Healthy, Young Wildlife

Help keep young wildlife with their parents

Many young wild animals do not need “help” from humans at all; they are young animals still receiving care from their parents, or are ready to live, and thrive, on their own.

A fledgling cardinal sits in a bush

It’s common to find young wild animals, particularly in the spring and summer. While some of these young animals may be true orphans in need of assistance, it’s critical to assess each situation to ensure young wildlife are not unintentionally taken away from their parents. Despite our natural inclinations, the best chance of survival for a young uninjured animal is often to leave it in its parents’ care.

If You Find A Baby…

These are the most commonly encountered young wildlife species; if you find a baby animal, use these guides to help decide how to best assist. Always feel free to call the Wildlife Center at 540.942.9453 for further advice.

Orphaned and Injured Young Wildlife

A very young baby opossum is held in a hand wearing blue nitrile gloves.

If you do find a truly orphaned or injured young wild animal, prepare a lidded box for the animal by placing a cloth or non-raveling towel on the bottom of the box. Wearing gloves (latex, gardening gloves, and/or small leather gloves), gently pick up the baby animal and place it in the box. Never touch a mammal barehanded; picking up a young mammal without gloves increases the risk of possible rabies exposure.

Keep the box in a quiet place away from children and pets.

Very young animals are not able to thermoregulate on their own, and a supplemental heating source will need to be added until the animal can be taken to a permitted rehabilitator or reunited with its parents.

Providing a Supplemental Heat Source

In general, supplemental heat sources should not come into direct contact with animals; wrap the item in a towel or dishcloth or place under the container that the animal is in. Some options for supplemental heat include:

  • An old sock filled with rice or birdseed that has been heated in the microwave for one minute;
  • A plastic bottle filled with warm water;
  • Chemical hand/foot warmers that are wrapped in a towel or placed on the outside of the transport/reuniting container;
  • An electric heating pad on “low” setting; or
  • The heated seats in a vehicle on a “low” setting (only if the animal is being transported to a rehabilitator)

Unless specifically advised to do so by the Wildlife Center or a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, please do not attempt to offer food or water to a patient. Such treatment is likely to cause more harm than good. Many wild animals have very sensitive stomachs and require very special diets; baby animals can also easily aspirate, which can lead to pneumonia or death.