April is the time of year when spring begins to reveal itself. Many of the animals at the WNC Nature Center have birthdays this month, including our gray wolves, coyotes, and red and gray foxes! We usually start to see baby animals and we are more likely to see wildlife in general as they emerge from their winter homes in search of food. This means baby birds are learning to fly, squirrels may fall from their nests, and animals are more likely to cross the road.
It’s good to know when you should (or shouldn’t) help wildlife. For instance, it is against North Carolina law to hold wildlife for more than 24 hours without a state license. Licensed rehabilitators have the skills and knowledge to give the animal the best treatment and return it to the wild.
So what do you do when you find an animal?
If you find a baby bird:
If the bird is obviously injured, sick or brought to you by your cat, contact a local wildlife rehabilitator. If the baby is without feathers, place the baby back in the nest. It is a myth that birds will reject their baby if a human has handled it. Just be sure not to over handle a baby animal, as stress can kill young critters. If you cannot find the nest, you can create a makeshift nest, place it in a nearby tree and observe the baby from a distance. If the parents do not visit the nest sometime soon, contact a wildlife rehabilitator. If the bird has feathers, it is most likely learning how to fly and can be left alone, unless it is in immediate danger (cats or dogs nearby). If this is the case, place the baby in some nearby bushes or nest and wait for parents to visit. If you don’t see any parents nearby, you know what to do.
If you find a baby mammal:
If the animal is orphaned, injured, or sick, contact a wildlife rehabilitator. Sometimes we see a baby mammal by themselves and we think they need help. This is not always the case and this mistake can lead to an accidental kidnapping! Baby rabbits and fawns (baby deer) are often left alone while the mother searches for food. If you find a baby deer with spots hunkered down in the grass by themselves, the rule of thumb is to wait for 24 hours to see if mom comes back. If you are certain a baby deer or baby black bear are orphaned or injured, you can contact the NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401 (Mon-Fri. 8 am-5 pm) or the Wildlife Enforcement Division at 800-662-7137 outside of business hours.
If you find a reptile:
If the reptile is obviously injured or sick, contact a wildlife rehabilitator. If you find a baby reptile, leave it be or move it to a safe, nearby location if necessary. Baby reptiles have natural instincts to take care of themselves the moment they are born. It is fairly common to find turtles crossing the road. If the animal is not injured and it is safe to do so, pick the turtle up and take it to the side of the road in the direction it was heading. If you turn it around, it will simply walk back into the road to go the direction it was originally. Snakes crossing the road can be nudged along gently with a long stick.
There are many resources available if you have any questions on what to do if you encounter injured wildlife. While the WNC Nature Center is no longer a triage facility for injured wildlife, Appalachian Wildlife Refuge located in Candler has stepped up to fill this void. If you find injured or orphaned wildlife, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 828-633-6364. The full list of local and licensed wildlife rehabilitators can be found at www.ncwildlife.org/Injured-Wildlife.
Together, we can all make sure that the amazing animals who call Western North Carolina home are healthy and can remain in the wild this spring!