The Okefenokee Swamp Park and Adventures is unable to receive any wildlife that are sick, injured, orphaned, or abandoned. By Georgia law, we legally cannot accept any animals that are brought to us for rehabilitation because we do not hold a rehabilitation permit from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR). If you find wildlife that you think may need rehabilitation, please read below for our suggestions, courtesy of the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Please note that it is illegal to care for sick, injured, orphaned, or abandoned native wildlife species on your own. If the animal needs care, you must contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
Before contacting a licensed wildlife rehabilitator (found here), please read through the following. Please do not approach injured wildlife without first contacting a wildlife rehabilitator. Remember, it’s illegal to rehabilitate wildlife without a permit, and illegal to keep wild animals as pets. The goal of wildlife rehabilitation is to treat sick, injured, and orphaned animals and return them to the wild. Trained wildlife professionals will know how to best assist the injured animal in question, and can begin effective treatment with the goal of release.
We have several guides (courtesy of the Wildlife Center of Virginia) for the most commonly encountered baby animals. Click through to read more if you find a …
Finding a baby bird on the ground does not mean that it is abandoned! It is actually far more likely that the baby’s parents are close by and still feeding the baby and caring for it.
Please give baby birds the best possible chance for survival and leave them in the wild where they belong!
Is the bird injured (bleeding, broken bones, puncture wounds, been in a cat’s mouth, open wounds, etc.)?
- If YES, take the bird to your nearest wildlife veterinarian or permitted rehabilitator
- If NO, see below.
Is the bird fully feathered?
- If YES, any fully feathered baby bird found on the ground, seemingly unable to fly, is likely just fledging – a natural state of development in the bird’s life. It is normal for fledgling birds to be on the ground! Birds need several days — up to four weeks, depending on their species — to learn how to fly and forage for food. One or more parent will continue to feed them during this period. Leave the area, and do your best to keep pets and children away from the bird. The parent(s) will not feed the youngster while people are around.
- If NO, attempt to find the nest. An uninjured bird found on the ground with few or no feathers needs to be returned to the nest. Look in nearby trees and bushes to see if you can locate the nest. Correct species identification of the nestling or of the parents will help locate the nest (i.e., bluebirds are box or cavity nesters, morning doves build basket nests on horizontal branches or in a tree fork). Cornell’s All About Birds website has excellent information on nest type and placement.
Can you find/reach the nest?
- If YES, simply put the bird back. However, first make sure the bird is warm to the touch. If the baby is not, you can simply warm the bird in your hands before returning it to the nest. Returning a young, cold bird to the nest will sometimes encourage the parent to push the baby out of the nest, as the parent is trying to remove a cold object to protect other warm young and/or eggs.
- If NO, you can’t locate the nest, are unable to reach it [even with a ladder], or if the original nest is destroyed: many young birds [depending on their age] can be placed in a substitute nest. As long as the bird is at least partially feathered, construct a substitute nest of a similar size and shape and securely attach it as close as possible to the original nest site, or where the nestling was found. Read more here for suggestions on constructing a substitute nest.Contrary to popular belief, the parents will not be frightened off by your “scent” and will return to feed the baby if it calls for food. If you want to be sure the parent(s) will continue to feed the baby, watch the nest from a safe distance, preferably indoors. Many wild birds will not return to the nest if you are visible and/or in the area. If a parent does not visit the new nest for more than half a day, contact a permitted songbird rehabilitator for advice.
Please give baby birds the best possible chance for survival and leave them in the wild where they belong! Never attempt to treat or raise a baby bird on your own. Despite your best efforts, most hand-raised birds will die.
The best baby bird rehabilitation is prevention. Educate your friends, family, neighbors, and yourselves about the fledging process. Know where nesting sites are located, and keep cats and dogs indoors around the time you think the birds will fledge to avoid predation. Ask neighbors to take responsibility for their pets as well.
NOTE: Raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal unless you have both state and federal permits. For information on how you can become a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, visit the GA Department of Natural Resources or your state’s wildlife agency.
Gray squirrels nest twice a year, in late winter and summer. They commonly have litters of three or four pups. Babies’ eyes open at four weeks of age and the young are often starting to explore outside the nest at six weeks of age. They are typically weaned and ready to be on their own at 10 weeks of age.
A baby squirrel has the best chance of survival when it is cared for by its mother. Sometimes healthy young squirrels are found on the ground by are not orphans — they simply need help being reunited with their mothers. Often, mother squirrels will “rescue” their fallen or displaced healthy babies by carrying them by the scruff back to the nest.
Do any of the following apply to the squirrel?
- It is bleeding, has an open wound, or has a broken bone.
- It’s been in a cat’s or dog’s mouth.
- It’s covered in fly eggs [these look like small grains of rice].
- It’s cold, wet, or crying nonstop.
- If YES, the squirrel is likely injured or orphaned. Take it to the nearest wildlife veterinarian or rehabilitator.
