What to do if you see an animal in the wild :: WRAL.com

This happens more often in the spring and summer – you find a young bird or other creature that looks injured or abandoned. Seeing an animal in distress can make anyone helpless, but a North Carolina wildlife expert explains when you should and shouldn’t intervene.

Falyn Owens, a biologist with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, said it’s almost always best to let things happen naturally when you come across a wild animal that appears to be in a difficult situation.

“If you find a wild animal and you think human intervention is necessary, you always want to get professional advice before you do anything,” Owens said. “There are lots of reasons why not intervening may actually be the best choice for the animal, and it’s really hard for the average person to know what to do without consulting someone first.”

Owens recommends stepping back and, if possible, waiting nearby to see if the animal is okay. “While you wait, you can call the NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401 for guidance or use this interactive map to find a wildlife rehabilitator near you. Rehabilitators are often busy with wildlife already in their care, so feel free to leave a message and a callback number, Owens said.

Does this animal need my help?

Sometimes an animal can benefit from human intervention, but it can be difficult to know when to act. Owens listed the most common animals North Carolinas see during the warmer months and what to do if you encounter one.


If you see a bird on the ground that clearly looks hurt – it can’t put weight on one of its legs or one of its wings looks mangled – then you can seek advice from a bird rehabilitator. from NC Wildlife.

Rehabilitators are allowed to handle wildlife. They know the wildlife laws and are trained to know what is best for the animal because in the long run the end goal is to return the animal to the wild to survive on its own.

“It takes a lot of experience to know how to take care of an animal without making it dependent on humans for the rest of its life,” Owens said.

NC Wildlife gets a lot of calls in the spring about birds, especially young fledglings that seem abandoned or in trouble. But, in many cases, unless it’s obviously injured, it’s best to leave a bird alone so it can learn what to do next.

“These are birds that are young and can’t fly yet, but they’ve left the nest where they’re sort of sitting ducks for predators,” Owens said. “So before they can fly, they hop. And they have to figure out how to fly. So they hop on the ground and the parents are usually off to look for food.”

People find young birds on the ground without parents and assume they’ve been abandoned when in reality everything is normal, Owens said, adding: “The last thing you want to do is pick it up, put it in a box and try to take care of it, because you’re actually interfering with that bird’s life lessons.”

In some cases, it may be appropriate to intervene. If you see a newly hatched bird (it can’t stand up and doesn’t have its feathers yet), look around. If you see the bird’s nest, you can carefully pick up the baby with your hands and put it back in the nest.

Many of us have heard that you should never touch a bird’s nest. We’re taught this as children for good reason, Owens said, but it’s a myth that parents won’t return to the nest if they smell a human.

“It’s always good advice to get people to step back and view the wildlife from a distance and not intervene,” Owens said. “But the funny thing is, birds don’t even really have a sense of smell. Songbirds literally don’t even have space in their brains devoted to smell. They wouldn’t have a clue if a human had touched one of them. their little ones. The parents don’t care. They just want their baby back.


Just like birds, it is very common to see rabbit nests in spring and summer. Rabbits nest in the ground in shallow depressions, and the mother only visits the nest once or twice a day for a few minutes at a time, Owens explained. If the mother is close to her nest, she draws attention to it and may attract predators.

The take home message remains. Unless an animal is injured, leave it alone.

“People find rabbit nests and they don’t see the parents around and they assume the nest was abandoned,” Owens said. “But seeing a rabbit’s nest with lots of fluffy little babies hidden away without a mother is actually perfectly natural, and there’s no reason to assume anyone has been abandoned.”


NC Wildlife also receives many calls about newborn fawns at this time of year. Deer give birth only once a year, usually in May, June and July.

“They kind of all give birth at the same time here in North Carolina, and when they’re born, they’re really weak,” Owens explained. “They can stand and walk, but not very well at first. They just hide while mom goes off and does her thing. She goes to get food and she drinks from a local stream. She knows her fawns are hidden somewhere safe, don’t move, I’m just trying not to be seen.”

Sometimes people will find a fawn alone in an urban area laying eggs quietly with no mother or doe around.

