Linda Willen, executive director for the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, says the best help people can give wild animals is not to try to care for them without trained advice. Call the league or nearest shelter and keep the following points in mind:
Interfere with nature only when you are certain an animal is injured, orphaned or about to be hurt. Sometimes baby squirrels will fall from their nest only to be led back to the nest by the parent when all is clear. Fledgling birds (young birds just learning to fly) will spend quite a bit of time on the ground calling for the parents to feed it. Watch to see what happens before helping the bird, unless an unleashed cat is wandering around.
Be particularly careful when moving injured foxes, skunks, bats or raccoons out of danger; they can carry rabies. Move them gently out of danger with a stick or shovel, calling the nearest animal shelter for assistance while you watch over the animal. It is best to touch any wild mammal, even cute rabbits, only when wearing gloves.
Babies can generally be returned to their nests if discovered within 24 hours. Birds will not reject them because of a human smell. Just try to put them in the right nest. Squirrels and rabbits can be lightly rubbed with leaves and grass to cover the human smell before returning to the nest. The babies have a greater chance of survival with their parents than with a trained wildlife rehabilitator.
Check your property for nests. Birds will make their homes in chimneys, gutters and any other nook they can find. The yard or garden can make a suitable home for rabbits, so check before mowing. If animals are in your chimney, try placing a dish of ammonia inside the base, leaving the damper open a half inch. You will need to catch them before young are born or after they are strong enough to leave the nest. Do not try smoking them out.
When finding an orphaned or injured bird, hold it in your shirt or a towel until placing it in a dark box or paper bag. Leave it alone for an hour in a quiet spot so it does not go into shock, unless it is severely injured and needs immediate attention. Call the league or the nearest animal shelter for directions on what to do. Do not give baby birds water.
When finding an orphaned or injured mammal, put it in a quiet box, letting it rest before examining. If the animal feels cold, wrap it in a towel and hold it next to your body while calling the league or nearest animal shelter for direction.
Numbers to call: Wild Bird Rescue League, 690-7491. Animal Welfare League of Arlington, 931-9241. Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, 838-4775. Fairfax County Animal Shelter, 830-1100.