Locally-Owned in Oakdale and St. Paul, Minnesota

The Do’s and Don’ts of Helping Minnesota Wildlife on Your Property

baby squirrels at snuggled under a blanket at Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota

Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota (WRC) is a 501c(3) organization that provides quality medical care and rehabilitation for all injured, sick, and orphaned wild animals – admitting more than 18,000 patients (spanning over 200 different species) annually. They are known worldwide for their work with lead toxicity in Trumpeter Swans and turtle shell repair. Additionally, they work hard to educate the community about our local wildlife.  

In April of 2024, Tami Vogel, the Executive Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota (WRC), joined us on Facebook Live to discuss what to do if you encounter injured or orphaned wildlife on your property. For in-depth answers, you can watch the video replay here or continue reading below for a summary. 

 

Springtime is a busy season for WRC as they prepare baby animal nurseries and help many orphaned and injured wildlife. One of the main questions WRC gets asked is how to determine if an animal needs to be brought in.

For adult wildlife, it’s often easier to make that decision. A general rule of thumb is if you can walk over and pick up an adult wild animal, something is very wrong, and the animal should be brought to WRC immediately. No need to call first.  

However, baby wildlife can be trickier to assess since not all of them have a fear of humans instilled in them yet. You might be able to pick up a baby bunny, and it’ll just look at you. When in doubt, call WRC – they don’t answer live calls, but they will return your call within an hour. They will help you determine the situation and best next steps.  

Young wild rabbit at Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota

Baby Bunnies in Your Backyard 

A common springtime scenario in Minnesota is discovering a nest of baby bunnies in your backyard with no sign of Mom nearby. If you experience this: 

  • Know that with rabbits, you often will not see Mom near the nest! She stays away to keep predators away.
    • Mom will only go to the nest to nurse for 5-10 minutes once or twice a day.  
    • The baby bunnies will force their way up through the nest material to nurse and then burrow back down. Often, nest material will appear undisturbed.  
  • If you are concerned about the bunnies, you can carefully uncover the nest and examine them. Following are indicators to bring the baby bunnies to WRC: 
    • Any injuries 
    • Flies on the bunnies 
    • Visible ribs (baby bunnies should be plump!) 
    • Dehydration 
      • Following is how to perform a skin tent test to check a bunny’s hydration level: 
        • Pick the baby bunny up very gently.  
        • On its shoulder blades, there’s a bit of extra skin. Lift that skin up until it forms a tent, then release it. 
        • If that skin goes flat, the bunny is hydrated.  
        • If that skin stays like a tent, the bunny is dehydrated. 
        • Repeat this skin test for other bunnies in the nest. 

Note: Baby bunnies only spend three weeks (about 21 days) in the nest! So, if you see an older baby rabbit – which are fluffy instead of sleek and have upright ears – they are on their own! Don’t worry about them!

A laundry basket flipped over on the ground with two dogs sitting next to it

Protecting Bunny Nests from Pets 

Dogs 

Before you let your dog out in the morning to roam your backyard where a nest is, you can use a laundry basket to help protect the nest! Simply flip the basket over the nest and put stakes through the handles or an opening to prevent your dog from pushing the basket over. You may have to tell your dog “no” a few times before they ignore it. 

Cats 

Cats should be kept inside. They shouldn’t roam for a variety of reasons, including their tendency to injure wildlife, especially songbirds which are already in decline. Injuries to wildlife from a cat are much worse than from a dog! Cats also carry a bacterium, so even one little puncture wound can kill a baby bunny. Instead, we highly recommend building a “catio” – an outdoor enclosure to allow cats to safely be outside.  

Two fawns being treated at Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota

Fawns in Distress 

When Mom’s foraging, her fawn may be alone for 8-10 hours at a time in its first six weeks of life. Often, the fawn will curl up under a tree, against your garage, or even on your front steps. Younger fawns will sleep most of the time, but older ones may wander around – they may even approach you or your dog! If the fawn gets spooked and crosses the street or goes into a neighbor’s yard, don’t worry, it will reunite with Mom. The fawn will cry for Mom and Mom will snort or stomp her hoof to attract the fawn. 

If you notice the fawn displaying signs of distress, then it’s time to safely contain the fawn (without chasing it) and bring it to WRC. Signs of distress are as follows: 

  • A fawn lying on their side. Unlike our pets, a fawn should never be on its side! 
  • If you see a fawn running in a panicked state while crying. This means Mom has been away too long. A fawn will cry for 5-10 minutes when hungry, then repeat if Mom doesn’t return within an hour or two. So, a fawn that is running and crying signals Mom’s prolonged absence. 

A collage of volunteers and workers at Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota treating patients

Will Mom Reject the Baby if Handled by Humans?

Mom and wildlife are programmed to survive and to reproduce. Mom is going to take care of those babies! Often, wildlife rescue centers like WRC reunite handled baby animals, despite having various foreign scents, with Mom once they’re healthy. Mom’s nurturing instinct overrides any concerns about unfamiliar scents. 

A bat being treated at Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota

Guidelines to Tell if a Wildlife Animal is Injured & Might Need Intervention: 

For safe containment and transportation for wildlife, contact WRC – they’ll guide you! Be especially cautious with species like bats and raccoons, which may carry rabies. Your city’s animal control agency may also be able to assist with wildlife containment.  

Basic signs to immediately bring a wild animal to WRC: 

  • If you can walk up to an adult wild animal – something is wrong and they need help. 
  • If a baby animal is losing its balance, seems lethargic, or is old enough to move on but isn’t doing so 
  • If an animal has flies on it 

A trumpet swan being treated at Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota

What to Do if a Wild Animal Needs Immediate Help but WRC is Closed? 

Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota is able to triage and stabilize wildlife when WRC is closed. WRC is open every day, including holidays, but they are closed overnight. So, Good Samaritans can bring an injured wild animal to AERC. We have at least one licensed wildlife rehabber on staff with whom our team can consult. Then we will transfer the animal to WRC when they open. For raptors, they will be transferred to The Raptor Center  

A collage of wildlife animals being treated at Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota

If you would like to support the important work WRC does here in Minnesota to help our local wildlife, you can visit their website to learn of ways to volunteer or donate. We also recommend following them on social media to see their team in action & more of their neat patients! 

Photos courtesy of Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota 

The logo of Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota

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