What to do if you find an injured or sick wild animal or bird

If you’re looking looking for advice on what to do if you’ve found an injured or sick wild animal, then this handy guide is it…

It’s Garden Wildlife Week at the moment (5-11 June 2023), and we love spotting all the animals and birds beavering away in our gardens not just this week, but all year round. Sadly though there are times when those garden / woodland / park animals or birds need a bit of help. If you’re looking for advice on what to do if you find an injured or sick wild animal or bird, then chances are you have stumbled upon just that. Your first port of call should be to contact your local wildlife hospital for advice (our nearest one to Hopefield Animal Sanctuary is South Essex Wildlife Hospital), but if that’s not possible then we’ve got some helpful tips to consider in an emergency…


If it’s a small animal or bird like a hedgehog, vole, garden bird or squirrel, then you should:

Be careful and grab some gloves

Wild animals are just that; wild. They are probably going to be terrified, so therefore more likely to bite. Grab some gloves – gardens ones are perfect – before you try to handle the animal or bird. It’s important to remember that wild animals can not only bite or scratch, but they can also spread disease. Please be especially careful when handling bats; these are the only mammals in the UK that carry a rabies virus called European Bat Lyssaviruses (EBLV).

Safely catch the animal or bird with a towel or jacket

By throwing a towel, jacket or jumper over the animal or bird, this will make it easier for you to catch it and make things less stressful for the injured party. Once covered, pick it up carefully and transfer it as quickly as possible to a transport box.

Use a transport box

The transport box can be anything that provides safe containment, and ideal things to use include a shoe box or animal carrier. If it’s a box or container of some sort, make sure you pop plenty of air holes in it. Place a towel or similar over the top to help keep the animal or bird calm in a dark, quiet-as-possible environment (but make sure the air holes are not covered!).

Bring them to a rehab centre or wildlife hospital

Try and ring ahead if you can but either way get to a rehab centre or wildlife hospital as soon as you can. Do not try and nurse the animal or bird back to health yourself; even with the best intentions wildlife needs specialist care and rehabilitation so that they can have the best chance of release back into the wild. If you’re in the Essex area then South Essex Wildlife Hospital are amazing.


injured or sick wildlife
Photography: Hopefield Animal Sanctuary

For larger animals and birds such as deer, badgers, foxes, swans, birds of prey, etc, DO NOT TRY AND CATCH THEM YOURSELVES. Bigger injured or sick wildlife needs handling by people with the appropriate training and equipment, and trying to handle them yourselves could result in harm to you or the animal you’re trying to help. If you do stumble across something larger that is in distress then:

Keep your distance

Try to minimise the risk of scaring the injured animal or bird too much by keeping a safe distance. Close enough to keep an eye but far enough not to stress them out. Also ask passers-by (especially those with dogs) to stay away, and to keep as quiet as possible.

Ring for help and pinpoint your location

To help wildlife responders find you as quickly as possible, try to pinpoint exactly where you are. Call the experts for immediate advice and for them to put the necessary motions in place to come and help you. If you’re in England or Wales call the RSPCA, if you’re in Scotland call the SSPCA, and for Ireland reach out to Irish Wildlife Matters. If you find marine wildlife in trouble, including seals, then contact The British Divers Marine Life Rescue. Do also search online for a local wildlife hospital in your area as they may be able to get to you more quickly.


injured or sick wildlife

It’s not uncommon to find baby birds on the ground. Most of the time there is no need to worry, but these tips will help you make the decision for the best course of action:

Is it a nestling or a fledgling?

You first need to work out whether the baby you’ve found is a nestling or a fledgling. A nestling will have very few or no feathers, and will be wobbly on its feet or unable to stand at all. If it is a nestling then look for its nest (it will be very close by) and pop it back in. It is a myth that the bird will be rejected by its parents if it’s handled by humans. If you can’t find its nest then you can make it a temporary one out of a box filled with some long grass. Leave it somewhere visible but sheltered near where you found it and its parents will find it and keep it fed.

A fledgling is an older baby bird and will be covered in feathers and be able to hop around. If there is no immediate danger from cats or dogs, etc, then it is okay to leave it for its mum to find. Fledglings often spend up to two weeks hopping around on the ground while they’re acing their flying lessons! Mum is more than likely very close by keeping a beady eye… Unless the baby bird is injured you won’t need to intervene.

What if it looks injured or sick?

If the baby bird looks like it is sick, injured or abandoned you might need to help. The following signs are a good indicator for if the baby bird is in trouble:

  • Broken or badly damaged feathers
  • Stillness
  • Dragging a wing or leg, or using its wings to pull itself around
  • Limping (it should be hopping)
  • Obvious wounds or blood
  • Blood or discharge coming from its nose, ears, mouth, eyes or bottom area


If you do find a baby bird with these symptoms, then call the numbers as listed above depending on where you live, or contact your local wildlife hospital for advice. If you do decide to move the bird then make sure to put it somewhere dark and quiet until you can get it to an appropriate place to treat it.

Good luck and we hope that this guide helps you if you do find yourself in an emergency situation. The main things to remember are to keep calm, keep quiet, do not put yourself in any danger and to get professional advice and help.


Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up here for the fun updates from the animals, information about the latest news at the sanctuary and exclusive offers and events.

Join our mailing list

Join Hopefield’s mailing list to be the first to know about all things happening at the sanctuary and exclusive offers and events!