We are here to help our community by caring for sick, injured and orphaned wildlife. In order to be successful we rely on the goodwill and informed decision making of our community members. Please use this page as a resource to help determine when to assist wildlife.
Determine If The Animal Needs Your Help
Wild animals are constantly being seen and found by humans; but just because they were found, doesn’t mean that they need help. Have you found an animal and are unsure if it needs help? Please refer to this flowchart. There are further resources under the flowchart in case further assistance is needed.
Wildlife Information and Resources
Believe That an Animal is in Need? Food for Thought before Trapping
It is illegal to possess, trap, destroy, or relocate a wild animal without a permit. If you have found an animal in need of care or have a conflict with a wild animal, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area for help. For a list of licensed rehabilitators in Illinois, visit the Department of Natural Resources website and search by county. If you need assistance removing wildlife that is in danger or causing damage to your home, you can hire a Wildlife Control Operator.
How To Help An Animal In Need
Injured, sick, and orphaned wild animals will need to be trapped for transport to a licensed rehabilitator. If the animal is small enough or safe to handle, an inexperienced person can use gloves and a towel, blanket, net or box to catch the animal and place it in a secure container. It is important to keep the animal in a warm, dark and quiet place to reduce the stress of capture.
Should I Feed The Animal?
Do not feed the animal. Feeding an injured, sick, or orphaned animal can cause severe and even life-threatening complications. Instead, bring the animal to a rehabilitator as soon as possible so it can be properly examined and treated. If the animal is too large, active or dangerous to handle, call a rehabilitator for help.
Should I Try To Catch The Animal?
Do not approach a wild animal unless you are comfortable doing so, know how to handle it and understand its defenses. All wild animals can be dangerous- even those that appear harmless or severely debilitated. An animal that bites someone may need to be euthanized for rabies testing, so take proper precautions for the safety of both you and the animal.
True or False?
Wild animals will abandon their babies if touched by a human?
It is NOT true that a wild mother will abandon her babies after they have been touched by humans; she will take them back!
Most baby animals are not actually in need, like many members of the public tend to think. Unless the baby is visually ill or injured, or you saw the mother get killed, you can leave the baby where it is; we assure you that mom is properly taking care of her young!
Due to the rabies risk, the WMC is not able to accept bats. If you find a bat that is sick, injured, or orphaned, notify the Department of Public Health in your county for direction. For more information on bats in your home, please consult the CDC website on Rabies and Public Health.
Found a bat? Bats are known to carry rabies. Do not attempt to touch the bat with your bare hands. Bats can carry the rabies virus in their saliva, which is coated over their body during grooming. If you touch the bat with your bare hands, even if you did not get bitten, notify the Public Health Department immediately. Use very thick gloves or welding gloves to protect yourself. Pin them against the wall with a box or can with a lid. Take it outside and release it. If it is winter or if it is injured do not release. If it is night, leaving doors open and lights on in the house will induce the bat to leave on its own. Nursing baby bats may be clinging to their mothers. Don’t release a bat if it is sick, injured or too young to live on its own. If you have any further questions, call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 217-333-6914.
Birds: Raptors, Songbirds, Shorebirds, and Waterfowl
If You Find An Injured Or Sick…
Raptor: Assess the bird from a safe distance before trying to handle it. Because of their talons, these birds can be difficult and dangerous to handle without proper training or equipment. If you feel comfortable catching the bird, use a large blanket or box to cover it. With a blanket, make sure to keep the bird’s head covered and legs under control by holding them above the feet if possible. Once you have the bird safely contained, transport it to a licensed rehabilitator as soon as possible. If the bird is too large or dangerous to handle, call a licensed rehabilitator for help.
Shorebird or Waterfowl: The favorite defense mechanism of these species is to poke out the eyes of their attacker (including humans) with their bill. ALWAYS WEAR GOOGLES when dealing with any of these species. A good rule of thumb is if it has a long, pointy bill, better to be on the safe side and wear goggles.
Songbird or other Passerine: Assess the bird from a safe distance before trying to handle it. If you feel comfortable catching the bird, use a small towel or box to cover it. With the towel, cover the bird’s head, gently hold the wings against the bird’s body and put the bird in a secure, dark container. Once you have the bird safely contained, transport it to a licensed rehabilitator as soon as possible.
- If A Bird Hits A Window:
If the bird is not obviously injured, place it in a safe, quiet place outside. Occasionally, these birds are only stunned and can recover on their own in a short time. If, however, the bird is definitely injured or still appears dazed after an hour of rest, place it in a secure container and transport it to a licensed rehabilitator as soon as possible. Birds fly into windows for two reasons: either they don’t realize there is something in their flight path or a male bird sees his reflection as another male in his territory and is acting aggressively toward it. Either way, the best way to prevent window strikes is to use window clings to break up the apparent open space and reduce reflection.
- If A Bird Is Trapped Inside A Building:
The best way to get a bird out of a building is to turn the lights off and open as many windows and doors as possible. Birds will fly toward the light and will often leave on their own with this technique. Chasing a flighted bird around a building will be very stressful and can even have life-threatening consequences for the bird.
- If You Find A Baby Bird On The Ground Without Feathers:
Look for a nest in the area. If you find the nest and can access it, return the baby to it; if you find the nest and cannot access it, you can make a replacement nest out of a plastic tub with holes cut in the bottom for drainage and some natural bedding (like dried grasses). Place the new nest in a secure, protected area as near to the original nest as possible. In either case, watch the baby from a safe distance to see if the parents return. If the baby appears sick, injured or there are dead siblings or a dead parent in the area, bring the bird to a licensed rehabilitator.
