How to manage wildlife emergency situations

Find out what to do in emergency situations involving wildlife.

15th May 2024

Through our ‘Tails’ of UK Wildlife campaign, we’re demonstrating how even the smallest steps make a big difference on our path to a wilder future. A huge part of what we can do involves caring for all the wildlife we encounter, in any situation.

Sometimes, we might find ourselves at odds with the natural world – though this is when it’s most important to make sure our wildlife stays safe and can thrive. 

There are countless emergencies that could involve wildlife, but we’re focusing on three emergency situations you might encounter in everyday life…

What to do if you find an injured bird

Whether you find an injured swan, sparrow or seagull, knowing how to help them may help their chances of recovery.  

Before you go ahead and interact with a wild bird who’s been injured, please ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where is the bird located? Only try reaching a bird to move them when it’s safe to do so!
  • How old is the bird? For example, fledglings (young birds who are learning to fly) tend to spend time on the ground, even when they’re not injured. 
  • Can the bird fly? Should you see a bird attempt to fly but they seem unable to, it’s possible they’ve injured their wings or they’re too young to fly.
  • Does the bird have obvious injuries? If a bird is acting quietly with closed eyes and fluffed feathers, it’s likely they’re in pain.
  • Are you comfortable to pick up and transport the bird? Wild birds aren’t used to being handled so you need to consider this carefully. They may also carry avian flu (bird fu) without symptoms, which makes it possible for the virus to pass to humans; so, wash your hands thoroughly if you handle them.

Approaching a bird could cause them further distress – only approach when you’re certain they’re in danger and/or need help.

Once you’ve answered the above questions, you’ll be better able to respond to the situation appropriately. Here’s what to do next:

Step 1 – Call the RSPCA, local rescue centre, or nearest vet practice for advice about caring for the injured bird. Then, follow the professional’s instructions exactly. 

Step 2 – Be prepared to handle an injured bird with care and remember that their bones are hollow, which makes them extremely fragile. Where possible, use a towel or blanket to gently lift the bird up and carry them safely. A wild bird will be terrified of you, so expect them to bite or try to wriggle free out of fear. 

Step 3 – Carefully place the bird into a suitably-sized box, with air holes, that’s lined with tissues or newspaper. You shouldn’t offer the injured bird any food or water, unless you’re directed to by a vet or other animal care professional (e.g. an RSPCA inspector). 

Step 4 – Transport the wild bird as gently and swiftly as you can in a comfortably warm environment (not too cold, not too hot), like a car with temperature control. 

What to do if you find a wild animal who’s been hit by a car

Sadly, wild animals regularly collide with vehicles on the road. 

If you discover a large wild animal has been hit by a car, please don’t attempt to capture them yourself because large animals (like swans and deer) might react dangerously. Park your car in a safe location, with your hazard lights on, and observe the injured wild animal from a distance while you phone for help. 

Contact the police immediately if you believe an injured animal is at risk of running into traffic, causing further risk to road users, and/or a deer has been hit by a car.

Provided you’re in a safe location, smaller wild animals (like hedgehogs and squirrels) could be transported to the nearest vet or rescue centre – if you have blankets or towels to hand. Though please be mindful that vets might charge to take care of wild animals.

Whether or not you’re responsible for the incident, if you know a wild animal has passed away on the road, you must report it to your local council.  

Ways to prevent wildlife-related accidents on the road:

  • Expect to have to watch out for wildlife as you drive, especially around sunrise and sunset (since that’s when a lot of wildlife species are most active).
  • Make sure to take notice of any signs that warn you of potential animals that are regularly seen in the area. 
  • Always drive with caution – particularly when travelling along country lanes.
  • Try to make the safest decision for your situation, e.g. safely switching lanes to avoid hitting a wild animal who’s on the side of the road. 

What to do if your cat brings in live prey 

Many of our feline friends enjoy adventuring outdoors, and a lot of them tend to return with and ‘offering’ for us. Sometimes, that ‘gift’ results in our cats bringing live wildlife into our homes! 

So, here are a few top tips for looking after wildlife your cat has brought into your house:

  1. Move your cat to a different room – where they can’t recapture their prey.
  2. Try to encourage the animal to leave your house if you can and it’s safe to do so, e.g. no busy road. Otherwise, if you’re able to catch the mouse, mole, or other animal your cat has ‘kindly’ gifted, gently place them into a shoebox with air holes that’s lined with tissues.
  3. Call a local wildlife charity, rescue centre, or vet practice to get advice if the wild animal is injured and follow their instructions. Cat bites can cause infections and shock in small mammals, so might need urgent vet treatment. Alternatively, if the wild animal isn’t harmed in any way, you could release them somewhere safe and sheltered, far away from a road (and your cat!).

Important: Clean any areas the wild animal has been, to avoid the spread of potentially harmful viruses and/or bacteria.

To prevent your cat from bringing live prey into your house, you could:

  • Avoid letting your cat out at dawn and dusk, when small wildlife species are most active (e.g. mice and birds).
  • Place a bell on your cat’s collar to warn wildlife before they pounce!
  • Locate bird feeders out of your cat’s reach.
  • Redirect your cat’s energy by increasing playtime. 

For more wildlife-friendly ideas, visit our articles about attracting wildlife safely as a pet owner and how you can help wildlife during the summer

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