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What to do if you find a wild animal that might be sick or injured

In most cases, wild animals should be left alone. If you think you've found a wild animal that is sick or injured, review the information on this page before contacting a wildlife rehabilitator. Do not attempt to capture wild animals without first seeking advice from a wildlife professional.

Table of Contents

If you find a baby bird

While baby birds may look helpless, they usually do not need your assistance unless you see clear signs of injury (e.g., a broken wing). If you find a hatchling or nestling (young bird without feathers) outside the nest, you can try to return it to its nest or create an artificial nest. The parents will not reject it if you touch it. If you find a fledgling (a young, fully feathered bird) outside the nest, leave it alone. While it is spending some time hopping around on the ground learning how to fly, the parents are usually nearby still taking care of it. If you find a fledgling near a road or exposed to danger, it can be moved to a safer, sheltered location nearby. Young birds naturally have a lower survival rates, which keeps populations in balance with available resources.

Birds are protected by law. It is illegal to take an animal from the wild to care for or keep as a pet. If you determine that a baby bird needs care, you can contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for assistance. Find a wildlife rehabilitator.

If you find other young wildlife

It’s almost always best to leave wild animals alone, even if you find a young animal that seems weak or orphaned. Young animals belong in the wild; and though they might seem alone, their parents are often nearby and visit from time to time.

Unless you see clear signs of injury or sickness, it’s best to leave young animals in the wild. Well-meaning people who take young animals out of the wild are actually harming the animals' chances of becoming normal adults. Animals that are taken by people and later released into the wild are at a disadvantage, as they lack the skills needed to find natural food and cover. Young wildlife cared for by humans often end up attached to people, with natural little fear. These animals sometimes end up wandering into populated areas, being attacked by domestic animals, being hit by cars, or even injuring people.

Wild animals are protected by law. It is illegal to take an animal from the wild to care for or keep as a pet. If you determine that an animal needs care, you can contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for assistance. Find a wildlife rehabilitator.

If you find a young deer

Deer fawns are born in late May and early June. If you find a fawn, leave it alone. The animal may be motionless and seem vulnerable, but this is the normal behavior for a fawn. Even if you see a fawn alone for several days you should still leave it alone, the mother is usually feeding and bedded nearby. Does (female deer) visit their fawns to nurse very infrequently, a behavior that helps fawns avoid detection by predators. It is not uncommon for fawns to be left alone for 6-8 hours at a time. Young fawns are usually quite safe when left alone because their color pattern and lack of scent help them to remain undetected.

If you have taken a fawn into your care, you should immediately return it to where you found it, or to safer cover nearby (within 200 yards). Then, quickly leave the area to ensure the fawn doesn't follow you and so the mother feels safe enough to return. The mother will soon return to nurse the fawn, even after it has been handled by humans. Don't try and feed fawns as they have sensitive stomachs.

Many times people try and help fawns as a response to normal fawn behaviors. Normal fawn behaviors includes:

  • A fawn that is still and unresponsive. Fawns view humans as predators and will drop their head and freeze to avoid detection.

  • A fawn that is crying. Fawns can bleat (vocalize) in a way that sounds like crying if they are disturbed or are trying to locate their mother.

  • A fawn that is in your yard. Fawns are commonly found bedded in brushy areas with vegetative cover or even in some grassy areas – even in suburban areas close to homes or near roadways. Their mother felt this was a safe place for the fawn.
    On occasion, a fawn that has been disturbed may wander into a dangerous area or an area where the mother may not feel comfortable going (e.g., onto a road, near people, into a garage, etc.). Only if a fawn is in real danger should you interfere by moving the fawn to nearby forested or shrubby area where there is thick cover. Then leave quickly, so the fawn does not follow, and don’t linger. The mother will not come if you are nearby.

  • A fawn alone for long periods of time. Young fawns remain bedded, alone for most of the day and night. The mother will return several times to nurse briefly. She will not approach if people are nearby.