- If You Find A Healthy, Feathered Baby Bird On The Ground:
Young birds naturally leave the nest before they are fully flighted; they are called “fledglings.” These birds may spend time on the ground or on branches for several days before they are able to fly. This is a normal process, and these birds should not be rescued unless they are obviously sick, injured or there are dead siblings or a dead parent in the area. If the baby is in danger from a car, domestic animals or people, you can move the baby to a safer nearby area. These birds are still reliant on their parents for food and protection, so make sure the baby stays in an area where the parents will still be able to see and access it.
A bird of prey, also known as a raptor, is a bird that hunts other animals for food. These birds possess sharp talons, curved beaks, and excellent vision and hearing to help them find, capture, and kill their prey. Owls, eagles, hawks, and falcons are all raptors.
Owls are a group of raptors belong to the order Strigiformes. Most owls are nocturnal
(hunt at night), though a few are crepuscular (hunt at dawn and dusk) or diurnal (hunt
during the day.) One of the most striking features of owls is their eyes. Owl eyes are very large, tubular, and surrounded by tiny bones called scleral ossicles. Because of the shape of the eye itself, as well as the presence of these bones, owls cannot move their eyes in their sockets; instead, owls turn their heads to see around them – up to 270 degrees! Owls also have spectacular hearing, aided by the fact that their ears are asymmetrically placed – meaning one ear is higher than the other. This feature allows owls to pinpoint exactly where a noise is coming from, and makes them very effective hunters of small mammals, even when there is no light or a lot of coverage surrounding the prey.
Eagles and Hawks
Eagles and hawks are raptors that belong to the order Accipitriformes. This order encompasses a large number of birds – ranging from tiny hawks no larger than a robin, to eagles who hunt and kill mountain goats. All birds of this order are diurnal hunters, though their prey varies significantly across species–from insects and birds, to reptiles and large mammals.
Falcons belong to the order Falconiformes. Falcons have thin, tapered wings, which allow them to fly at amazing speeds and change directions quickly. In fact, a diving Peregrine Falcon can reach 200 mph while in a dive – making it the fastest creature on Earth! Falcons are also thought to be some of the most intelligent birds, comparable to crows and ravens.
- Shorebirds are classified under the Charadriiformes Order. Some of the shorebirds found in Illinois are gulls and terns.
- Gulls are often referred to as seagulls, but this terminology fails to differentiate between the 20 or more species of gulls found in the United States alone. The Herring Gull and the Ring-billed Gull are the most prominent species in Illinois. The difference between the two is the black ring encircling the bill of the Ring-billed. The Herring Gull lacks this black ring.
- Terns are not specifically a part of Illinois wildlife, but can sometimes be seen as they migrate south.
- Shorebirds lay 2 to 4 eggs in a clutch in a nest that is located on the ground. The young are precocial, meaning that they stay on the ground. The eggs are incubated for 18 to 38 days, depending on species. Both parents contribute to the raising of the young.
- Waterfowl are classified under the Anseriformes Order. This order includes ducks, geese, and swans.
- The most common duck species in Illinois include Mallards, Wood Ducks, and Teals. Ducks lay 8 to 12 eggs per clutch. The eggs are incubated for 23 to 29 days. It takes 40 days for the ducklings to become fledglings. Only the hen is responsible for the rearing of the young.
- The most familiar goose in Illinois is the Canada Goose. They are often seen flying in the characteristic “V” formation. Geese lay 4 to 7 eggs in a clutch. The eggs are incubated for 24 to 30 days and hatch in May. It takes 2 to 3 months for the goslings to become fledglings. The goslings are able to fly 70 days after hatching. Both parents participate in raising the young.
- The most prevalent swan in Illinois is the Mute Swan. Swans lay 4 to 7 eggs per clutch. The eggs are incubated 35 to 40 days. It takes 2 to 3 months for the young to become fledglings. Both parents raise the youngs.
- Waterfowl make their nest on the ground near water and the young, like shorebirds, are precocial.
More About Canada Geese
- What to do if you find a gosling – Geese are very social creatures and do best when placed back with their own kind. If you find a gosling and it appears to be healthy, try to find a pond that has goslings of the similar size. Distract the parents long enough to place the new gosling with the others and observe from a far off distance. The new “foster” parents should accept the new one as one of their own. Just remember that these efforts need to be done within 24 hours after finding the gosling or else the gosling will start to imprint on humans, which could have potentially serious side effects later on in life.
- Flocks of geese can be composed of a family group or even groups of family.
- Geese will mate for life.
- Their favorite food are new shoots of grass often found along side of ponds and resevoirs.
- Geese will lose all of their flight feathers in late June and do not regrow the flight feathers until late July. This means that during this time, the geese are flightless. This is usually when the become the most annoying as they “camp out” on golf courses, in parks, and even in residential yards. During this time, they are also more aggressive, not because they are flightless but rather because they are trying to protect their young.
Other Common Waterbirds
Wading birds can also be found with waterfowl and shorebirds. Wading birds are classified in the Ciconifformes Order and include egrets, bitterns, and herons. Egrets are not typically found in Illinois. The Least Bittern in the only bittern found in Illinois. Some of the more common herons residing in Illinois are the Great Blue Heron, the Green Heron, and the Night Heron.
If you find an orphaned fawn, make sure that the fawn is actually orphaned: A mother will often leave her offspring hidden in some tall grass while she forages for food. Rather than considering this abandonment, this practice actually serves to attract less attention to the fawn, therefore decreasing the chances that a predator will find the baby. The spots on the fawn’s back serve as a form of camoflauge, giving the effect of dappled light. To protect themselves from predators, fawns have no scent for the first month of their lives and typically lay motionless to attract little attention.
