If you have found a possibly sick, injured or orphaned wild bird or animal then it is essential that you act quickly. Our library of advice articles will help you to assess whether intervention is required and advise you on how to capture and contain the animal. But what then? Below we assess the pros and cons of your main options.
There are four main options you might think of for help with your wildlife casualty. We’ve set them out here in what we consider to be reverse order of suitability.
Option 1 – Care for it yourself #
You may well be tempted to care for the casualty yourself. You’ll likely have formed an emotional attachment to it, especially if it’s a baby or displays no fear or aggression. However, please bear in mind that any wild bird or animal which allows itself to be captured by a human is in serious trouble. If an adult it must be very unwell, if a baby it is still at the stage when it is entirely dependent. An injured creature will need medical attention which you will be unable to provide. An orphaned, abandoned or injured baby will need regular feeding, in some cases as often as every 15 minutes and sometimes through the night. Specialist feeds are needed as is considerable skill to get quantities right and deliver the feed correctly – getting this wrong can lead to choking or inhalation pneumonia.
You need also to consider the long term care plan. Even if you can get the bird or animal through its initial problem, do you have facilities to rehabilitate it such as an aviary or soft release enclosure? It’s vital that releasing a wild bird or animal back to the wild is done gradually and into an area which is suitable and not already occupied by others in the case of territorial species. For most babies, it is absolutely critical that they are raised with others of their species in order to avoid imprinting and to ensure they are socialised and know how to interact with others. This is a vital skill in the wild and, in some species, a baby raised in isolation may never be suitable for release. Read more about the dangers of trying to care for a casualty yourself at helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/DIY.
Option 2 – Call a vet #
In the UK, vets receive no training in the treatment of wildlife. Whilst there are inevitably many similarities between wild and domestic animals, there are also very many differences. Calling a vet may be appropriate in some cases, such as ensuring that a catted animal receives a prompt, life saving dose of antibiotics, but it must be considered that vets will not generally have experience in or facilities for the long term rehabilitation of wildlife. A veterinary surgery is also a bright, noisy place full of what wild animals will see as predators – just the stress of such an environment could prove fatal.
There is a common myth that vets are obliged to treat wildlife for free. In fact they are obliged only to relieve suffering i.e. provide pain relief or euthanasia. The RSPCA have a scheme whereby they contribute towards costs of vets caring for wildlife but this only applies to animals over 1kg in weight! This may lead to casualties being euthanased unnecessarily if the vet practice is unable or unwilling to cover the costs themselves or spend time finding a wildlife rescue to pass the animal to. If you do contact a vet, you should either have a wildlife rescue on standby to take the casualty to after initial treatment, or ensure that the vet has good links with a local rescue and will pass the casualty on to them.
Option 3 – Call a domestic animal charity/RSPCA/RSPB #
There certainly are many domestic animal charities who also take in wildlife and do an excellent job. But wild animals can be very different to domestic pets and have very different needs. They should also be kept away from domestic animals in order to minimise stress. A specialist wildlife rescue is a better option.
The RSPB receive thousands of calls about injured birds every year but they are not a bird rescue. They are a conservation charity and do not have bird hospitals to care for patients. They are extremely supportive of wildlife rescue and refer callers to their helpline to our site to find them help.
The RSPCA operate several dedicated wildlife centres in the UK and these are often at the cutting edge of care and rehabilitation techniques. However, their national advice line is manned by contracted staff working from a script and the advice given is unfortunately frequently incorrect and dangerous. Euthanasia rates for wildlife collected by their Collection Officers and Inspectors are also high1.
Option 4 – Call a wildlife rescue #
We believe that contacting a group dedicated specifically to the care and rehabilitation of wildlife is the best chance for your casualty. They should have experience caring for the type of animal you’ve found, trained volunteers to provide the care it needs, links with a wildlife-friendly vet for treatment, and facilities to rehabilitate it back into the wild. To find one near to you, you can search the rescue directory.
Note: A listing on our site is not an endorsement and you are strongly advised to check the policies of each organisation before surrendering an animal to them.
1. In a comment to the Daily Mail, a spokesperson said that, in 2017, “of the 60,423 wild animals rescued or collected by the RSPCA…23,908 were put to sleep where they were found”. This represents a euthanasia rate of 40%. ‘Where they were found’ seems to suggest that these were animals put to sleep by the Inspector or ACO and presumably therefore does not include those later assessed as needing euthanasia by the centre they were taken to.