wound or injury such as a damaged limb will need help.

 

When to take other action

A lone baby with their eyes closed outside of the nest
This is a dangerous situation for the baby but it may be that Mum has dropped them while moving nests. Observe from a distance (ideally indoors) for an hour and contact a rescue for help if Mum doesn’t return.

A lone juvenile caught in wet weather

We get many enquiries about young mice after heavy rain. They’re often found damp and huddled near to homes. Usually, just bringing them inside and getting them warm and dry until the rain passes is all they need. See here for more detailed care advice. Once fully alert you can offer some fruit for energy. If they’re not fully recovered and bouncing about after a few hours, they’ll need help from a rescue.

A nest of babies with no Mum
Mothers often spend time away from their young and will flee if the nest is disturbed. Cover the nest with natural materials such as leaves or grass and leave the area so Mum feels safe to return. Contact a wildlife rescue for advice if there is no sign of an adult after several hours or if you find a group of babies outside of a nest.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Otters

Our thanks to the International Otter Survival Fund for contributing the advice below.

It is important when you first come across an otter that you believe to be in distress or injured that you do not immediately approach it. For otter cubs, you need to consider a number of factors before you intervene. However, if an otter cub is in obvious danger it should be removed e.g. by the side of a road.

 

When to rescue

If an otter is caught by a pet
The otter will be need to be assessed for injuries

If an otter is hit by a car
The otter will be need to be assessed for concussion, shock or other injuries

An otter with an obvious injury
Any animal with an obvious injury will need assistance

An otter in a snare
If you encounter an otter in a snare be very cautious. You will need professional assistance to release the otter and it will then need to be treated for any injuries. Take a full record of the date, time and place as this will need to be notified to the Police Wildlife Liaison Officer. If possible take a photo.

A mother of cubs has been killed
Call for assistance immediately

 

When to take other action

Otters approaching people/houses
If an adult otter appears in an area of human habitation, observe the animal until it settles in a safe area. Juveniles will sometimes appear in odd places, e.g. a garage. In both cases you need to call relevant authorities/organisations but do not touch the animal. Leave a bowl of water near to the animal and try to make sure it cannot escape.

 

When to leave alone

An otter cub on its own
Mother otters often leave cubs to go fishing for food or she may be moving them from the natal holt. So just because a cub is on its own doesn’t necessarily mean it needs help. If you see a cub, do not intervene unless it is in immediate danger. Instead observe for a period of time – it is important not to approach cubs as human scent will detract the mother from returning to her young. Before intervening contact relevant authorities/organisations for advice.

 

Next Steps

Never attempt to pick up an otter, especially an adult. Adult otters can be extremely aggressive and cause serious harm to an individual. If an adult otter appears to be injured approach to a safe distance before assessing any injuries. An otter which appears unconscious can suddenly come to, so be very careful. If the otter attempts to move away with serious injuries observe where it goes.

For otter cubs, interaction should be determined by other factors but if it is in obvious danger it should be removed carefully from potential harm e.g. by the side of a road. Approach cubs with care as even when small they can bite.

For both cubs and adults, we would advise contacting otter rescue centres before approaching the animal unless absolutely necessary.

You can call the International Otter Survival Fund (01471 822 487) for help and advice at any time. IOSF can also direct you to other centres around the country who can help.

You’ll also find detailed advice on getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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The Ethics of Pigeon Racing

If you have found a lost racing pigeon please read our article here first.

Working in wildlife rescue has brought scores of lost, emaciated, dehydrated and injured racing pigeons to our care and led us to question the ethics of this “sport”. Pigeon fanciers have a public image as a gentle, cuddly granddad with a deep love for his birds. But wildlife rescuers often see a darker side. The majority of calls to fanciers about their lost birds result either with being told to just leave it to find its way home, or an admission that the bird is no longer useful and they would just “neck it” if returned. Many of the birds handed in to rescues are surprisingly tame with little of the survival instincts of their wild cousins leading us to question whether releasing them for races is really much different than releasing an unwanted pet budgie into the wild. One might assume that losses are fairly isolated incidents but research has consistently shown that the average loft will lose as much as 60% of its occupants each year! What’s worse is that rather than take responsibility for these losses, many pigeon racers blame indigenous predatory birds or even wild pigeons (for tempting their birds away!) and call for culls of raptors, corvids and feral pigeons. So pigeon racing affects not just the racing pigeons themselves, but many other birds too.

‘Daisy’ a young racer attacked by a predator. She was so traumatised, she wouldn’t eat and hardly moved for several days

The life of a racing pigeon

It’s likely that racing pigeons are quite well cared for whilst they are racing or breeding. A bird which is not healthy and well fed won’t perform well in a race. Our concern though is what happens to the birds once they are too old to race or breed or if they fail? It only takes a brief search of the internet to reveal many reports of people contacting pigeon owners only to be told that the bird will be culled as it’s no longer of use. Look at the pigeon racing forums themselves and you’ll find many references to birds being “binned” because of a failure to perform. It’s clear from reading these forums that culling unproductive birds is extremely common place and fanciers are encouraged not to talk about it in public. Logically, without culling, either directly or indirectly through birds lost in races, lofts would soon be filled with older, slower birds since pigeons can live into their teens. It’s hard to see how a fancier could remain competitive without disposing of older or less productive birds in some way.

