Capturing a Wild Animal in Need of Help

Firstly, it’s important to say, this guidance relates to small, non-dangerous animals only. Please do not ever attempt to capture adult Deer, Badgers, Foxes, Otters, Swans, Geese, large Birds of Prey, or Herons yourself as these animals can cause serious injury. Please also do not free animals which are trapped in fencing or netting without guidance from a rescue. It’s impossible to cover every species and scenario here so, if you need further guidance, please contact our helpdesk and our volunteers will be happy to provide bespoke advice.

Secondly, although the risk of catching anything from a wild animal is extremely small, whenever you handle a wild animal it’s sensible to take hygiene precautions. You may wish to pick them up with gloves or a towel to avoid touching them directly. After handling, always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and/or use an anti-bacterial hand gel.

Before you capture any animal, have something ready to contain it in. In most cases, a large cardboard box lined with a towel is ideal. For larger or very lively animals a carry box designed for cats might be better. If using a cardboard box make sure the lid is secured to prevent escape and that there are sufficient air holes.


Flighted Birds #

If the bird is mobile or can still fly you can try to tempt it into a shed, garage or other roofed area to make capture easier. A trail of food may work for confident species such as pigeons. You can also try setting a makeshift ‘trap’ to catch it with as described below. Once caught, follow the section on non-flighted birds below for tips on how to handle the bird.


Non-flighted birds #

An adult bird which cannot fly is likely to still try to run away from you. Try to ‘herd’ them into a corner or against a wall to reduce the directions in which they can run. Then you and a helper can approach from different sides. Holding a large towel each also helps you to block off as much of their escape route as possible. If they’re near a road or other hazard, put yourself between them and the hazard so they don’t run towards it to escape you. Similarly, if you’re trying to catch waterfowl, put yourself between them and the water so they can’t escape on to it.

If you want to avoid touching the bird, you can try placing a cat carrier or cardboard box on its side up against a fence or other barrier and gently herding the bird into it.

Most small birds can be handled without risk of injury to the handler but many people who contact us are scared to handle a bird for fear of hurting them. It’s helpful for both handler and bird to place a towel over the bird in order to contain the wings, reduce the friction between hands and feathers, keep the bird calm, and put a barrier between your hands and their beak and feet. Hold the wings against the bird’s body and try to avoid the bird flapping as this will stress it and can cause feather loss.

Always get the bird into a box as quickly as possible and keep the beak away from your face. Avoid contact with the feet of birds of prey too as they have very sharp talons.

If you need to rescue a baby and there are protective parents around, an umbrella is a great way to keep a gentle barrier between you and upset parent birds.


Bats #

Before attempting to capture a bat, please note the following important information

  • It is illegal to handle a bat unless to rescue it from danger or help a sick or injured bat.
  • Although very rare, some bats in the UK have been found to carry rabies.
  • It’s dangerous to try and capture a bat in mid flight. You’re unlikely to succeed but if you do you may injure the bat.

In light of the above information, we recommend that you contact a licensed bat carer before touching the bat where possible. We list many in our directory of rescues or you can also contact the Bat Conservation Trust directly.

If the bat is in immediate danger and you need to move it, pick it up using light gloves or a tea towel. In truth they don’t often bite and the smaller species would struggle to break your skin if they did anyway. But this helps to protect you from any rabies risk and is gentler for the bat.


Hedgehogs #

As a hedgehog’s usual defence is to keep still and curl up, they shouldn’t prove too difficult to capture. It is best to pick them up using thick gloves or a towel to protect you from their spines. Make sure the box you put them in is tall and/or has a lid as hedgehogs are surprisingly good climbers.


Squirrels and small rodents #

Don’t be fooled by the small stature of rodents. Even a tiny mouse can give you a surprisingly painful bite and a squirrel can cause significant injury. Whilst the ability of rats and mice to carry and spread disease is grossly exaggerated, it is sensible to avoid being bitten by them, so handle with care using gloves or a thick towel.

Cover the animal with a towel and try to “shuffle” it gently into a box turned on its side. That way you don’t need to actually pick the animal up. If this isn’t possible or the casualty has injuries which doing this may make worse, use the towel to ensure the animal cannot see your hands before picking it up. ‘Scooping’ with both hands rather than grabbing with one will cause less stress but cup your hands around the animal as you do so they don’t jump forward out of your hands and risk falling and hurting themselves.

Once you’ve got the animal contained, your next step will be finding a wildlife rescue.

Finding Help #

You can find details of rescues in your area by searching our directory. If you're unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, we have information about sources of bespoke help. We also have articles with detailed, practical advice about capturing an animal, providing short term care, contacting a wildlife rescue, and getting the animal to them.

Updated on May 28, 2024