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Be Safe Out There! -- Helping “Helpless” Wildlife (or, How Not To!) image
April 27, 2023
Be Safe Out There! -- Helping “Helpless” Wildlife (or, How Not To!)
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DiscoverNEPA is all about celebrating Northeastern Pennsylvania’s abundant and vibrant natural spaces. We want you to get outside, relax and unwind in the mountain air, among the towering trees, along the crystal-clear lakes and streams. We just want to make sure everyone enjoys these places safely and respectfully.

That’s why we’re teaming up with state agencies, local conservation authorities and outdoor enthusiasts to bring you expert advice, tips and so much more to help you enjoy NEPA’s great outdoors.

Understanding When and How to Help Wildlife in Distress

Photo courtesy of PA Game Commission


For a lot of people, Spring is the most looked forward to time of year. Warming temperatures, increasing daylight, and the pre-dawn bird singing makes us want to kick the winter doldrums and get out and go. The same is true with wildlife.

Songbirds are returning and already establishing territories to nest. Small mammals are beginning to breed or have already had their first litter of young. Wildlife instinctively knows where to establish nesting or denning sites for optimum protection, but it’s not a perfect system. Young birds fall out of nests, young mammals venture too far from the den and get attacked by both ground and avian predators, or wander into the paths of automobiles. When this happens, they become helpless and either succumb to injury, or if there’re lucky, found by a person and “rescued”. Most of us have a compassionate nature and will go out of the way to help someone or something in need. But when it come to helping wildlife in distress things can go bad very quickly.


Photo courtesy of PA Game Commission


So, first off, is the animal really in distress or injured?

Most juvenile songbirds don’t just jump up and fly away from the nest when it’s time to leave. Multiple birds in a cramped nest make it difficult to exercise flight muscles, so the young will hop out and end up on the ground for a day or two before there’re strong enough to fly. Young mammals that sense danger and get separated from the den or the rest of the family will freeze in fear or get super aggressive. So don’t just assume that because you can approach it, it needs help.

Obviously if you find a featherless bird on the ground near a nest, it needs to be returned to that nest. But an animal that has visible injuries or bleeding definitely needs some type of intervention. A very young bird can be returned to the nest with a gloved hand, but that’s about all anyone should do. Handling sick or injured mammals or birds of prey should be left to professionals, there’re trained and properly equipped to deal with them.


So, what can you do to help?

  1. DON’T touch or handle any sick or injured animals with bare hands or even handle them at all. Scoop the bird or animal up in a box or other container to prevent its escape. Or cover it with a bucket or garbage can until it can be collected.
  2. DON’T feed it or try to nurse the animal back to health.
  3. Call the Pennsylvania Game Commission and report the incident ASAP. Many surrounding counties have licensed wildlife rehabilitators that can deal with sick or injured birds and mammals and will do their best to save the animal if possible. But keep in mind not every rescue will have a happy ending.

For further information on wildlife issues, check out the PGC website.

To report a wildlife problem, call 1-833-PGC-HUNT, or 1-833-PGC-WILD.


Featured image (Top) courtesy of PA Game Commission.