First Aid for Wildlife

When concerned citizens encounter injured or orphaned wildlife they often are not aware there are permitted wildlife rehabilitation centres that can help. In Alberta the only facilities that are legally permitted to give long term care to injured or orphaned wildlife are wildlife rehabilitation centres. Not all wildlife rehabilitation centres are permitted to handle every species but all centres work together and will see that the patient gets to the appropriate facility. The Alberta Wildlife Hotline - 888-924-2444 - can offer assistance in finding the a facility.

Legally, veterinary clinics, if they choose, may offer emergency care at no charge to the public. Unless they have a wildlife rehabilitation permit, they may not offer long-term care.

Just as with humans, the first few hours after the injury are the most critical and the sooner the patient receives treatment the better chance there is for success. Something as simple as a warm, dark place and the administration of fluids can mean the difference between life and death.

* I am Considering Caring for the Animal Myself

  • It is illegal for the public to have wildlife in their possession unless they are taking it to a permitted care facility.
  • If you really care you will want to see the patient get professional attention.
  • Even if it's small and cute now it could grow into something that may become dangerous when its natural instincts develop or at the very least, become large and messy.
  • Incorrect food may keep the animal alive but not healthy.
  • Even if you plan to release it in the future, raising wildlife in captivity will not give them the chance to learn the survival skills they would get from a natural parent and may permanently impair them from living successfully in the wild.
  • Wildlife deserves to be free and raised by a natural parent.
  • You can be involved with the rehabilitation process at MRWC by keeping in contact with your patient's progress and being present at the release.

* I Have Found an Orphaned Wild Animal

Often well meaning members of the public pick up what they perceive to be orphaned wildlife when in fact they are simply normal young needing to be left with their parents. The following are common cases of mistaken orphans:

  • Fawns: Adult deer do not abandon healthy fawns so if you find one and cannot see a doe please remember that it is normal and she is within the area. The doe stays at a distance from the fawn to keep predators away and will meet back up with the fawn at dusk. If the fawn is on the side of the road, pick it up gently and place it in the grass or trees nearby. Your scent will not cause any problems. If a fawn is found wandering aimlessly and calling loudly, found injured, or found near a dead doe it is in need of help.
  • Songbirds such as Robins, Crows, Magpies, Blue Jays: These feldgling birds are often seen hopping on the ground, unable to fly. They are likely not in trouble. These species of birds can take up to a week to learn how to fly. The parents stay close by, teaching, guiding, and protecting them the best they can. As long as the parents are in the area and the young are not in immediate danger, the best thing is to leave the young alone.
  • Hares: White-tailed Jackrabbits and Snowshoe Hares are born fully haired, eyes open, and eating grass. They may be tiny and look helpless but Mother Nature has provided them with a fur coat and an instinct to stay still and camouflaged. The mother only joins up with the young at dusk and dawn to nurse them and the family go their separate ways once again. Hares taken into captivity almost always die from stress. Leaving them alone is usually best.

If you believe you may have an orphaned wild creature, please call and discuss it with a wildlife centre before taking an action.

* I Have Found an Injured Wild Animal

When attempting to aid an injured wild animal or bird always remember your safety first. In most cases the following procedure is the best:

  • Cover the patient with a towel, coat, or blanket
  • Transfer them, towel and all, to a cardboard box with no air holes and close the lid
  • Keep the animal warm, dark, and quiet
  • Never feed an injured patient until you've received direction from a wildlife hospital
  • Contact a wildlife hospital for further instructions as soon as possible as delays may cause further illness or death in your patient
  • If you are unsure or fearful to approach a wild patient, or the patient is a larger or more aggressive species, please stay with it and call a wildlife hospital for help.

The following are a few common injuries and how to deal with them:

Window Strikes

MRWC's protocol when a bird hits a window is to put it immediately into a small cardboard box with a towel for support. Put the box in a warm, quiet place for approximately 1 hour. If the bird is active and flies away strongly when the lid is opened, then it was merely stunned. If it is unable to fly after the rest period, the impact may have caused internal bleeding or broken a small bone in the shoulder. Further treatment will be needed.

Oiled or Dirty Wildlife

Oiled or dirty wildlife is best wrapped in a towel with only their head protruding so they cannot preen and end up ingesting whatever product is on their feathers or fur. Pack them securely into a cardboard box so they cannot move, cover the box, keep in a quiet, warm place and call a wildlife hospital where they will receive proper washing and treatment.


Orphaned ducklings can easily be placed with other duck families but in most cases they must be placed with the same species of duck. Medicine River specializes in fostering orphaned waterfowl and can relocate the orphans for you. Orphaned ducklings are extremely "stressy" and must not be handled or played with. Keep them in a small box with a towel and a heat source to snuggle into. Never give them a large pan of water to swim in. When they are stressed they may lose their waterproofing if put in water and when they get wet and cold, death is very likely.

Cat Caught Birds

Even a small puncture from a cat's claws can introduce bacteria that can kill a small songbird in as little as 48 hours. Keep the bird warm, dark and quiet and transport to MRWC to begin treatment with antibiotics as soon as possible. Shock from the cat maul is also of serious concern.

* Carriers for Wildlife

It is extremely important to crate the patient carefully.

  • A dark, well-padded, small container is the best. Never use wire caging.
  • Bats can squeeze out of very small spaces. Put them first in a sock or cloth drawstring bag and tie shut before putting them in a box. NEVER HANDLE A BAT WITHOUT WEARING GLOVES. ALTHOUGH UNCOMMON IN ALBERTA, BATS CAN CARRY RABIES.
  • Chewing mammals such as muskrats can chew out of cardboard very quickly so always put them in a non-chewable container.
  • Patients in large boxes can thrash around and damage themselves even more than they already are, so keeping the box to a size slightly larger than the animal will be the safest.
  • Holes do not need to be put in cardboard boxes as cardboard is not airtight and a wild animal will see the hole as an escape route and attempt to get out. This may result in an escape or further damage to the animal.
  • Bedding, such as dry straw, paper towel, a blanket, or towel is advised. Cardboard is slippery and an already injured patient can do more damage if they slip around during transport.

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