Have you come across a stray rabbit or bird in your yard, neighborhood or just out and about? Dr. Lee talks this month on what you should do when you find stray wildlife.


Spring is here in Las Vegas, and with the warm weather comes young wildlife.  You may come into contact with wildlife that appear to be orphaned or abandoned by their mothers.  The best policy if you encounter wildlife is to leave the animals alone unless they are obviously sick or injured.  Most of the young animals encountered in the wild are not orphaned or abandoned. Their mother will likely return for the babies once the coast is clear.  The most common types of wildlife encountered in Las Vegas are cottontail rabbits and songbirds.

Cottontail rabbits only feed their young at dawn and dusk so the mother is never at the nest during the day and you will likely never see her. A rabbit nest is typically a depression in the ground, lined with grass or fur. If you find a nest, leave the rabbits in the nest.  You may place a grid of string or twigs over the nest, and if the string or twigs have been moved after 12-24 hours, then the mother is around and tending to the nest.  Also, if the rabbits are warm and hydrated, then the mother has been tending to them.  If humans are hovering around the nest, this may cause a mother to stay away and abandon the young, so remember to keep your distance.  Young rabbits grow quickly and will leave the nest within two to three weeks. If a small rabbit is seen by a nest, fully furred, with its eyes open, the rabbit is most likely on its own. 

Songbird and raptor nestlings may fall out of a nest or be blown out of a nest with strong winds or after a storm.  If you find a nestling on the ground without feathers, look around for a nest.  If the nest is easily accessible, then place the bird back into the nest.  If the nest cannot be reached or found, then place the bird as close to the nest or on a branch in the tree nearby.  Birds have a very poor sense of smell.  It is a misconception that baby birds will be abandoned once touched by a human.  Fledgling birds are young birds with fully developed feathers that are not yet fully flighted.  Fledglings may spend a lot of time outside of the nest on branches or on the ground and may be “practicing” flying.  The mothers will still tend to and care for these young birds until they have mastered flying.

These are signs that an animal may need the help of a wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian:

  • The parent is dead
  • The animal has been attacked by a predator
  • The animal is bleeding or injured
  • The animal is emaciated
  • The animal is cold or shivering

If you have to chase young wildlife, then it probably does not need to be rescued.  If you accidentally remove wildlife from its nest, they can be returned to the nest and the mother will continue care for them as long as they haven’t been absent for more than 36 hours.  Wild animals are delicate with very specific dietary and environmental needs and usually fare better with their mothers than with human intervention.  Never attempt to rehabilitate wildlife yourself.  If a wild animal is injured, sick, or truly orphaned, then a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian should be contacted to care for the animal as these individuals are trained and equipped to provide temporary care and treatment until the animal may be released.  Rehabilitating wildlife without a license is illegal.  Wild animals also carry diseases which can be transmissible to humans and pets. 

You can help to protect young animals by checking for nests before mowing or trimming trees or bushes.  Keep pets indoors or on leashes to prevent injury to wildlife.  Place caps on chimneys, vents, and window wells to prevent nesting in these areas.  Educate children to respect wild animals and observe them from afar.