Beyond Your Backyard – Orphan Wildlife and Avian Flu

There have been many questions about what to do if they come across orphaned wildlife or sick birds.

So much could be written about our world on this Earth Day… there’s climate change, habitat loss, pandemics and industrial agriculture, and the list goes on. But it’s also spring – and that means baby animals, and sometimes even orphaned wild animals.

On top of that, there is also a highly pathogenic bird flu that has reached our city limits. There have been many questions about what to do if they encounter either situation, and that is the purpose of this column.

(1) “Orphan wildlife”

It goes without saying that baby animals are adorable. Our first instinct is to want to help if we believe that a baby animal is an orphan. But sadly, the message of orphaned wild bears is being repeated as wildlife rehabilitation centers enter their busiest time of the year – with large numbers of “orphans” who aren’t really orphans.

Never feed or give water to orphan wild animals. Keep the animal warm and quiet in a dark box and arrange for transport to the nearest rehabilitation center. The Wildlife Rescue Society will direct you and can arrange a volunteer driver to pick up the baby(ies).

Wildlife rehabilitation centers are largely run by volunteers and funded by donations. They work hard to educate the public with the intention of bringing wild animals back into the wild. But it’s important to know when an animal needs help and when it should be left alone.

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Orphan Raccoon Kit, Bandit Ranch Rehab. Did you know that raccoon kits knead and purr like feline kittens? This rascal was called Smudge and really had a thing for watermelon. One of the biggest expenses for a wildlife rehabilitation center is formula and nutritious food. A bucket of skunk/raccoon formula is over $200.00 a bucket. Our hard-working rehabilitation workers may still need your help, as costs are rising for them as well. . Kimberly Epp

Never move a baby animal from its nesting site unless it is in obvious distress. The chicks jump from their nest and the parents feed them on the ground until they learn to fly. Keep your pets indoors and leave those babies alone. If the baby bird has no fledgling feathers, you can safely place the chick back in the nest. The mother will come back again.

As with most mammals, their babies are usually not orphaned and abandoned when the mother does not appear to be around. The mother usually forages in the area – never very far from where the young(ies) are.

A fawn is usually left alone, camouflaged, and licked odorless to be safe from predators. Unless the fawn’s ears are curled (showing it hasn’t had milk in several days and is dehydrated), please leave this baby alone!

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Orphan Skunk Drinking Kit. Live Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation

Do you see raccoons or even skunks wandering around more during the day this time of year? Do not worry. They don’t have rabies, but they have babies! And these babies mean that mothers will need more food. They mean you no harm, so thank you for not hurting them.

Rabbits leave their young alone except when the mother feeds them. Too often, baby mammals are considered abandoned and then picked up by someone. These people think they are helping and that the baby or babies are in distress.

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Cottontail Baby Rabbit. Live Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation

While their hearts are in the right place, very often the mother then returns to an empty nest – and becomes very distressed herself when she cannot find her little one. Baby rabbits do not have a high survival rate when removed from their nest.

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Wildlife rehabbers are thus inundated with young mammals each spring. The general rule is; “If you care, leave them there”. But if you’re not sure, you can call the Wildlife Rescue Society hotline at (306) 242-7177. They will advise you on what to do, call a local rehab center if needed, and arrange transportation.

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Three kits of young raccoons. It is likely that the mother was trapped or killed by a car. Ninety percent of orphaned raccoons who arrive at a rehabilitation center have been orphaned by humans. A mother raccoon would not otherwise abandon her babies. These young people are safe now. They will receive a special formula and will be fed every two hours. Later they will be fed nutritious food and then learn how to properly collect food for themselves. Once old enough and instilled with a natural fear of humans, they will be released into a natural habitat. If you would like to help Raccoon Kits in SK, please consider donating to Bandit Ranch Rehab. Critter Care Wildlife Society

Depending on the province and area you live in, you can find your local helpline – and I myself have always carried a wildlife emergency kit in the trunk of my car – because you don’t never know if you might find yourself in an emergency situation! This included the hotline phone number, a pet carrier (or box) with blanket, a bowl of water, bottled water, a long net, a penknife (if an animal was entangled ), etc.

Where do wild animals hide their young? Learn more here,…/beyond-your-backyard…

Remember the general rule of the Canadian Wildlife Service; “if you care leave them there” when it comes to baby wild animals. Always be ready to lend a hand when it comes to animals in need.

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This little Red Fox kit was recently rescued and was the only surviving kit from the litter, found at a building site. It is believed that a predator killed his siblings as they were found dead. The little guy was in distress, and the rescuer followed all the steps to rescue him. He is now being treated at Salthaven West. Josh Haywood

Whether it’s a baby bird that fell from the nest before developing feathers or an animal hit and left on the side of the road in need of veterinary care, we can always show humanity when it it’s about helping other species.

2. “Bird Flu”

A new threat to bird populations of all kinds in North America is highly virulent avian influenza. What to do if you find a bird suspected of avian flu?

Do not touch sick or dead birds. Members of the public can call the Wildlife Rescue Hotline at 306-242-7177 for further advice and they will take each situation on a case-by-case basis.

The province will not be collecting Snow Geese as it has been inundated with reports. The disease is most likely to spread as sick and dead birds are handled and transported within the province.

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Canada Goose has bird flu. Unfortunately, there is no cure. If you see a bird behaving strangely and in distress, please call 1-800-567-4224. Do not handle the bird and keep pets and children away.

Unfortunately, this strain is highly pathogenic and as such there is not much anyone can do to help these birds.

However, if you can contain the bird, dead or alive, so predators don’t eat it and get bird flu, please try to do so. The wildlife rescue society will give advice.

Conservation officers are overstretched and underfunded, so they can’t pick up everything.

*Government recommendation is to call 1-800-567-4224.*

The official advice is to report all birds and contact this number. There is, however, no guarantee that anyone can pick up the bird. Please do your best to keep pets and children away from the bird and if you can contain it.


In the United States, the outbreak is widespread and ongoing for some time. They recommended dismantling the bird feeders for a few months.

The flu hasn’t hit the backyard bird population here yet, and you can help by keeping your bird feeders clean.

Although it is now spring and feeders are not as necessary as they are in winter, if you plan to maintain them, please keep them clean.

Feeders and moldy bird seed can also cause other avian diseases to birds.

Collect the seeds that have fallen under the feeders and put them in the compost or garbage.

Clean bird feeders using 2 parts bleach to 1 part water. Scrub. Rinse well. Allow the feeder to dry in the sun before filling it. Do the same with birdbaths.

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If you have bird feeders and/or baths, keeping them (and the area around them) clean has never been more important.

As for our pets, pet birds can catch bird flu and die from it. Cats are somewhat sensitive and can contract a respiratory infection. Although it can be transmitted to humans, it is extremely rare.

True humanity means helping human and non-human beings. As Jane Goodall says, we all make a difference. You have to decide what that difference will be. Myself, I prefer to choose kindness and compassion.

Will you take a pledge this Earth Day to be equally kind to all living things? Each species plays an important role in the ecosystem, and we cannot afford to lose this connected biodiversity.

Epp is an environmental educator and writer and is also the past president and field trip coordinator of the Moose Jaw Nature Society.

Epp can be reached on the MJNS Facebook page or at for more information, or you can call him at (306) 681-3198.

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