Wildlife Rescue Guide

Wildlife Rescue Guide
(This website is not affiliated with nor endorsed by the HWRC)

For local Nashville Tennessee assistance with native wildlife contact:

Harmony Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (615)799-8712
7370 Forrest Glenn Road, Fairview, TN 37062

This series of pages has been compiled to assist people that receive calls about distressed wildlife. The information compiled was primarily designed to help determine if an injured or baby animal needs attention and what to do once it is determined that an animal needs help.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Under game commission regulations, it is illegal for an unlicensed individual to possess a native wild animal. For more information contact Walden's Puddle Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at (615) 299-9938 or Harmony Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Fairview, TN at (615) 799-8712.

It is important to contact the proper authorities as soon as possible for assistance, such as a wildlife rehabilitator or the Game Commission. Not just because it is illegal to possess a wild animal, but because many animals need attention immediately.

What is Wildlife Rehabilitation All About?



A young rabbit is on it's own if the fur is fluffy, the ears are standing, and it is the size of a man's fist or tennis ball. In some cases it can be put back where you found it. If it was brought in by a dog or a cat, it is probably injured (although it may not appear to be) and needs special attention. Although possible, rabbits are an unlikely carrier of rabies.

Moving a Rabbit Nest
It is not recommended to move a rabbit nest. There has been minimal success with moving a nest and the mother finding it. If you can wait usually 1-2 weeks, the babies will be gone and you can continue with your plans. If you must move the nest, try to place it close to the original spot.

If A Rabbit Nest is Disturbed or Moved
Replace all of the fur inside the nest and cover the nest well with dry grass. The mother may return to care for her young. If a baby is placed back in a nest, touch all the babies so they all smell the same. The mother will not reject the babies if you handle them. There has been good success with placing rabbits back in the nest and the mother returning later and taking care of her young.

Monitoring a disturbed or moved rabbit nest
Before moving the babies from the nest, check to see if the mother rabbit returns. Chances are you won't actually see the mother returning because she usually feeds her babies during the NIGHT. Check the babies bellies before and after an evening has past. Their bellies should be full in the morning. Also, place a couple strands of string over the nest in an "X" pattern to see if the nest was disturbed. These are indications that the mother was there. If at all possible, it is best to let the mother rabbit raise her babies. Rabbits are hard to raise!

Adult rabbits
If you can get near one, something is wrong. Use only the box method for catching and transporting.

Baby Raccoons, Skunks, and Foxes
These babies often play in the woods under their mothers care. Before disturbing them, observe from a distance to see if the mother is indeed watching over them. It's best to leave them alone unless there is an obvious problem. If the mother has been killed, the babies may wander out of the den because they are hungry. They may be crying, look weak or sickly. In this case, the babies need attention. Don't pick these animals up with your bare hands because of the concern of rabies. These animals are the most common carriers of rabies! THOUGH there hasn't been a reported case of rabies in raccoons in the St. Louis Missouri area for a long time. Thank God for the Missouri river which serves to protect and isolate our St. Louis raccoons from the rabies infested ones over in Illinois. You should still be careful though because if you get bit, the animal will have to be destroyed in order to test it for rabies!!!

Adult Raccoons, Skunks, and Foxes
These animals are very dangerous and should only be handled by professionals. It is recommended to call either a wildlife rehabilitator or animal control for assistance. There is also an epidemic of distemper running rampant in St. Louis Missouri so these animals are the most likely to be ill with it. It's not contagious to humans, however there is no cure for it and the sick animals will have to be euthanized to prevent pain and suffering and to keep them from infecting other healthy area wildlife. If you see an adult which appears sick, disoriented, or is having seizures, call your local animal control or wildlife rehabilitation center.