‘Ariana’ was attacked and played with by two cats, suffering multiple puncture wounds and a shoulder injury

The races

Following pressure from pigeon racers to take action on alleged predation by raptors on racing pigeons, Scottish National Heritage conducted a review of research into this topic. You can read the full report here

They found that, on average in Scotland, 56% of the loft population is lost each year either at the loft, in training or during races. They looked at the results of a survey of members of the Scottish Homing Union (SHU) and found that, by their own admission, members lost 33,043 birds during training flights and 34,685 during races. The figures for losses amounted to an average of 40 birds per loft per year. According to the Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA) there are 60,000 pigeon fanciers in the UK. If we apply the figures from the Scottish studies, this would suggest that UK fanciers lose around 2.4 million birds per year! The sheer volume of suffering caused by this sport is hard to even comprehend!

The outlook for these missing birds is grim. One of the studies reviewed by SNH indicated that a major contributory factor to losses during races was weakness due to the conditions imposed on pigeons during transport to liberation points. Lack of drinking water, or the opportunity to utilise it, and overcrowding in poorly ventilated transporters, caused birds to dehydrate and overheat. This then meant they were weakened and more likely to die on the race route.

‘Beau’ suffered an unknown trauma while racing which led to the loss of his eye

One study, which looked at the condition of lost racing pigeons handed into wildlife hospitals, found that the majority of these birds were very underweight, averaging 315g compared to an average weight amongst healthy birds of 425g. So that’s a potential loss of more than a quarter of their body weight!

Imagine the amount of physical trauma which would cause these birds to lose a quarter of their body weight. That’s like the average human losing three stone, something which would usually take months. Yet these stray birds lose that amount in a matter of days due to the extreme physical exertion and subsequent starvation.

Some lucky lost birds might get picked up by someone who contacts their owner using the contact details on the bird’s ring or wing stamp. Most of the pigeon fancier unions have a code of practice requiring their members to take responsibility for their lost birds. But this only really requires them to arrange for it to be collected from the finder and/or culled. Indeed the RPRA handbook states “If a finder is employed as, or carries out the business of, a pest controller, the owner shall have the right to request the finder to dispose of the bird or birds in the same manner as he deals with feral pigeons which come into his possession”. Our experience is that birds who have not found their own way home are rarely valued by their owners.

Raptor persecution

The wing of this bird, ‘Polly’, was partially missing on admission. It’s believed she was shot at by a landowner who objected to her hanging around.

The studies reviewed by SNH suggested sparrowhawks were implicated in the loss of about 0.7% of the Scottish racing pigeon population. Estimating the numbers taken by sparrowhawks was made simpler by the fact that sparrowhawks tend to take birds from around the lofts. As peregrine falcons tend to take birds during races, it was harder to reach an accurate estimate of their impact. The studies did find that around 60-70% of the racing pigeons predated by peregrines were birds that were already feral, or had strayed significantly from their flight routes. Around 36% were “race-feral” birds – those which had been absent for over a year – and, they concluded, do not represent a direct loss to the fancier.

The Raptor Working Group found that only around 7.5% of racing pigeon losses could be attributed to raptors and that straying and collisions accounted for substantially more losses each year.

‘Donnie’ was attacked by a predator and suffered extensive neck injuries

SNH concluded that sparrowhawks were a concern for individual loft-owners rather than a regional or national problem and that mitigation measures should be directed at the level of the loft rather than at a regional or national scale. They found no justification for a cull of sparrowhawks yet this is still sought by many pigeon fanciers.

Some fanciers are willing to break the law and take direction action against birds of prey. A quick google will show many cases of pigeon fanciers being prosecuted from illegal persecution of birds of prey.

Of course, the response will be that these are an isolated few. But a desire to see birds of prey culled is certainly not isolated in the pigeon fancy. Whether it’s their own birds or wild birds, there are plenty of pigeon fanciers who think it’s fine for birds to die for their hobby.

The fancier’s view below, sent to us by email, spelling and grammar is as received! The reference to police is because this charming chap threatened us with violence because he disagreed with our views on his sport –

Your just like the politicians that run our country, any excuse to keep your preditures, I will not be silenced by yourself and the threat of Police, so get stuffed, your a do gooder and thats whats spoiling our countryside, everything needs to be in perfect order to make things work. Im telling you and your so called do gooders there too many RAPTURES killing the song birds, not just racing pigeons, and one day they will be a reconing. I like wild life, but it need managing to make things balance, but youi people think you know everything, you dont. Still disgusted with your views.

‘Norman’, attacked possibly by crows and sustaining severe head injuries. Sadly, he had to be euthanised to prevent further suffering.

We do not deny that birds of prey will take and eat racing pigeons, of course they will. Rock Doves, the wild descendants of domestic pigeons, make up a fair part of the natural diet of some of our raptor species. But scientific study has shown that raptor predation accounts for far fewer losses than other factors. We believe that calling for native wildlife to be culled in order to protect a hobby practised by a very small minority of people is utterly unjustified and unreasonable. To be blunt, if pigeon fanciers wish to see lower numbers of birds of prey, they should consider not sending them so many easy meals!

Just to clarify – when we talk about the persecution of raptors by pigeon fanciers, we are sometimes accused of being falconers or RSPB members (the implication being, I assume, that we are concerned only with the conservation of “exciting” species and predators). Helpwildlife.co.uk is devoted to the care of ALL wildlife and values the life of all wild birds and animals from mice to eagles, regardless of their numbers, appearance, or any other factor. Indeed, if this author had to choose they’d say pigeons were their favourite species of bird. Our criticism of pigeon racing is not about politics or any other species, it is purely down to a concern for the welfare of the pigeons themselves.

Undoubtedly there are fanciers who care for their birds or believe that they do. But however well cared for, however “loved”, our view is that releasing a tame, dependent bird into the wild to face predators, shooters, power lines, cars, poor weather and just plain exhaustion in the full knowledge that the odds are against the bird returning home safely, is cruel!

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