- If NO, the next step is to identify its age to determine if intervention is needed.
Does the squirrel …
- Have a fluffed-out tail [like a bottle brush]?
- Have a body longer than 6″ [not including the tail]?
- Approach humans or pets?
- If YES, this is likely a juvenile squirrel. You do not need to intervene. Even at the young age of 10 to 12 weeks, the squirrel is independent. If the squirrel is approaching humans or pets, try to scare it by making loud noises when it comes near.
- If NO, this is an infant squirrel. You will need to guide the healthy baby back to its mother:
- Place uncooked rice or bird seed in a sock and warm in the microwave for 20-30 seconds. Wrap the sock in a soft towel and place it with the baby in an open container [e.g., a box]. Remember, do not give the baby food or water!
- Return the squirrel to its nesting tree — this should be a tree in the immediate area where the squirrel was found. If you don’t know which tree the squirrel’s nest is in, or if the nest was destroyed, then choose a tree closest to where the squirrel was found. Squirrel nests can either be in tree cavities, or in “dreys” — the big balls of dried leaves at the tops of trees.
- If the baby’s eyes are open, place the baby on the tree trunk to encourage it to climb. If it does not climb, place the squirrel in the container and attach the open container to the tree. If the baby’s eyes are closed, attach the open container to the tree. Keep children, dogs, and cats out of the area. Click here for more ideas on re-nesting containers.
Observe the baby squirrel for the next six to eight hours of daylight. Reheat the rice/birdseed bag every two hours. Has the mother returned to retrieve her baby?
- If YES … congratulations! You helped reunite a baby with its mother. This is best for the squirrel!
- If NO, take the squirrel to the nearest permitted small mammal rehabilitator.
NOTE: Each animal’s nutritional, housing, and handling requirements are very specific and must be met if the animal has any chance of survival. Cow’s milk and human milk replacers will make wild animals sick. Raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal in Georgia you have a state permit. For information on how you can become a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, visit the GA Department of Natural Resources or your state’s wildlife agency.
Virginia Opossums breed two or three times each year, from February through September. The average litter contains six to nine babies. Opossums remain in the mother’s pouch until they are two months old. Between two and four months of age, they may ride on their mother’s back and are dependent on the mother for help in finding food and shelter.
If you find a baby opossum:
Is the animal injured (bleeding, broken bones, wounds, deformity, etc.)?
- If YES, contact your nearest wildlife veterinarian or rehabilitator.
If NO, opossums that are at least 8 inches long from tip of nose to the base of the tail (do not include the tail) and weigh more than 7.25 ounces or 200 grams are old enough to survive on their own in the wild and do not need human intervention.
If the opossum does not meet these size and weight criteria, contact a state permitted wildlife rehabilitator immediately. Opossum babies are often found crawling around next to their dead mother [often after the mother has been killed by a car] and will not survive at this age without human care.
To handle the infant, wear latex medical-type gloves inside leather gloves. Do not have any contact with saliva from the infant.
NOTE: Raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal unless you have a state permit. For information on how you can become a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, visit the GA Department of Natural Resources or your state’s wildlife agency.
White-tailed Deer fawns are born April through July, with the majority of fawns born in June. Most first-year does will have one fawn each year, but twins or triplets are typically seen thereafter.
Until they are strong enough to keep up with their mothers, deer fawns are left alone while their mothers go off to feed. Mother deer will stay away from the fawns to avoid leading predators to their young. Does return at dawn and dusk to feed and/or move their young.
Fawns are typically left in an area with tall grass or bushes, but sometimes they are left in more open areas, including backyards. Older deer fawn may wander short distances.
Well-meaning humans often assume that because a fawn is alone it must be an orphan, leading to numerous fawn “kidnappings” each year.
A fawn has the BEST chance of survival when cared for by its mother. Typically, the best option is to leave the fawn alone!
Do any of the following apply to the fawn?
- It is bleeding, has an open wound, or has a broken bone.
- It’s covered in fly eggs [look like small grains of rice].
- It’s cold or wet.
- It’s crying nonstop for hours on end.
- It appears weak AND is lying on its side.
- If YES, the deer is likely injured or orphaned. Contact your nearest permitted wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian for treatment.
- If NO, then continue on to the next question.
Is the fawn in a dangerous location (e.g., by a busy road, in a backyard with dogs, etc.)
- If YES, the fawn can be moved a short distance to a safer location.
When moving a fawn, it’s not unusual for the fawn to follow you as you leave. To prevent the fawn from following you, place the fawn facing away from the direction in which you plan to leave so it cannot watch you.
Tap the fawn once or twice firmly between the shoulder blades (this mimics how the mother taps the fawn with her nose to communicate “stay here and wait until I come back.”)
Quickly leave the area. Do not linger. The fawn may stand up and take a few steps to follow. Keep going and the fawn should lie back down. If possible, you can monitor from afar with binoculars.
- If NO, then the fawn is healthy and simply waiting for mom to return.