If you are concerned that a fawn may be orphaned, periodically return to the site that the fawn is at to check on the fawn over the course of the next 24 hours. Do not stay around the baby, for mom will not reveal herself.
- If the fawn if truly orphaned: Deer can die easily from stress and capture, even days after the event. Keep the animal a quiet dark area. Fawns should not be rescued unless they are injured or you are sure they are orphaned. Be sure to watch from a distance for at least 4-6 hours to see if the mother returns. If you rescue a fawn, be very careful–they can easily bolt and break their legs or back. You could also receive injury, such as a blow to your head or throat by a sharp hoof. Despite the size of their legs, fawns can be very strong. You might try wrapping a very small fawn in a blanket to control the legs.
- Additionally, do not keep, pet, or coddle the fawn. Fawns can become habituated to people very easily, which is dangerous to their survival and behavior as they age. If you find an injured or truly orphaned fawn, please call or bring it to your local wildlife hospital or rehabilitation facility immediately. It is illegal to keep a fawn, and it is illegal to relocate, move, or bring in a fawn that is not orphaned. Make sure that it is indeed orphaned or injured!
- If you have an injured adult: DO NOT try to move it. Adults are very strong and can be aggressive; they could also be hurt even more if they are attempted to be picked up or moved by someone that is not trained.
The WMC is only capable of taking in deer (fawns) up until they lose their spots; for sub-adult or adult deer, either contact your local law enforcement agency or animal control, a rehabilitator, or the large animal clinic at 217-333-2000.
Deer are ruminant animals belonging to the family Cervidae (hoofed mammals). Male deer are called stags, harts, bucks, or bulls, while female deer are called hinds, does, or cows. Young deer are termed fawns or calfs. Does typically have one or two fawns at a time between May and September. Gestation is 6.5 months. A fawn’s eyes open at birth, and they can walk and run on their own within a couple of hours. They wean at 4 months, although the fawn can run with the mother up to a year.
Foxes and Coyotes
Found a sick or injured adult fox or coyote? Do not touch or get too close to it. Foxes and coyotes consider humans to be predators, and will act defensively by attacking if a human comes to close. Additionally, these animals are carriers of diseases and parasites that can be transferred to people. If a fox or coyote needs assistance, call your local wildlife clinic or rehabilitation facility, while keeping an eye on it until members of the clinic or facility arrive.
Fox Kits and Coyote Pups
Found a young fox or coyote that seems healthy? It is likely not orphaned!! Young foxes (called kits, pups, or cubs) and young coyotes (called pups or cubs) usually seem to be by themselves as they begin to come out of their dens to explore, play, and develop survival skills–but mom and dad are nearby watching. However, if you are still concerned, keep an eye on the cub for the next 24 hours. Do not approach or try to “rescue” it during this time–wildlife does not want to be kidnapped! The only exception to this rule is if the pup is injured or in immediate danger.
If you need to move a cub, do so swiftly and carefully. If the cub is in danger, such as being near or on a road, wear gloves and carefully move it to a safe place, such as under a nearby tree. Leave the cub be, then, and monitor it over the next 24 hours. The parents will usually have come for it by then. If not, leave some food and water nearby to see if it is eating and drinking on its own. Even if orphaned, it is in the best interest of the cub to be left in the wild as long as it is not sick or injured.
If the cub is sick or injured, call a local wildlife clinic or rehabilitation facility. Do not handle the cub unless absolutely necessary, as the injury could be made worse and illness could be spread. Always wear gloves when handling. Do not attempt to rear the cub yourself. Cubs have special nutritional and caretaking needs that only a trained professional can attend to. Additionally, not only is it illegal to keep a cub, but cubs raised by humans do not adapt well to captivity; they also do not survive well in the wild if released from captivity. Remember, as cute as these animals can be, they are wild animals and not domestic pets.
Foxes are found around the world in many diverse habitats, including grasslands, mountains, forests, deserts, and the arctic. Red foxes are the species found in Illinois, and can be found in both rural and suburban areas. Foxes have adapted well to living in human-dense areas, as they are very resourceful and opportunistic; while they still keep their distance form humans, they are no stranger to stealing scraps, rummaging through garbage, and finding shelter around sheds and wood heaps.
Foxes are solitary hunters, and are omnivores, feasting on rodents, birds, fruits, vegetables, insects, worms, snakes, etc. They are not picky about their food and will eat nearly anything they can get their paws on! Foxes are intense predators, having intent hearing and a quiet, sneaky demeanor. They are also able to use the Earth’s magnetic field to pinpoint the exact location of prey under snow or underground, leaving it nearly impossible for prey to escape once a fox has fixated itself on the animal.
Unique tails aid the fox in balance, warmth, and as an appendage with which to signal other foxes. Mating season is in the winter, when resources are scarce, and pups are born in the spring, when resources are more plentiful. A typical litter consists of 2-6 pups, and both parents take care of them until the fall season, when the pups go off on their own.
Coyotes have adapted well to expanding human habitats; they commonly roam around forests, prairies, and mountains, but it is not unusual to see them around farms or suburban houses. They are omnivores, and eat nearly anything–including rodents, rabbits, fish, insects, fruit, vegetation, snakes, and deer. Coyotes are considered a nuisance in many areas, due to also hunting farm animals and pets. They are stealthy, fast animals with sharp eyesight and a strong sense of smell, making them one of the top predators in North America. They are also capable of swimming. Due to being such a fierce predator, their population has reached its highest numbers across the country.
