Finding Baby Wildlife

It’s spring. The flowers are blooming, the sun is coming out, and there are adorable baby animals being welcomed into our world by their mothers. But what happens when you find a cute little ball of fluff that seems to be injured or left behind? We get calls about this frequently, so here's some information if you find yourself in a situation like this!

An animal is in need of professional help if it shows one or more of the following signs:

  • Brought to you by your cat or dog
  • Visible blood
  • A limb that clearly looks broken
  • Featherless or nearly featherless and on the ground with no nest in sight
  • Shivering
  • A dead parent nearby
  • Crying and wandering all day long
  • Persistently following a human
  • In immediate danger (larger predator around)

When you see any of the above, it's important to reach out to a wildlife rehabilitator rather than trying to help on your own. Check out this list of local options:

If the animal does not seem to be showing any of these signs, try some of the these tips for wildlife that you are likely to find in Iowa.

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Did you know it’s a myth that birds will abandon their young if a person touches them? If you see a featherless or nearly featherless baby bird that has fallen from their nest but appear unharmed, and their nest is easily reachable, the best thing you can do to help is put them back.

If the nest is destroyed, recreate a nest out of material that rain can move through easily (like a wicker basket). Be sure that it isn’t too deep (shallow enough that an adult bird could see out of if sitting in it). Put the fallen babies into the new nest and watch carefully (they can be sneaky!) from a distance for at least an hour to see if the parent birds return to feed them.

* If the birds do not have feathers, or have very few feathers, this last method will not work. Contact a local wildlife rehabilitator.

When you see a bird hopping on the ground that has all of its feathers (possibly short tail feathers), you might be seeing a fledgling. These are baby birds that have left their nest on purpose. They learn to fly from the ground up, so this is normal for them to do for up to about a week. Fledglings are still being fed by their parents, so if you’d like to make sure the bird is okay watch from a distance to see if an adult bird comes to check on them within the hour. Another way to check if it is a fledgling is to check for feces– if there is some nearby that means they are most likely being fed.

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If you find an uninjured baby rabbit in a nest, it should be left alone. Mother rabbits typically visit their young only a few times a day so it may look as if they are abandoned but they probably are not. A rabbit who is at least 4 inches long (chipmunk sized), hops well, has open eyes and upright ears is independent from their mother and should be left alone, as well.

If the nest is disturbed and the babies are exposed, do not touch the babies if at all possible. Differently from birds, foreign smells may cause a mother rabbit to abandon her nest. Be sure that your pets are out of the area. If a dog or cat is aware of the rabbit nest, it will likely remember and return to it later. Lightly cover it with natural materials you find around the nest, like grass, fur or leaves. It can be tough to watch the nest every minute of the day, so you can take a light but obvious material such as string or  yarn and lay it in a pattern over the nest. If the pattern is unchanged after a day, the mother is most likely not returning.

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Signs that a squirrel is too young to be without it’s mother is its small size, a lack of fur on its tail, the inability to run jump or climb, or if it is following close to a human consistently.

One possibility is that the baby squirrel fell from its nest. Look around to see if there is a nest on the ground or in a tree nearby. If there is one, leave the baby alone for a day to give the mother a chance to relocate it. If it is cold out, it is okay to put the baby in a container with something warm and/or comfy underneath them – just be sure not to cover it up or else the mom will not be able to find it.

If nighttime comes and the baby has not been retrieved, it is time to contact a professional. If someone is not able to come help immediately, while you’re waiting put on thick gloves to gather the squirrels and put them into something soft like a towel or a scarf. Keep the baby warm with a water bottle filled with hot water or a heating pad being sure to put something between the heat source and the animal so that they don’t overheat.

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Just like rabbits, deer only visit their young a few times a day to avoid the attention of predators. If you see a fawn alone, but not looking injured, it is most likely fine. The more you are around the area or move/touch the fawn, the less likely it is for the mother deer to return soon. Leave the area and check back later on in the day to see if the baby is still there.

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Fox kits are very independent as babies, and are likely to be seen alone while their parents are hunting. Unless the fox is showing signs of distress, leave it alone.

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Baby opossums ride on their mother’s back for a period of time in their youth, and have been known to fall off without the mother knowing. A good way to know if the opossum is in trouble or not is it’s size. If it is 7 inches (including tail) or longer, it is most likely independent.


Unlike several other local wildlife babies, raccoons are not very independent. If you do not see a parent with it for more than a few hours, chances are something is wrong. If you are concerned about a baby raccoon, gently place a laundry basket (or something similar that can be seen through and easily knocked over) over the baby with a light weight on top. This will keep it in one place so you can monitor it, but will also be easier for the mother to knock over if she comes back at night.


Skunks are easily frightened and have poor eyesight, so it is common for mothers to get frightened, run away, and lose her children. If you see a baby skunk(s) without a mother, it is likely that this has happened. Keep an eye on them to see if the mother returns. If they are roaming a lot, use the same laundry basket technique as the raccoons – without the weight on top. It is important that once you have the basket over the babies that you continue to monitor the situation so that if the mother is struggling to move it, you can help. Just be sure not to move too fast – as said before, skunks are startled easily and that can lead to a stinky situation.


For your safety and for theirs, never handle an adult animal without first consulting a wildlife professional. Even small animals can be dangerous. If you do find yourself needing to transport a baby animal, keep the following things in mind:

  • Prepare a cardboard box or similar container by punching holes for air, and lining with a cloth material (like an old T-Shirt).
  • Put on thick gloves before handling the animal.
  • Cover the animal with a towel or pillowcase as you scoop them up gently and place them in the container.
  • Do not give the animal food or water. It could be the wrong food and cause them to choke, trigger serious digestive problems or cause aspiration pneumonia. Many injured animals are in shock, and force-feeding can kill them.
  • Keep the container in a warm, dark, quiet place to reduce stress.
  • Remember that the situation is time sensitive. Move calmly but quickly.