If an immature juvenile squirrel approaches or follows you, it's mother has most likely been killed and it may have gone wandering from it's nest looking for it's mother. These squirrels are generally starving and malnourished and need attention. If a baby (eyes closed) is found on the ground, it may have fallen from a nest (especially if there has been a recent storm) and most likely has a concussion. Check the baby for injuries. If apparently injured, take it to your local wildlife rehabilitation center immediately. If there are NO apparent injuries, place the baby in a small plastic bowl with several holes punched in the bottom. Line the bowl with leaves or grass and place it about 5 feet off the ground in the lower branches of the tree closest to where the squirrel was found. You can also nail the bowl to the tree's trunk. Don't feed the baby. Monitor the bowl during the daylight hours. If the mother doesn't retrieve the baby by sunset then take the baby to your nearest wildlife rehabilitation center. These animals are unlikely carriers of rabies.

It is very unusual to find a baby. If one is found, it probably needs special attention. If the mother is killed, the babies may wander out of the nest because they are hungry. These animals are unlikely carriers of rabies.

It is very unusual to find a baby. If one is found, it probably needs special attention. If the mother is killed, the babies may wander out of the burrow because they are hungry. Sometimes, the babies are washed out of the burrow during a rain storm. Although rare, these animals have been found to carry rabies.

These animals are on their own when they are about 8-10 inches long (not including the tail.) If one is found smaller than 8-10 inches, it needs attention. The mother opossum carries her babies on her body and if startled or attacked, one or more babies may be dislodged and left behind when the mother flees. The mother opossum will never realize that she is missing a baby. Therefore it is imperative that baby opossums be brought to a wildlife rehabilitation center immediately. The mother isn't coming back for them. Don't wait. Baby opossums which are alone may make a distressed "clicking" noise. Check the area for other babies by listening for the clicking sound and examining the ground well. Keep the babies warm with a hot water bottle or a heating pad set on LOW until you can get them into a rehabilitation facility. Orphans are often found looking for food near a dead mother, especially alongside roads. If you see a dead (intact) opossum by the side of a road, stop and check it for babies. Baby opossums can survive on a dead mother's body for about 48 hours. You can detach the babies from the nipples or you can just put the body in a box and bring it and the babies to a wildlife rehabilitator. Opossums rarely contract rabies because of their low body temperature.

Bat pups are usually found in July and early August. Many times bat pups will fall out of trees or housing during a storm. Also, bat pups are found in buildings when they have wandered from the colony. Babies that are furred look very much like the adults except they are smaller, and do not fly well. These babies need assistance. Don't pick these animals up with your bare hands because of the concern of rabies. Bats are a known carrier of rabies. Adult bats can not take off from the ground but must be hung from a tree or building. A grounded bat can often be made to crawl onto a towel which can be draped from a fence or tree limb so the animal can fly off.

Adult Bats
Bats found inside the house other than in July are not babies and can sometimes be released directly outside. Please call a rehabber for assistance when there are bats found inside the house, especially in the dead of winter, to determine if the bat can be released or needs attention. Don't pick these animals up with your bare hands because of the concern of rabies. Bats are a known carrier of rabies.

Bear and Bobcats
These animals can be very dangerous and should only be handled by professionals. It is recommended to call the Game Commission for assistance. Even babies can be dangerous. If the babies are newborn or they don't have their eyes open, they can be taken directly to a rehabilitator if it is certain the mother is not returning. Otherwise, it is best to call the Game Commission. They are much better equipped to handle these animals and take them to the proper facility.

Fawns are often found lying quietly in a field. If you find one and it is not crying, leave it there and check back in 12-24 hours. If one follows you, take it back to where it first saw you and leave as quickly as you can to prevent it from following after you. Check the same again again in 12-24 hours. If it is injured or crying, then it needs special attention.


The statement, "if you handle baby birds, the mother will reject them" is NOT TRUE!

Feathered song birds or fledglings
Baby birds are often seen fully feathered but trying to fly, with the parents nearby. These are fledglings. If they look bright and alert, it is best to leave them alone. If possible, keep cats and dogs away from the area for a few days in which time the birds will learn to fly. The parents will continue to care for them even though they are on the ground. If you are not sure the parents are nearby and you are concerned, you may put the bird in a nearby bush or on a tree branch and observe from inside the house for a few hours. If the mother sees you in the yard she will not come near.

