What to Know About Wildlife


Author: Natalie Thompson

As the temperature warms up and we venture outdoors more, encountering wildlife can become an almost daily occurrence.  But what do we do if we stumble upon an animal that we believe needs our help?   Keep in mind that an injured animal is likely to act aggressively, and wild animals can carry a multitude of diseases and parasites so your safety must always come first. As counterintuitive as it seems, sometimes leaving them alone is the kindest thing we can do, as a wild animal’s chance of survival decreases once in human care.   However, we all have big hearts, and it is hard to turn away from an animal we feel is in need.  Before you attempt to capture a wild animal, please have a plan in place so that it can quickly be taken to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as time is of the essence.  If you are not equipped to safely capture and transport an animal to a qualified wildlife rehabilitator, then it is best to leave it alone as possessing a wild animal is illegal.  Below, we are going to discuss some of the more commonly seen cases we hear and best practices 

  • Turtles – Spotting a turtle in need is a common occurrence both on the road and even here at the hospital. If you encounter a turtle struggling to cross the road prioritize your safety first, only intervening if the coast is clear, and putting the turtle in the direction it is going.  Remember that turtles have established territories, never going outside of a 2-mile radius, so please resist the urge to relocate them as it can be fatal.  If you find an injured turtle we are here to help! Contact our hospital at (336) 288-3233 to arrange bringing it in. Be sure to note the exact location where you found it can be returned to its home after recovery. 
  • Rabbits – We all find baby bunnies adorable, and it is not uncommon to find them in your yard.  However, it is important to resist the urge to intervene immediately.  Mother rabbits will leave their nest for extended periods of time and come to feed periodically.  If you are unsure if a rabbit nest is being taken care of you can gently place twigs or pine needles in a tic-tac-toe pattern on top.  If the pattern has been disturbed within 24 hours, then the mother is most likely caring for them. If you find a baby bunny with fur and open eyes, it is well developed and independent with no need for human intervention.  Remember, injured bunnies are highly susceptible to stress which can be fatal.  So, leaving them undisturbed, or already having a plan in place with a licensed rehabber before touching them are your best options.  
  • Skunks, Raccoons, Foxes and Bats – While undeniably adorable, these are wild animals that are best left undisturbed.  These four species are our most common rabies vectors and very few wildlife rehabbers are legally allowed to care for them. If you encounter any of these animals, injured or not, acting in any suspicious manner then please contact animal control immediately for the safety of you, your family, and your pets and do not approach them.  
  • Baby Birds – Baby birds are animals that can go downhill very quickly, and there is a lot of misinformation out there.  Fledglings who are first learning to fly are often seen as orphaned and taken away from the nest, when this is a natural part of nature, and they are learning valuable skills to survive.  If you find any non-feathered bird outside of the nest this could be due to the mother kicking it out, or an accident.  If able, use gloves to quickly put the bird back in the nest and leave the area.  A fun fact is that birds cannot smell, so there is no concern of them smelling human scent on their babies.  If an entire nest falls, you can place it in the original tree, or one within 20-30 feet and the parents should come back. It is imperative that you do not feed baby birds, as they can aspirate very easily and die from that.  
  • Baby Deer – Baby deer are another animal that mothers will leave for a long time and return to them later so that they can graze while their baby is tucked away safely.  Seeing a baby deer does not mean it has been orphaned and should be left alone for 24 hours.  If the fawn is in the same location for more than 24 hours, please contact the NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-2401. 

Overall, capturing a wild animal can sometimes cause more damage than leaving it alone but it is best to be prepared if you choose to help.  If you do choose to help, please prioritize your safety and do not feed the animal anything.  It is better for them to go a few hours hungry than it is to be fed the wrong thing or aspirate.  We are also here to help point you in the right direction if needed and have great resources listed below. 


NC Zoo Wildlife Rehabilitation Center – (336) 879 – 7274 

NC Wildlife Hotline – (866) -318-2401 

Carolina Waterfowl Volunteer Hotline (birds only) – (704) 286-6330 

Guilford County Animal Control – (336) 641-5990