Wildlife Center FAQ
Please see below for answers to many of the most common questions we receive about wild animals you may encounter.
What kinds of animals can the Wildlife Center care for?
The ARL Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is a fully licensed rehabilitation center that is able to care for most of Pennsylvania’s native species. We readily accept songbirds, birds of prey, reptiles, and most mammals. We accept a limited number of Rabies Vector Species including raccoons, groundhogs, foxes, skunk, and bats. If you have found one of these species, please wear gloves and do not handle them with your bare hands. Please call us to find out if we have open cages. If we do not, we will do our best to refer you to another rehabilitator who does. The Center cannot accept or care for white tailed deer. Due to our suburban location, we do not have enough outdoor space to appropriately care for these animals. If you have found a fawn, please check the FAQ on fawns. You can also call us for a referral to another rehabilitator. Please note that the Wildlife Center cannot accept domestic animals, including domestic ducks, geese, pocket pets, feral cats, domestic reptiles, and parrots or other domestic birds.
I found a wild animal. Can I keep it?
People who find wild animals, particularly orphaned animals, sometimes want to care for them. We strongly discourage this practice for various reasons:
- First, there are local, regional, and federal laws that may prohibit you from having a wild animal in your possession, even while temporarily caring for it with the intention of release. Wildlife rehabilitators or care centers are permitted to keep wildlife for rehabilitation.
- There are diseases that humans and pets can contract from wildlife. There are also diseases that domestic pets can transmit to wildlife.
- Rehabilitators are trained to recognize and deal with injuries, illnesses, parasites and other conditions. They can administer appropriate medications, manage wounds, and stabilize an animal that is in shock. Not all veterinarians have experience with wild animals. A rehabilitator will know an appropriate veterinarian for consultation.
- Rehabilitators have the necessary equipment, caging, and environment required by different species.
- Rehabilitators are trained to care for an animal while preserving its wildness. Young birds and mammals suffer as a result of human impact. An animal that has lost its normal or innate fear of humans will not survive in the wild. Releasing a tame wild animal is signing its death sentence.
- The field of wildlife rehabilitation is a discipline with its own body of literature, training and certification. In the best interests of wildlife, we urge you to have their well-being as your first priority: entrust them to the capable hands of a trained, experienced, permitted rehabilitator.
I brought an animal to the Wildlife Center. Can I release it when it recovers?
Studies show that releasing an animal into the wrong habitat usually results in the animal’s death within 2 weeks. Only Wildlife Center staff and volunteers are permitted to perform releases to ensure safety, proper habitat, time of day, and time of year criteria are being met. Sometimes it is important to release animals back to their own territory, but other times it is not essential. Staff will consider each animal’s individual case and make this determination. In each case, it is important that we know where the animal was found and what the circumstances of the injury were at its time of admittance. When it meets their needs, some animals will be released on Wildlife Center property. When the staff determines that an animal should be released where it was found, they will obtain prior permission from the property owner. The owner may attend the release of non-RVS (rabies vector species) animals. Animal presenters can call the Wildlife Center at 412-345-7300 x500 for updates on the animal they have rescued. A case number is assigned to each animal patient and is shared with the rescuer. Inquiries may be made 48-72 hours after the initial drop-off, and then once a week for the duration of the animal’s stay.
Help! I found a baby opossum. What should I do?
A baby opossum clings to his or her mother’s back as she travels around looking for food. Sometimes, they fall off or are separated before they are old enough to be on their own.
Step 1: Determine if the opossum is sick or injured. If you see blood or the opossum is lying on its side and not moving, there is something very wrong and it needs medical attention. Using gloves, towels, or blankets, move the opossum into a box and keep it somewhere quiet and warm. Call the Wildlife Center at 412-345-7300 x500 for further instructions.
Step 2: If the opossum appears to be healthy, determine if it is too small to be on its own. Compare the opossum’s body size to a dollar bill. An opossum is old enough to be on its own if the length from his nose to his tail is six inches (the length of a US dollar bill). If it is big enough, take the opossum to a safe place away from roads and let it go. If the opossum is smaller than a dollar bill, move it to a box with a towel, keep in a warm and quiet place, and call the Wildlife Center at 412-345-7300 x500 for further instructions. Do not try to feed it! Opossums have very sensitive stomachs when young and many foods or milks will make them very sick.