  • A fawn that looks skinny and weak. All fawns appear skinny, but it’s not an indication that they are abandoned or starving. If disturbed, they may also look like they are weak or having trouble walking. Never feed a fawn; their stomachs are sensitive  and the food or milk you give them can be very harmful.

These are all normal things for fawns, and while they may be alarming, you do more harm than good attempting to care for a fawn.

If a fawn is visibly injured, call MassWildlife at 508-389-6300. Fawns cannot be cared for by wildlife rehabilitators.

Do wild animals need help? When to intervene

In almost all cases, it’s best to leave wildlife alone and let nature takes its course. (Animals taken out of the wild by well-intentioned people are often done so unnecessarily and are often subjected to more stress and have a decreased chance of survival and ever having a normal life.) There are a few circumstances where intervention may be justified:

  • If you see clear signs of injury
  • If you find young wildlife with a dead parent nearby

Wild animals are protected by law. It is illegal to take an animal from the wild to care for or to attempt to keep as a pet. If you determine that an animal may be in need of intervention, you can contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for assistanceFind a wildlife rehabilitator.

If you find an injured turtle or a turtle in the road

Turtles with minor injuries (e.g. a hurt foot or damage to the outer rim of the shell) should be left where you found them. They are very resilient and will likely heal fine on their own. However, when injuries are major (e.g. large open wound), it’s best to contact a veterinarian who specializes in treating turtles.

Turtles in the road
Be more aware of turtles on the roads, especially from mid-May to early July. Do not risk getting hurt or causing an accident. If the opportunity to safely move a turtle arises, move it in the direction it was heading and off the edge of the road. It is trying to get to habitats and resources it needs. Do not take turtles home or move them to a "better location". Read more about how to deal with turtles in the road.

If you find an injured or young coyote, bobcat, fisher, or river otter

In almost all cases, it is best to leave wild animals alone. If you think you have found an injured or orphaned coyote, bobcat, fisher, river otter, or beaver, call MassWildlife at 508-389-6300. Wild animals are protected by law. It is illegal to take an animal from the wild to care for or keep as a pet.

If you find a bat

If a live bat is found during the winter, contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator. In the winter, bats cannot be released outdoors as they will either succumb to the freezing cold temperatures, or they’ll starve to death due to a lack of insects available to replenish their fat reserves.

If you find a baby bat that appears healthy, wear thick leather work gloves to gently pick the baby up and place it as close as possible to the potential colony location (i.e. bat house, attic, eaves, barn, shed, etc.) or off the ground and in a tree. If it is a baby, the mother bat will return for her pup. Do not use thin cotton gloves and never pick up a bat with bare hands. When picked up, the bat will likely open its mouth and squeak loudly. If there is no known roost site nearby or a baby is orphaned from a recent attic exclusion, contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

If a bat is found grounded and does not fly away or attempts to but seems unable, the bat may be injured or have an illness. It may also be a disoriented juvenile, or a dehydrated or starved adult. In these cases, use a towel or thick leather work gloves to pick up the bat. Keep the bat in a closed container and contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

For information on safely evicting bats from your home and tips on removing a single bat from your home, please see Bats in the Home.

What kinds of animals can rehabilitators care for?

Birds: Not all bird rehabilitators can legally accept all types of birds. Wild turkey, ruffed grouse, rock pigeon, mute swan, ring-necked pheasant, house sparrow, starling, and northern bobwhite can be treated by any bird rehabilitator. A federal permit is required to care for migratory birds, including raptors/birds of prey, songbirds, and waterfowl.

MESA-listed animals: Wildlife rehabilitators are not authorized to rehabilitate Endangered, Threatened, or Special Concern species protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. If you're not sure whether you have found a listed species, please contact the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

Wildlife rehabilitators are not authorized to care for not are white-tailed deer, black bear, venomous snakes, or moose.

Most wildlife rehabilitators are not authorized to care for coyote, bobcat, fisher, river otter, beaver.

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