Leave the fawn alone! Keep children and pets away. Monitor from a distance and reassess the situation in 24 hours.
- Never chase a fawn to capture it. The stress of being chased can be dangerous to a fawn. Fawns are prone to a condition called capture myopathy, which is caused by chase and stress. Capture myopathy can lead to damage to internal organs, and even death.
- Never give food or water to injured or orphaned wildlife. Inappropriate food or feeding technique can lead to sickness or death. Fawns in particular have very sensitive stomachs and require a special diet. Cow’s milk will make them sick.
Each animal’s nutritional, housing, and handling requirements are very specific and must be met if they have any chance of survival. Raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal unless you have a state permit. For information on how you can become a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, visit the GA Department of Natural Resources or your state’s wildlife agency.
Eastern Cottontail rabbits reproduce throughout the spring and summer, typically starting in mid-March and nesting through mid-September. Nests are found in shallow depressions on the ground [cottontails do not burrow]; nests are covered with soft grasses and are lined with tufts of the mother rabbit’s fur. The average litter size for rabbits is five, though mothers may give birth to as few as one and as many as 12! Since young rabbits grow up quite quickly, “doe” rabbits may have three or four litters in a season. Mother rabbits are very secretive, so they don’t draw attention to their nest; it is very rare that you will see a mother rabbit coming and going. The doe feeds her young only twice a day — at dusk and dawn.
Young rabbits disperse from the nest at 15-20 days old. By three weeks of age, they are on their own in the wild, though are still very small — they’re only about the size of a softball! Rabbits have the best chance of survival when they are cared for by their mothers.
Is the rabbit injured (bleeding, broken bones, puncture wounds, been in a cat’s mouth, open wounds, etc.)?
- If YES, take the rabbit to your nearest wildlife veterinarian or rehabilitator.
- If NO, see below.
Is the rabbit fully furred with its eyes opened?
- If YES, if the rabbit is larger than a softball and weighs more than 4 ounces or 100 grams, it is on its own and does not need human intervention.
- If NO, attempt to locate the nest (a shallow depression on the ground possibly lined with rabbit fur and/or grass) and put the rabbit back.
You will not see a lot of activity at the nest; mother rabbits stay away to avoid leading predators to the nest. If you do suspect the nest is abandoned, lay four pieces of string or twigs in a tic-tac-toe pattern over the nest as straight as you possibly can. Leave the area and check back in 12 hours.
If the mother rabbit has returned to the nest to nurse her young, the string/twigs will be out of place. If the string/twigs are undisturbed, and the bunnies appear thin and weak, with wrinkled, baggy skin, the babies may be orphaned. The babies should be taken immediately to a state permitted small mammal rehabilitator in your area.
A Word About Mowing
It’s a good idea to check your yard before you mow; because rabbits are in shallow nests, it’s easy to mow the “top” off of their nest, possibly injuring babies. Do not attempt to mow within 10 feet of a rabbit’s nest if there are babies present. You can protect a nest during mowing by placing a plastic lattice laundry basket upside down over the nest. It’s best to remove the basket after mowing. Leave the nest area as undisturbed as possible while the young rabbits grow.
If the nest must continue to be protected, cut a hole in the laundry basket very close to ground level about 3-4 inches in diameter so that the mother rabbit can enter/exit from either side. If you have a dog who has access to the nest/basket, place a very heavy rock or object on the overturned laundry basket (not so heavy as to crush the basket). Once the babies are gone, the basket can be removed and the nest destroyed if you are trying to prevent the nest from being reused.
- Never chase a rabbit to capture it. The stress of being chased can be dangerous to a baby rabbit. Rabbits are a high-stress species prone to a condition called capture myopathy, which is caused by chase and stress. Capture myopathy can lead to damage to internal organs, and even death.
- Never give food or water to injured or orphaned wildlife. Inappropriate food or feeding techniques can lead to sickness or death. Baby rabbits have particularly sensitive stomachs and require a special diet. Cow’s milk will make them sick.
NOTE: Each animal’s nutritional, housing, and handling requirements are very specific and must be met if they have any chance of survival. Raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal unless you have a state permit. For information on how you can become a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, visit the GA Department of Natural Resources or your state’s wildlife agency.
If you do find a truly orphaned (or injured) young animal,
prepare a lidded box for the young animal by placing a cloth or non-raveling towel on the bottom of the box. Wearing gloves [latex, gardening gloves, and/or small leather gloves], gently pick up the baby animal and place it in the box. Please never touch a mammal barehanded; picking up a young animal without gloves increases the risk for possible rabies exposure.
Keep the box in a quiet place away from children and pets. A heating pad underneath the box [low setting] or a rice or bird-seed bag may be used to help keep the animal warm.
Unless specifically advised to do so by a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, please do not attempt to offer food or water to a patient. Such treatment is likely to cause more harm than good. Many wild animals have very sensitive stomachs and require very special diets; baby animals can also easily aspirate, which can lead to pneumonia or death.