Help! My dog/cat/I found a nest of abandoned rabbits!
A mother rabbit only visits her nest in the early morning and late evening. By staying away from the nest, she attracts less attention and reduces the chance of an attack on the nest. Mother rabbits do not build very elaborate nests – they are often just a shallow depression in the ground covered with leaves or grass, sometimes in the middle of a yard. They are often found when mowing the lawn. We’ve even found nests under swing sets!
If you find a nest of infant rabbits, it’s very likely the mother is just away and they do not need help. Before removing the babies, determine if the nest is actually abandoned.
Step 1: Are there any flies around the nest or dead babies inside? If so, the nest is abandoned. Place the survivors in a box, move to a warm and quiet place and call the Wildlife Center immediately at 412-345-7300 x500 for instructions.
Step 2: Repair the nest by replacing any dried grass/leaves that were originally covering the nest.
Step 3: Place two twigs or pieces of thread in the shape of an ʻXʼ over the entrance to the nest.
Step 4: Wait at least 12 hours and recheck the nest. If the twigs/threads have been moved, the mother is returning to the nest to care for her young. Leave the nest alone!
But my dog tore up the nest…
The mother will still come back and care for the babies. Remove any babies that were injured, and follow steps 2-4 above. Try to keep your dog away from that area until the rabbits have left the nest. Rabbits typically leave the nest at 3-4 weeks old. If it is not possible to keep your dog away, take a laundry basket and place it upside down over the nest. Lay some bricks on top to weigh it down. The basket should be removed so the mother can get to the nest between 7pm and 8am, but your dog should be able to be in the same area while the nest is covered. Lay twigs in an ʻXʼ to check that the mother is coming while the nest is uncovered.
Help! I found a baby squirrel…. What do I do?
Step 1: Determine if the squirrel needs immediate care. Is the squirrel bleeding, very cold, limping, a victim of an animal attack, or unconscious? If so, move the squirrel into box and place in a warm and quiet place. Call the Wildlife Center immediately at 412-345-7300 x500 for instructions.
Step 2: If the squirrel appears healthy, determine if he is too young to be on his own.
- First, search for a nest. Squirrel nests are located on the high branches of trees. They look like a large “knot” of branches and leaves. If you think you’ve found the nest, place the baby in a box at the base of the tree. Monitor the area from a distance. The mother should return and carry the baby back up to the nest. If the mother does not return in 4-6 hours, call the Wildlife Center for instructions.
- If the tree has been cut down, call the Wildlife Center for instructions.
Step 3: The baby is alone and running up to people. If you find a single baby squirrel alone and it is running up to people, please call the Center at 412-345-7300 x500 for instructions. He has likely been separated from his mother and needs help.
I found a baby songbird…. What do I do?
Step 1: Determine if the bird needs medical attention. Is the bird bleeding, limping, very cold, dragging a wings, or unconscious? If so, call the Wildlife Center immediately at 412-345-7300 x500 for instructions.
Step 2: Determine if the bird needs to be in the nest and return him if necessary. If the bird is naked or just partially feathered, it will need to be returned to the nest if possible. Search the trees and bushes in an attempt to find the nest. If you are SURE that it is the correct nest, gently place the baby back in. Contrary to popular belief, human scent will not cause the parents to reject the baby; song birds do not have a developed sense of smell. If the nest is not accessible, or you cannot find it, call the Center for further instructions. In some cases, we can instruct you on how to make a substitute nest.
Step 3: Leave the bird alone if it is too old for a nest. If the bird is fully feathered and has a short stubby tail, it is called a fledgling. They are frequently found hopping on the ground and are mistaken for injured adults. Fledglings can be spotted by their short tail feathers. They are baby birds that are too big for the nest but too young to fly. They live on the ground for a few days while they practice flying and their parents feed and care for them. They should be monitored from a distance to see if the parents return. While monitoring, you will need to watch the bird constantly. It only takes the parents a few seconds to feed their young. It is normal for them to be alone for short periods of time. If no parent returns for several hours, call the Center at 412-345-7300 x500.