Coyotes are social animals, and typically hunt and travel in packs that contain a strict social hierarchy. Mating occurs during the late fall/early winter when resources are less plentiful, and the pups are born in the spring when resources are plentiful. An average litter contains 2-6 pups. Parents share in the parenting responsibilities, in addition to sharing the responsibility of protecting the pups and territory. After weaning, the pups stay with the pack, and are able to assist with hunting by fall. Coyotes reach sexual maturity and full growth between 9-12 months of age, but do not begin to mate until 2 years of age. Once the pups reach breeding age, they typically go off on their own to find mates and develop their own packs; however, this is not always the case, as they sometimes stay with their current pack.
Groundhogs and Beavers
If a sick or injured adult groundhog or beaver is ever found, do not attempt to touch or pick it up. Groundhogs and beavers see humans as predators, and will act defensively if they feel they are in danger. They have extremely strong jaws and sharp teeth, and their bites HURT! If you find one that needs assistance, call your local wildlife clinic or rehabilitator for assistance. Keep an eye on the animal until they are able to arrive.
If you need to transport the animal to a clinic or rehabilitator yourself, get a tub, crate, or cage that is both large and sturdy enough to hold and contain the animal (anything made of cardboard or wood is not recommended). Once you have found one, place it near the animal and use something like a broom to gently push the animal into the tub, crate, or cage–do not attempt to push or place the animal into the container with your hands. After you have successfully gotten the animal into the container, carefully and securely close the container, and keep noises down; wildlife is very stressed by noises, so keeping noises down will help calm the animal. If the animal is in a cage, crate, or clear tub, place a towel or blanket over it so that the animal cannot see out. This will also help calm the animal. Once the animal is securely in a covered container, transport it to your nearest wildlife clinic or rehabilitation facility right away.
If the animal is able to move well on its own, call your local wildlife clinic or rehabilitation facility, and keep an eye on the animal from a distance while you wait for help to arrive. If the animal is moving around and not staying in one area, try to blockade the animal off in an area until help arrives.
Baby Groundhog or Beaver (kits)
It is highly unusual for a young groundhog or beaver to be out of its den–especially if it is little with closed eyes. Look around and see if you see mom nearby–if not, it is important to check the baby to ensure that the baby is alive and has no injuries. Wear gloves if you will be touching the baby. If injured, call your local clinic or wildlife rehabilitator for assistance; wait for help to arrive, or follow their instructions to safely get the baby to the facility without worsening the injury. If the baby has no apparent injuries, it is then of most importance to immediately get the baby warm. Wrap it in a towel or blanket, and, if possible, place the blanket-wrapped baby on a low-set heating pad. Never place the baby directly on a heating pad without a towel or blanket, for the baby could suffer skin burns. Once you have done this, call your local wildlife or rehabilitation facility. If possible, immediately take the baby to the clinic or rehabilitator once warm.
Do not keep or attempt to rear the baby yourself, and do not offer any food or attempt to feed. These young animals have special nutritional and caretaking needs that require the skill of only a trained professional. Additionally, not only is it illegal to keep a kit, but kits raised by humans do not adapt well to captivity; they also do not survive well in the wild if released from captivity. Remember, as cute as these animals can be, they are wild animals and not domestic pets.
Groundhogs are rodents, and are also known as Woodchucks, Whistlepigs, and Land Beavers. They are capable of climbing trees and swimming, though they spend most of their time on the ground. They make their burrows in fields and other open spaces near woodlands. During the winter season, they hibernate in their burrows until February, when the males come out to find mates. Typically, males make their burrows near where a group of females have made their burrows, so the males come out to see if the females are still there. Once they have located females, the males go back to sleep until their actual mating season in early March. Groundhogs are fairly antisocial creatures, where they only interact with each other when it is mating season. Even after giving birth to a liter of 4-6 pups in mid- to late spring, the pups stay with their mother for a few months before being weaned; but once they are weaned, they are then sent off on their own.
During the summer and fall seasons, groundhogs gorge themselves in preparation for the next winter. Come late fall, groundhogs go deep into their burrows and hibernate. Groundhogs are considered “true hibernators”, because their body goes into a true dormant state, where both their body temperature and heart rate drop dramatically. However, contrary to popular belief, hibernation does not occur where the animal is dormant for the entire winter. The animal will drop its body temperature to about 5 degrees Celcius and heart rate to about 5 beats per minute, for about a week–then the animal will wake up for a day or two, toss and turn a little, and then go back into a dormant state. This process continues throughout the hibernation.
Groundhogs are herbivores, and feast on grasses, plants, fruits, and tree bark. They can be a nuisance to farmers during their gorge season, due to eating produce and making burrows in farm fields. This species is also the star of the well-known ‘Groundhog Day’ in the United States, held on February 2nd every year. On this day, if the groundhog sees its shadow, then there will be 6 more weeks of winter. It is thought that groundhogs were intelligently chosen as an estimator for the remaining length of the winter season, because they have to know when to emerge from hibernation to ensure pup survival; if the pups are born to early, then the mother will not have enough food or nutrients to be able to feed then, and if they are born too late, the pups won’t be able to put on enough weight before winter. Talk about precise timing!
Beavers are members of the rodent family, and, being the great engineers that they are, are second only to humans in their ability to manipulate their environment. Beavers typically make burrows near ponds and lakes, but they can also build dams in less- appropriate areas to make a habitat more suitable; by building structures made out of logs and mud in these less-suitable areas, they can block off streams and rivers to make the ponds that they desire.
Beaver “huts”, called lodges, are located in the middle of the ponds. They are also built out of mud and logs, and can only be entered from underwater. A single family will live in a lodge, consisting of parents, kits (babies), and yearlings (the kits born the previous year). Beavers are monogamous, meaning that they mate for life, and they are also very social and very family-oriented animals. Young beavers stay with their parents for at least a couple of years, even helping to raise their new siblings the next year. Both parents partake in raising the young, finding food, and defending the family and territory.
