Updated on November 29, 2023

By Jeff Ewelt – Executive Director at ZooMontana

You’re doing some yard work and all of the sudden, there it is— a baby bird that looks alone and scared. What do you do?

There’s quite a bit you can do when you encounter downed wildlife. Learn some tips on what to do from ZooMontana.

jeff ewelt eagle

I Found an Animal. Does it Need Help?

There’s a saying within the animal rescue world that’s good to remember. “If you care, leave them there.” While this is a difficult thing to do when an animal is in peril, more often than not, the animal isn’t in peril at all. This is especially true for baby animals. For example, a mother deer will often leave her fawn for hours at a time, only coming back to feed it three to four times a day. Mother rabbits only return to the nest twice a day for feeding, leaving their babies to hunker down on their own. In addition, rabbits can care for themselves at the ripe old age of three weeks. When it comes to mammals, a great rule to remember is if you have to chase it, it doesn’t need your help.

Helping an Injured Bird

Many people find injured birds in the yard. Here are the two types of situations you’re likely to encounter:

  1. A newly hatched nestling that has fallen from the nest  They may have their eyes closed and have yet to form feathers: When discovered, the first thing you should do is look for the nest. If located, the bird can be gently picked up and returned to the nest. Don’t worry, it’s a myth that mom won’t come back if you touch the baby! If you are unable to find the nest, you can make one.  A butter container is the perfect size; poke   holes for leaf litter and drainage. Gently place the bird in the dish, and place the dish in a tree, near where the bird was found. In most instances, mom/dad will find the baby.
  2. A fledgling: This is the period when the bird is too big for the nest but not quite ready to fly. Many times, these fledglings will be out in the open, moving from hiding place to hiding place.  Even though if they look to be alone, mom/dad are still taking care of them. If you back away out of view and watch, you will see the feeding resume. The worst thing you can do is remove a fledgling from its environment. Not only will you take the bird from its parents, but you may also be injured doing so, as mom and dad may begin to dive-bomb you, hitting you in the head. Beware!

baby bird without feathers robin fledgling

Professionals Helping Injured Wildlife

Of course, if any of these situations present an animal that is obviously injured or in need of help, it’s always recommended to contact a local professional. These individuals will guide you on what to do and often come to your location to retrieve the animal. To prepare yourself for a situation like this, take a quick look to see what options for help are in your area. This can be a local zoo, a specific rehabilitation center, your local humane society, an animal sanctuary or possibly your local fish, wildlife and parks agency. Even if these organizations cannot help, they will have recommendations of what to do and who to call.

ZooMontana’s Work

zoomontana wolf after surgery zoomontana grizzly bear after surgery

Here at ZooMontana, we take pride in working almost exclusively with rescues. Unfortunately, most of the rescues we house are ex-pets —  animals that people think would be cool to own but quickly find out that’s not the case. For example, one of ZooMontana’s grizzly bears was illegally kept in an 8 foot by 8 foot dog kennel in someone’s back yard. Whether it be an illegally kept bear, lynx or wolf with hydrocephalus, we at ZooMontana have seen or heard just about everything. The weirdest call we ever got was from someone looking to rehome an octopus. How you have an octopus in Montana … I will never understand! Long story short, most accredited zoos have rescue programs to not only rehab wildlife for release, but to provide forever homes when needed. We always fully assess the situation and do what we can to make sure the animals live their best lives.

Caring for Wildlife Together

zoomontana rescued snake zoomontana rescued porcupine

We all hate to see any animal suffer but know that help is often out there. Be sure to assess, help where you can safely do so and know that you can always call for help. We’re here for the animals and happy to help. It’s also important to note that if an animal is too injured to be released back into the wild, there are many organizations out there like ZooMontana that give these animals permanent, safe and loving homes to peacefully live out the rest of their lives. We always love seeing a family visit the zoo to see an animal they helped rescue. It’s a connection that will be with them for the rest of their lives. So let’s take care of our local wild friends together!

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