First and foremost, understand that you must have state and federal permits to temporarily possess and care for any and all wildlife. Wildlife rehabilitators are permitted, unpaid volunteers who undergo inspections and receive annual training to temporarily care for orphaned and injured wildlife. They ensure that wildlife receive the proper nutrition, medical treatment, socialization with like-species, properly constructed and sized housing, and are released under optimal conditions. They do this at their own expense because they want wildlife to receive the best available care. Wildlife rehabilitators must also adhere to strict guidelines and file annual reports in order to keep their permits. Most people that want to keep wildlife that they find generally do not want to invest the time to research diets, build proper caging, pay for medical care, or receive the appropriate training and permits. Often, people get upset because a rehabilitator will not provide them with information on raising wildlife. Rehabilitators will not risk losing their permits and the ability to help hundreds of wildlife to assist a person in improperly raising one bird or mammal. If you are interested in becoming a permitted wildlife rehabilitator and learning to properly care for orphaned and injured wildlife, you can use our Contact directory to find a Wildlife Rehabilitator near you to help you get started.
If, despite what is in the best interest of the bird or mammal, you still wish to raise it yourself then you MUST be prepared to do the following:
- Identify the exact species, especially if it is a bird, then go to your library in the Life Histories Series to find out the ratio of protein, fat, and calcium that species requires for survival, in addition to it's behavior and habitat requirements. Most untrained people who have previously raised wildlife swear that even though a diet was not nutritionally complete, that the wildlife "did great" and were released. Just for a second, imagine yourself on an improper diet. Let's say you ate nothing but ice cream sundaes for 6 months. None of the effects of the improper diet would be physically visible. But your body's ability to heal itself, remain physically competetive and maintain proper immunities would eventually be compromised. You could probably function like most other people, but the effects of the improper diet would eventually take a toll on your health. If you were a wild mammal or bird, an improper diet would greatly compromise your ability to effectively forage and compete for food, as well as reduce your ability to out-manuever your predators. Survival of the fittest means that those wildlife that are not in peak physical condition do not survive long.
- Become familiar with the release requirements, listed here.
- Feed a variety of foods, to meet the nutritional requirements, and at the frequency needed to meet it's daily caloric requirements.
Birds: Baby birds receive all their fluids from their food source - Never give them water! Not having lips, birds are unable to form a suction to draw fluid away from their airway (which is located at the base of their tongue). They are also unable to cough up any fluids that enter their airway (glottis). Food or water particles that inadvertantly enter the airway are trapped there and can quickly develop into a bacterial (aspiration) pnuemonia. If you've ever raised baby birds that quit eating for no reason or died within 3-5 days after you began taking care of it, it most likely died of aspiration pnuemonia. 76% of the birds we received from the public that were given food or water have varying degrees of aspiration pnuemonia. Identifying the problem is very simple. Hold the bird's left and then right side of it's chest to your ear and quietly listen for air exchange. Listen for 5 breathes on each side. In a healthy bird, you will hear dry air exchange as the air enters and exits the lungs. A light clicking sound indicates the possiblity of mild aspiration. A heavy "rice-crispies" crackling sound is an indication of advanced infection. In both cases, immediate antibiotic therapy is necessary. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian immediately. See Below.
The majority of parent birds do not regurgitate their food prior to feeding their babies. They feed their young small, intact pieces of food that have high fluid levels. These "boluses" are necessary to ease swallowing and prevent aspiration. Without suction or excess saliva, baby birds must use their tongues to mechanically push the food back. If the food were not in small intact pieces, the possibility of small particles entering their airway at the base of their tongue increases. If you've ever observed parents feeding their young in the wild, you will notice that they reposition the food in the mouths of their young several times. They use extreme caution to avoid aspirating their young. Never feed a baby a "mash" or "slurry" of food. Even delivering food with an eyedropper is risking aspiration. If you can't pick it up with tweezers, then you shouldn't be feeding it to a baby. Experienced rehabilitators do feed high numbers of baby birds using syringes with adapters. However, the food is placed in the crop (pre-stomach) and not in the mouth. If you've found information on the internet that gives a "one size fits all diet" that suggests feeding a mash to a baby bird, please disregard it because you risk killing the baby.
Birds are among the most difficult species to rehabilitate because their diets are so varied. Many (especially true insectivores) require an extremely high protein/low fat diet that has a high level of amino acid availability. They are especially sensitive to minerals such as iron, which can build to toxic levels in their body. Again, you must research the species to determine what foods it utilizes in the wild. Worms alone are not an appropriate substitute. Just as humans are selective over which types of mammals we will utilize for meat, parent birds are selective over which types of insects and worms they will utilize for food. In fact, common earthworms carry a parasite (Syngamus trachea) that is deadly to birds. If infected, the parasite's development is very slow and the symptoms are intially very subtle. Left untreated, these birds could be released and subject to a slow death in the wild.
- Hatchlings every 15 to 30 minutes sunup to sundown (generally 14 hours per day minimum)
- Nestlings every 30 to 60 minutes sunup to sundown
- Fledglings every 60 to 90 minutes sunup to sundown until weaned
- Newborns six day and one night feeding
- Babies five day and one night feeding
- Juveniles four day feedings until weaned
You should also be prepared to: Examine the fecal material for signs of internal parasites (very predominant this year!) and take to veterinarian for treatment
It is also critical for you to know is that is a violation of state and/or federal law to possess or rehabilitate wildlife without the appropriate permits, with assessed penalties of up to one year in jail and $2500 fine. Also, legal precedents have been set that make you legally liable for any damage or injury cause by wildlife in your care. Should the baby you are raising bite anyone, you can be subject to civil suit.