Nestling song birds (partially feathered)
If the baby bird is bright, alert, and opening it's mouth for food, you can put it back in the nest. If it is not gaping (opening it's mouth for food) or is cold, it may need special attention. In addition, if a bird is injured, it needs help and cannot be placed back in the nest. Birds that are cat caught are assumed to be injured although they may not appear to be. If a bird is featherless, it needs heat. Holding a featherless baby bird in your hand will warm it effectively (SEE DOS AND DON'TS)

Since some baby birds need to eat every 1/2 hour or so, it is important to contact a rehabilitator as soon as possible for instructions if it cannot be put back in the nest or the mother is gone.

Pigeons and Doves
If baby doves are found on the ground, it is usually difficult to find the nest to put them back. Doves make very poor nests which get blown down easily. Pigeons usually don't make nests. Juvenile pigeons are fully feathered and very docile, and rely on their parents for a long time. If you're not sure the bird needs attention, call a rehabilitator.

Adult birds
If an adult bird can be caught, probably something is wrong and it needs help.

Walden's Puddle Joelton, Tennessee
Specializes in treating wild orphaned or injured WATERFOWL, SONGBIRDS and RAPTORs. (as well as all other native Tennessee wildlife like rabbits, opossums, squirrels, raccoons and turtles) If you are local to this area, call (615) 299-9938.

Harmony Wildlife Fairview, Tennessee
Specializes in treating wild orphaned or injured WATERFOWL, SONGBIRDS and RAPTORS (as well as all other native Tennessee wildlife like rabbits, squirrels, opossums, foxes and deer) If you are local to this area, call (615) 799-8712.

What to Do if you Find a Baby Bird. Quick Info Guide.


Small song birds can sometimes just be picked up, but occasionally, one cannot. A very effective carrying case for "small birds" is a cardboard box or a paper bag with paper towels on the bottom and the top folded down. For hard to catch birds or larger birds, use a box or a sheet to throw over the bird. If catching a raptor or a bird or prey, use leather gloves in addition to a towel or sheet to protect yourself from the bird's talons. If a sheet or towel is used, place the bird in a cardboard box, then unwrap the bird as soon as possible so the bird doesn't overheat. Do not keep a bird of any kind wrapped in a blanket or any type of material for long periods of time. Birds can overheat very easily and die from being wrapped up too long, especially in warm weather. In addition, do not hold an adult bird in your hands for any longer than necessary. They can also overheat in your hands. If a box is used to catch an animal, slide a piece of cardboard underneath the box to contain the animal, being careful not to injure the animal in the process. Use extreme caution when using a net with birds, because it may damage the feathers. It is not recommended to put wild birds in wire cages because they may damage their feathers.

It is recommended not to pick up any baby mammals with your bare hands with the exception of rabbits which should be placed directly into a cardboard box. Mammals can be caught by carefully throwing a box or a sheet over the animal. The sheet can be brought up around the animal and tied together to contain the animal for transport if a box is not handy to place it in. Or the animal and the sheet can be placed directly inside a cardboard box. If the box method is used (box is thrown over the animal), slide a piece of cardboard underneath the box to contain the animal, being careful not to injure the animal in the process. The box method is recommended for adult mammals to prevent from being bitten; however, proceed with caution. If the animal is unable to move or shows signs of injury, use the box method. Keep the animal as still as possible while moving it. It is recommended to call a professional to catch injured adult mammals because they can be dangerous. Use only the box method for adult rabbits. Adult rabbits will sometimes kick frantically when handled, even when they are seriously injured, and can break their backs in the process. Nets can also be used to catch mammals. It is not recommended to pick up any mammal, especially adults, with your bare hands. They may bite out of fear. Bats should never be picked up with bare hands. Use gloves to pick up the bat or scoop it into a cottage cheese container or a shoe box. Put the container or box under the bat and gently scoop the bat into the container with the lid. Poke very small holes into the box lid with a pencil. Please remember that some bats can squeeze through a 1/2" space.

Once the animal has been contained, ***DO NOT HANDLE IT***

Do's and Don'ts of Transporting

Last updated 8-06-03