Beavers are herbivores, eating tree bark, leaves, roots, and aquatic plants. While they waddle on land, they are extremely graceful in the water. Their webbed feet allow for easy swimming, and their paddle-like tail allows for navigation in the water. The tail is extremely strong, and can also be used as a defense mechanism–either by hitting foes with it, or slamming it down in the water to create an intense splash. Other adaptions that they have to assist with life in the water are waterproof fur, transparent eyelids that function like goggles, and impressive lung capacity that allows them to stay underwater for up to 15 minutes. They are also able to survive fine in the winter, and continue to function normally in the water, even when the lake or pond is frozen on top.
Opossums get a bad rep, but they are very necessary animals to our environment. They are scavengers and help keep the earth clean. They feed on carrion (road kill), invertebrates (such as bugs), fruits, and small vertebrates. They also eat ticks, helping decrease the prevalence of lyme disease.
- Babies: If you find a baby opossum that is less than 8 inches long, it is considered an orphan. This is because a baby opossum would not be found outside of the pouch under normal circumstances. The orphaned baby should be brought to your nearest wildlife hospital or rehabilitator immediately. As the opossum gets older (at about 80 days of age), it will come out of the pouch and will be seen clinging to the mother’s side or her back. Baby opossums that are at least 8 to 9 inches long from the nose to the base of the tail are on their own.
- If a dead adult is found: Always check a dead opossum for babies. Just because the mother is dead, doesn’t mean the babies are! But they will be if you don’t check. If there are babies in the pouch, try to pull the babies off the mother; if you can’t, transport the mother and babies to the nearest rehabilitator.
- Behavior: Opossums are nocturnal (active at night) and have a solitary life. They are usually non-
aggressive and prefer to “play possum”, or fake death. When frightened, hey hiss with their mouths gaping open and excrete foul-smelling feces and a thick green gel-like substance. But remember, just because a species is characteristically non-aggressive, some individuals can be aggressive and will attack. Care should always be taken when working with wild animals.
- Zoonotic Diseases to be Aware of: Opossums are carriers of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that starts off with flu-like symptoms. If left untreated, leptospirosis will cause kidney damage, menigitis, liver failure, and respiratory complications. The disease is transmitted through the urine and feces. It infects other mammals including cats, dogs, and humans. To prevent infection, keep pets vaccinated against leptospirosis and use bleach to clean up urine and feces. Wear gloves when handling a found opossum, and when cleaning up urine and feces. Wash hands with soap and water afterwards.
- Opossums are the only marsupials in North America, meaning that they do not have placentas but develop their young in a pouch like a kangaroo or Tasmanian devil.
- Opossums actually have an opposable digit on their hind feet, giving them the ability to handle arboreal life, although many tend to remain on the ground.
- Females can give birth to over 50 young between the months of March and August. Most of these will die on their way to finding a teat, or never find a teat due to lack of availability. This ensures that the strong will survive. The final litter size usually ranges from 1 to 15, but usually averages around 10. Gestation is 13 days long and then the young stay in the pouch another 2 months. The eyes open in 58 to 72 days and they are weaned and on their own at approximately 5 months of age. As the opossum gets older (at about 80 days of age), it will come out of the pouch and will be seen clinging to the mother’s side or her back. Baby opossums that are at least 8 to 9 inches long from the nose to the base of the tail are on their own.
- Opossum body temperature is 90-99 degrees. They have a lower body temperature than most mammals.
- Opossums are very necessary animals to our environment. They are scavengers and help keep the earth clean. They feed on carrion, or road kill, invertebrates such as bugs, fruits, and small vertebrates.
- Opossums are nocturnal (active at night) and have a solitary life. They are usually non-
aggressive and prefer to “play possum” or fake death. When frightened, hey hiss with their mouths gaping open and excrete foul-smelling feces and a thick green gel-like substance. But remember, just because a species is characteristically non-aggressive, some individuals can be aggressive and will attack. Care should always be taken when working with wild animals.
- Does the baby need help?
Mothers only return to the nest about 2 times a day, usually at night. You probably will not see her. If you find a nest, leave the bunnies in the nest. Place yarn or a twig on the nest, or sprinkle flour around the nest. If the yarn or twig has been moved, or if footprints are seen in the flour, after 12 to 24 hours, then the mother is tending to the nest. You can also check the bunnies to see that they are warm and hydrated, and you could look for a ‘milk spot’–a white oval in the abdominal area. These are all another indication that the mother has been to the nest, and is feeding and caring for her young.
If a bunny is not cold, is fully furred, eyes open, and not in danger from pets, it has a better chance on its own than with human care.
If you have to chase it, it does not need to be rescued. If it is in danger of pets (not other wild animals as predator-prey reactions are necessary for ecological balance), then place a laundry basket over the nest during the day and secure it with a heavy object. Remove the basket at night so that the mother can feed her young, and then replace the basket in the morning. Continue this until the cottontails are on their own. Remember to stay away from the nest. Frequent activity near the nest site will cause the mother to abandon her young. If you accidentally removed the young from the nest, they can be returned to the original nest and reunited with the mother as long as they have not been absent for more than 36 hours. Rabbits will not abandon their young if they have been touched by human hands, so if you feel the need to move the babies to a safer location near the original nest, please do so.
If you find a rabbit that you think needs help, take caution; Cottontails are a high-stress animal, and will die of a heart attack at even the tiniest bit of stress (such as being touched or hearing voices). Additionally, do not feed them! Improper food causes diarrhea and death. Put them in a shoebox or similar container (watch out, even little ones can jump and bite). Treat as an injured animal and take to your closest wildlife hospital or rehabilitation facility.