“They assume the fawn was abandoned, but it’s usually the exact opposite,” Owens said. “It all comes down to not doing anything right away. Don’t take action, get information from a professional or a website first, because doing something right away can hurt the animal in many ways. case.”


Raccoons are a species known to carry rabies, but it is a myth that a raccoon has rabies if you see it during the day. Still, if you see one, give it some space.

“Seeing raccoons awake during the day is pretty normal across the board, because just like people get up in the middle of the night to grab a midnight snack or go to the bathroom, wild animals do the same,” said Owens said. “If he’s aware of his surroundings and looking for food or something, he’s probably healthy.”

You may see more raccoons during the day in spring and summer because they are raising young.

“If someone’s ever had a very young child, like a baby or a toddler, they don’t have very good sleep schedules yet,” Owens said. “You are awake day and night taking care of them. And the same is true for wild animals.”

If you see a raccoon that appears to be tripping, having seizures, or having a neurological problem, stay away from that animal. If a person or animal has been scratched or bitten, it’s time to call your local health department or animal control.

If a raccoon or other wild animal is in your home, you want to know how it got there. Professional wildlife control services can eliminate wildlife and help figure out what is going on to prevent the problem from happening again in the future.

Raccoons and other animals are very food-oriented, Owens said, so make sure pet food isn’t left outside. Bird feeders or compost heaps can also attract wildlife.


If you see a snake, avoid it and leave it alone. Of the 38 species of snakes in North Carolina, only six are venomous, and the only venomous snake people are likely to encounter in the Triangle is a copperhead, Owens said.

Herps of NC is a great resource humans can use to identify snakes in the wild — there’s even an app. Herps of NC describes copperheads as “heavy and beautifully marked with dark brown hourglass-shaped cross bands on a light brown or gray background. The belly is a mixture of white and black markings. Baby copperheads resemble their parents but have yellow or green tails which they wave to attract lizards and frogs within striking distance.”

Experts: How to keep snakes away from your garden

“Even then, in any case, snakes don’t like to bite people,” Owens said. “They do it in self-defense because they feel like they have no other choice. Trying to kill or handle a snake is usually when people get bitten.”

People can make their yards less attractive to snakes by keeping them free of clutter, including trash, sticks, or rock piles. Keep your lawn mowed and fill in any gaps in your home’s siding or foundation. You can also seal openings under doors, windows and around water pipes.

“Keeping a manicured lawn is really good at keeping snakes and rodents from settling right next to your house,” Owens explained. “Snakes often seek out rodents, and tall grass is excellent habitat for rodents, mice and rats.”

If you want to remove a snake from your garden, you can use a garden hose to gently water it down and entice it to leave. Never kill a snake, as it is an integral part of our ecosystem.

Coyotes and foxes

NC Wildlife also gets many calls about coyotes and foxes in the Triangle during spring and summer.

“Usually when people call us, they’re worried the animal might be dangerous,” Owens said. “They are concerned that it could potentially have rabies and pose a danger to the neighborhood. But generally these animals will not cause any type of harm or damage as long as they are outdoors.”

The best thing to do if you see a wild animal, even in daylight, is to observe it from afar.

“It just means they have a good reason to be awake,” Owens said. “Whether it’s a coyote, a fox, or a raccoon, the best thing to do is enjoy it, leave it alone, and let it do its job.”

Dogs and cats

They are not wild animals, but many of us have seen dogs or cats that appear to be strays or even hurt by a passing car.

There’s a huge difference between who takes care of pets and who takes care of wildlife, Owens explained. If you see a stray cat or dog outside, whether it looks hurt or not, and the owner isn’t there, animal control is your best resource.

What to know about animal bites and rabies

In NC, foxes, raccoons, skunks and bats are the animals most susceptible to rabies. Wild animal bites are thankfully rare, Owens said. But if someone is ever bitten by a wild animal, they should seek help. Animal control handles bites involving a rabies vector species.

“If someone gets bitten by one of these animals, call 911, and they’ll put you in touch with the right people,” Owens said. “Usually the county health department will get involved to test the animal or pet to see if rabies treatment is needed.”

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