Step 4: The fledgling is in an unsafe place. If the bird is found in an unsafe area such as near a road or sidewalk, pick him up and move him to a safer location near where he was originally found. Moving him too far away will make it difficult for his parents to find him. If the bird is an area where there are a lot of cats, move him to an area where there is cover, such as bushes or shrubs. The parents will work to protect him from the cats. Please don’t separate him from his parents because there “are a lot of cats in the neighborhood.” All birds must learn to live with cats and it is easier for them to learn while their parents are still protecting them.
Step 5: I’ve already had the bird for a few days. If you have had the bird for less than 6 hours, put him back outside where you found him and watch from inside to see if the parents return to care for him. If they have not returned after 45 minutes, bring the bird to the Wildlife Center. Baby birds need to eat every 45 minutes from sun up to sun down and need to socialize with other birds so they grow up knowing how to interact with conspecifics. By bringing the bird to the Wildlife Center, you are bringing it to a place where it will have the opportunity to consume the correct diet and grow up knowing how to find its own food and protect itself.
I can’t bring the bird in today, what can I feed him?
If you can’t get to the Wildlife Center immediately but you have a baby songbird, you must keep him warm (we suggest a heating pad set on low) and in a quiet place. Using tweezers, you can offer him kitten food that has been soaked in water until it is soft (crunchy kind only, not canned). The bird will need to eat every 30-45 minutes or it will starve. The soaked chow will provide it with the calories and protein it needs for a few days, but not much longer. We feed our baby birds a mixture of things with over 15 ingredients to make sure they have the right balance of nutrients, vitamins, fats, and proteins!
Help! I found an abandoned fawn!
Mother deer have their fawns in the spring. What many concerned people don’t realize is that a lone fawn is almost never abandoned. Like rabbits, a mother deer avoids her baby during the day in order to keep predators away. Infant fawns are too small to keep up with their mother while she forages far and wide for enough food to produce milk. The doe may leave her fawn alone for hours at a time, only to return when the coast is clear. If you have come across a fawn lying silently and still in the grass, leave it alone! It is waiting for its mother, who won’t come out as long as a human is present.
But the fawn is lying in an unsafe place…
If a fawn is found on or near a road, it can be picked up and moved out of harm’s way. Using a blanket, move the fawn and then let it be. Don’t worry about getting a human scent on the fawn; a doe will not reject her baby just because it has an unusual smell.
But this fawn has been here for days…
Sometimes if a mother feels an area is very safe, she will leave her fawn in the same area for days at a time. As long as the fawn is lying quietly and does not appear stressed (not getting up and calling for its mom), it is doing exactly what its mother told it to do.
Uh oh! I’ve already brought a fawn home before I read this, but now I don’t think it needed help…
If you have had the fawn for less than 24 hours, take it back to where you found it immediately. Its mother is probably searching frantically for it. Replace the fawn where you found it and leave the area so the mother will feel safe enough to come out and care for the fawn. Don’t worry about the human scent on the fawn – the mother will not reject her baby because it smells funny. You can return to the area and check in 12 hours to see if the fawn is still there. If it is, call the Wildlife Center at 412-345-7300 x500 for instructions. If you have had the fawn for over 24 hours, call the Wildlife Center for a referral to rehabilitation center that accepts deer. They need very specific care to grow up healthy.
This fawn looks injured…
If you find a fawn who is obviously ill (lying on its side kicking and crying, bloody, or covered in flies) or hiding near the corpse of a doe, it needs help. Do not try to hold or comfort the fawn. Remember that it’s a wild animal that won’t find humans soothing at all. Call the Wildlife Center at 412-345-7300 x500 for a referral to a rehabilitation center that admits fawns. Fawns are very fragile animals and exceptionally hard to care for in captivity. If the animal is to have any chance of being returned to the wild, it needs to be turned over to a licensed rehabilitator.
But the fawn is really cute…
Even though wildlife can be incredibly cute and it is very easy to get attached, you must consider what is best for the fawn. Feeding it a bottle of cow’s milk or milk replacement formula makes fawns very, very sick. They can also imprint very easily on humans, which is cute when they are little, but very dangerous when they are a fully-grown 150 pounds and don’t know how to survive on their own. Please leave caring for fawns to the professionals!
Please note that the Wildlife Center cannot accept fawns. We can, however, give advice and referrals to other centers which can accept fawns.