- Zoonotic Diseases to be Aware of
Cottontails can carry the tularemia bacteria, which can be transferred to humans. This bacteria can cause flu-like symptoms, even pneumonia; severe cases can lead to death. To prevent infection, wear light gloves when handling cottontails and then wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.
- Dealing with Rabbits as Pests
Are cottontails invading your garden? Try placing a 2-foot high chicken wire fence around the garden. Be sure to either bury the fence 6 to 8 inches underground or drive stakes into the ground to prevent the cottontails from pushing their way underneath. Also try planting onions, garlic, fritillaria or nasturtium around the perimeter. Cottontails do not like the scent of these plants and may be deterred away from the garden.
The most common species of rabbit in Illinois is the Eastern Cottontail. Cottontails have litters of 1-8 young every 28 days with 3 to 4 litters per year. Babies’ eyes open at 6-8 days and they are weaned at 3 weeks of age. As soon as they are weaned they are considered on their own. At this time they are only 4 to 5 inches long. Their eyes are open and their ears stand straight up. They give the appearance of a miniature adult cottontail.
Cottontail body temperature is 100-103 degrees.
Raccoons Do NOT Make Good Pets
Young raccoons are so cute, it is very tempting to keep them as pets. And you may hear that they make good pets- they do not make good pets! When they get older, they become agitated extremely easily and get very moody. They become increasingly inquisitive and mischievous. If not provided constant enrichment, they destroy everything they can get their paws on. Raccoons are well-known escape artists, and will also injure themselves in attempting to escape.
Not only is it against the law to keep wild animals as pets, it is unfair to the animal. Do not keep a raccoons, but, also, do not release a tame raccoon, as it will be overly friendly with people and considered a hazard to people. It will also have improper interactions with its own species. If the raccoon approaches a person in a friendly, unfrightened manner, it is assumed to carry rabies or canine distemper and is euthanized. Therefore, if you have a tame raccoon, call a rehabilitator so that the animal can “wild-up” before being released.
- Transferrable Raccoon Diseases
- Canine Distemper: Another reason to not keep raccoons as pets, they can be infected with canine distemper and capable of transferring this virus to pet dogs. Canine distemper is a very infectious, deadly disease that affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems. Canine distemper has two forms in raccoon. One form includes signs of runny nose, eye infections, and upper respiratory infections. The other form is known as the “dumb” form. The raccoon stumbles around and becomes super friendly with humans.
- Baylisascaris: Raccoons are also the natural carrier of the roundworm Baylisascaris procyonis. While not usually a problem in raccoons, IT IS A SIGNIFICANT RISK IN BOTH HUMANS AND OTHER ANIMALS. The eggs of Baylisascaris are able to stick to fur and skin and are present in feces. The roundworm is spread via fecal-oral route. The eggs are found in raccoon latrines (especially woodpiles) and on the fur of raccoons and other animals who frequent latrines looking for seeds. Once on the skin, the only practical way to remove the eggs is with bleach; however, bleach does not kill the eggs. Open flame or steam can kill Baylisascaris eggs. One must be cautious; once Baylisascaris eggs are ingested they become larvae in the intestine and migrate throughout the abnormal host’s body, with a preference for nervous tissue. Baylisascaris larvae will migrate into the eye or the brain of the infected individual. If in the eye, enucleating (removal) is the only treatment. If in the brain, death is the outcome of this condition. For further information, contact the Wildlife Medical Clinic.
- Found a raccoon that needs help?
- If you have found a raccoon that is exhibiting abnormal behavior around humans–walking up to or not exhibiting fear towards humans, circling, seeming unaware of where it is–call animal control immediately. DO NOT approach or touch the raccoon. These behaviors are almost sure signs of distemper or rabies.
If you find an adult that is injured, it is still recommended to call animal control or a wildlife facility. Raccoons can be very aggressive and vicious, even when injured–it is of utmost importance to protect yourself and to call people who are trained at working with these animals.
If you find young raccoons that you think may be orphaned, wait a little bit to see if they really are; mom might just be gone for a little while to find some food! If it comes to be a day later and you still haven’t seen mom, then you could either call animal control, or bring them to a wildlife clinic or wildlife rehabilitation facility. Be sure to wear gloves if placing them into a container for transport! If they have injuries, be sure to be cautious of the injury and mindful when placing them into a transport container–we don’t want to make the injury worse!
- Raccoons have litters of four to six young between March and August. Raccoons have one litter per year, although some raccoons have their litter in the spring while others have their litter closer to fall. Gestation is 63 days, babies’ eyes open in 18-24 days and they leave the nest at eight to ten weeks. When they reach 16 weeks of age, they are weaned. Even though the raccoon might be weaned, it can still stay with its mother for up to a year.
- Raccoon body temperature is 100-103 degrees.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Snakes are also cold-blooded, and require a heat source to maintain body temperature. The young can either be born live or hatch from eggs, depending on the species of snake. Snakes are not active in the winter, and go into a hibernation state during the cold months. Any snake found outside during the winter, especially when there is snow cover, has compromised health and should be brought to your local wildlife clinic or rehabilitation facility for treatment.
Caution must be exercised when dealing with snakes, as there are venomous species in Illinois. All, with the exception of the Eastern Massasauga, live in the southern third of the state. Some species of non-venomous snakes, such as the king snake, Eastern Fox Snake, and Western Fox Snake, display mimicry by using their tails as a rattle; these are more likely to be found in east-central Illinois.
Turtles are cold-blooded animals that require a heat source in order to maintain body temperature. Eggs are laid at various times of the year.
Found a Turtle on the side of the road?
Turtles are often the victims of accidents on the road. If one has been hit or has sustained trauma, keep the turtle warm and deliver to your local wildlife clinic or rehabilitator as soon as possible. Other indications for treatment are: abnormal or asymmetric swellings on the head, legs and tail, shell rot (eroded, discolored shell), nasal discharge, or a broken beak.
However, just because a turtle is either on the road or on the side of the road, does not mean that the turtle has been hit or sustained injuries. If you see a turtle near the road, but it has no injuries or abnormalities, then you can leave it be–it does not need help.
Turtles often try to cross roads during the spring and summer, when it is breeding season and they are trying to return home to their nesting site.
Baby turtles are on their own since birth–mom does not stick around after laying her eggs, so the babies are by themselves when they hatch. Therefore, if you find a baby turtle on its own that has no injuries or abnormalities, you can leave it be (or, move it to a field or area with a pond if it is in a dangerous place).
Take note if the turtle found is actually a turtle, or a tortoise
Turtles are aquatic, and spend some or most of their time in the water. Tortoises, however, are terrestrial, and can die if put into water because they cannot swim. Some turtles also only spend a little bit of time in the water, and it is to wad in and soak as opposed to swim; an Eastern Box Turtle is an example of such. There are no tortoises native to Illinois, but this is still useful information to have in case you ever encounter one!
If you encounter a turtle or tortoise that needs to be moved to a safe place, some significant differences you can keep an eye out for are that turtles have flatter shells, flipper-like feet, and are lighter in weight, while tortoises have large, dome shells for protection and stocky, bent legs for walking. They are also heavier in weight.
Aquatic turtle features: a slim shell and thin, webbed feet (examples are Snapping Turtles, Painted Turtles, Red-Eared Sliders, Soft-Shelled Turtles, etc.):
Partially-aquatic turtle features: a domed shell and stockier legs and feet (examples are Box Turtles):
Terrestrial tortoise features: a large, domed shell, and large, stocky, and bent legs, with no feet webbing:
(Photo credit: wikipedia.com) (Photo Credit: animal-dream.com)
If you encounter one that needs to be moved, but are unsure if the animal is a turtle or a tortoise, you could always place the animal near a pond or lake, while keeping it on land; that way, the animal can decide if it will go into water or not. It is better to do this than to accidentally put a tortoise into water!
- Turtles are cold-blooded animals that require a heat source in order to maintain body temperature.
- Turtle eggs are laid at various times of the year. When breeding season comes along, turtles use the Earth’s magnetic field to travel back to their birthplace to mate and lay their eggs.
- Snakes are also cold-blooded. The young can be born live or hatch from eggs, depending on the species of snake.
- Snakes are not active in the winter.
Found a skunk? While not all skunks carry rabies, the skunk family is very susceptible to rabies. They can carry the rabies virus for a long time before exhibiting symptoms. The mother can also pass the virus on to her young, so do not handle any skunk, regardless of age. Use caution with all animals.
- Got sprayed? Some ideas to get rid of the skunk smell are tomato juice, Oxyfresh Pet Deodorizer/Shampoo, and Petastic Skunk Odor Deodorizer.
Due to the rabies risk, the WMC does not take skunks.
If you have a skunk that needs medical attention, please call the Department of Natural Resources at 217-782-6302.
- Skunks have litters of 2-10 young between March and May. Gestation is 63 days long. Babies’ eyes open at 28-30 days and they wean at 7-8 weeks of age.
- Skunk body temperature is 101-102 degrees.
- Skunks are nocturnal (active at night) creatures that are related to the weasel, ferret, and badger. They are one of the gentlest and least aggressive creature in the woods. Their hearing is weak, they have poor vision and sense of taste and smell are mediocre. Skunks protect themselves from fights by persuading their aggressor to go away. They usually do this, first by stomping their feet repeatedly. If this does not scare off the threat, then they turn around and spray. Remember that skunks are more afraid of you than you are of them and will only attack when cornered.
- Two glands hold the pungent musk that the skunk can fire with lightning speed, great accuracy, and incredible distances (up to 10 feet). They can fire five or six consecutive rounds, each dose only a fraction of a teaspoon. The musk is a clear amber, oily, sulfurous substance.
- Skunks are not all bad around buildings on a farm. They are omnivorous and usually consume fruits, carrion, mice, and insects. Skunks are very useful in cleaning up road kill, in decreasing the mice population, and in scarfing down annoying bugs.
Babies do best in the wild with mom; if the baby is not ill or injured, please leave the babies in their nest or at the tree where they were found!
If you find a baby squirrel fallen out of the tree or displaced because of tree cutting, you can do one of the following:
- Attempt to place the baby back into the nest, if possible, or put the baby in a box at the base of a tree where the mother has been seen and wait for the mother to come. It is okay if you touch the baby to move it back into the tree or to place it in the box; the mother will still come back for it. Mother squirrels keep at least two nests throughout the year, and she will move the babies to the other nest. Do your best to keep people and animals away!
- If the baby is cold, put a hot water bottle or jar full of warm water in the box with it, using a small cloth to make a barrier between the bottle/jar and the baby so that the baby’s skin doesn’t get burned.
- If it is near night time, keep the baby inside until morning and then place the baby in the box with a hot water bottle or jar of warm water, if necessary, at the base of the tree again. If including a bottle or jar, place a small cloth between the bottle/jar and the baby, so that the baby’s skin does not get burned. You can leave the squirrel in the box for up to 48 hours. If the mother does not return before the 48 hours, then you have an orphan.
- Please do not feed! Baby animals have very specific nutritional requirements and digestive tract compositions, and feeding the wrong thing can kill it. Please bring the baby to your nearest wildlife clinic or wildlife rehabilitator right away if you truly have an orphan.
- Take Caution
Squirrels are a very aggressive animal. Squirrels are notorious for biting, and they bite hard. When handling squirrels, it is best to use kevlar-lined gloves to keep them from breaking the skin. Any mammal that bites and breaks the skin has to be euthanized and tested for rabies. The person that was bitten has to get the rabies exposure vaccine from the County Public Health.
- Fallen Down a Chimney or Inside the House?
If a squirrel has fallen down a chimney, it cannot climb back up again. Lower a little rope into the chimney to give them a hand. Once they are out, cap your chimney!
If a squirrel gets from the chimney into your house, close the door to that room and leave the window open. This limits that amount of destruction the squirrel causes, and allows the squirrel an escape route. If the squirrel is on the second-level or higher, the squirrel will be unable to jump down to the ground. At this point, you can set a live trap or call your local Animal Control. In the Champaign area, you can call Steve Beckman from Anything Wild Animal Control at 217-355-2997.
- There are two common species of tree squirrels in the Illinois area
- fox squirrel
- gray squirrel
The fox squirrels are larger than the gray squirrels and have a red underside. Gray squirrels have a white underside. Squirrels usually nest in the trees. They will use holes in the trees or make a nest out of leaves high up in the branches.
- Squirrels have litters of 3-5 young twice a year. Fox squirrels are born between April and May and again between August and September. Gray squirrels are born between February and April and again between August and September. Gestation is 38 days long in fox squirrels and 44 days in gray squirrels. The eyes open in 28-35 days and the squirrels are weaned at 6-8 weeks. They leave the nest between 10 and 12 weeks of age.
- Squirrels body temperature is 98-102 degrees.
Weasels and Minks
Find a sick or injured adult weasel or mink? Do not attempt to touch or pick it up. Weasels and minks see humans as predators, and will act defensively if they feel that they are in danger. If the animal is not running away from you, but you cannot see any apparent injuries just by looking at it, take a box and cut a hole in one of the sides. Cover the animal with the box, and leave the animal be for a little while; the box will allow the animal to have some privacy, while the hole will allow for airflow (if it is hot outside), as well as a place for the animal to escape if it chooses to. You could also provide a small bowl of water and some wet dog or cat food near the box if you wish.
Keep an eye on the animal for a couple of hours. If the animal is sill under the box after a couple of hours have passed, and/or if it is injured, call your local wildlife clinic or rehabilitation facility and wait for help to arrive. If you need to transport the animal yourself, take a towel-lined box, with some small air holes poked in, and gently scoop the animal into the box using an object like a bowl or a brush. Do not touch the animal yourself, and do this carefully–we don’t want to make any injuries worse! After you have done so, securely close the box so that the animal does not escape in your car, and take the animal straight to your local wildlife clinic or rehabilitator.
Baby Weasels or minks (Kits)
If you have found a litter of kits, or a single kit, watch it for a little bit, from a distance, to see if mom comes around. If you don’t see mom come around after watching for about a day, then action needs to be taken. Are the kits’ eyes open? If not, they need to be taken to a wildlife clinic or rehabilitator immediately.
Do not attempt to keep or raise the kits on your own.
Kits have special nutritional and caretaking needs that must be provided by a professional. Additionally, not only is it illegal to keep kits, but kits raised by humans do not adapt well to captivity; they also do not survive well in the wild if released from captivity. Remember, as cute as these animals can be, they are wild animals and not domestic pets.
If the kits are moving around and have open eyes, they will likely be fine on their own. The only time that you should intervene, in this case, is if a kit is injured or visibly sick. In this case, call your local wildlife clinic or rehabilitator for assistance and keep an eye on the animal until help arrives. If you need to transport the animal on your own, use a bowl or brush to gently scoop the animal into a towel-lined box with some air holes. Do this carefully–we don’t want to make any injuries worse! Do not attempt to touch or pick up the animal yourself unless absolutely necessary. If you do, wear gloves. After you have the animal safely and securely in the box, take the animal straight to your local wildlife clinic or rehabilitator.
These small creatures are the one of the smallest and fiercest living carnivores in the midwest area. Their size ranges from 6-9 inches, but with its speed, agility, and sharp teeth and claws, it is able to take down prey much larger than itself. Due to its small size and active lifestyle, this species typically eats between 40-60% of its body weight every day, feasting on small prey like mice, rats, chipmunks, voles, etc. Weasels also hunt in packs, following established hunting routes; they will hunt rodents along said routes by sneaking into and hunting the rodents in their burrows.
During the winter in the north, where it gets really cold and has a lot of snow, the coat of weasels changes from summer brown to winter white. Likewise, in the south, where it stays relatively warm and doesn’t receive much (if any) snow, the coat color remains brown. The only time this becomes an issue is during on-again, off-again snow during the midst of seasonal changes. But other than those times, what an innovative way to remain a top predator during different seasons!
Minks are very similar to weasels. There are two species, the American Mink and the European Mink. The American is the larger of the two, weighing an average of 1150 grams and measuring an average of 58 inches in length. For comparison, European minks are about half of that size, weighing an average of 590 grams and measuring an average of 35 inches in length. Minks typically live near bodies of water, and live in dens and burrows that they dig themselves.
They are an antisocial species, interacting with each other only when it is mating season. Minks mate in the spring, and have an average gestation period of 53-58 days. A litter typically contains 3-8 kits, being weaned at 6-10 weeks. American Minks go off on their own between 6-10 months of age, and European Minks are on their own between 2-4 months of age. Sexual maturity occurs between 10-12 months of age.
Minks are carnivorous and fierce hunters, taking down prey much larger than itself. They eat rabbits, squirrels, waterfowl, birds, chipmunks, snakes–anything it is able to take down. They will even eat fish, and are excellent swimmers, thanks to their webbed feet and waterproof fur.