Frequently Asked Questions

The Wildlife Clinic gets hundreds of wildlife questions from the public. This column will address some of the more common questions.

For frequently asked Avian Flu questions, click here to view the document prepared by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, and the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game.

Why do birds fly into windows?

Birds fly into windows for several reasons.

  • Unable to perceive the glass, seeing only a clear passage
  • Fleeing to escape a predator
  • Seeing reflections of trees, sky and landscape in the window
  • A territorial reaction - seeing it's reflection in the window and thinking it is an intruder- this commonly occurs in the spring and again in the fall. Many times birds do more then just fly at the window- they will bang at their reflections with their beaks. This behavior lessens as territories are worked out, the sun changes position in the sky and the glare on the windows lessens.

How can I keep birds safe from my windows?

  • Attach black silhouettes of flying hawks or owls to the windows to give the perception of a predator nearby. A statue of an owl or raptor nearby also helps to keep the birds away from the windows.
  • Attach strips of opaque tape or Mylar tape to windows to make the glass visible to birds. Placing branches in front of the windows is a more natural look and will help the birds to avoid the windows.
  • Attach windows decals such as dots, strips, flowers and stars uniformly over the windows, spaced every 4 inches.
  • Installing screens or lightweight netting on the outside of windows provides a barrier.
  • Cover your windows with a product that will dull the reflection, such as a light soap film, fake snow, green house window treatment or spray vegetable oil on your window. Wax paper can also be taped up on problem areas.
  • Bird feeders and bird baths can be moved farther away from a problem window.
  • Putting the feeder closer then 3 feet prevents the birds from getting enough speed and force to hurt themselves if they do hit the window.
  • Installing awnings or planting shade trees helps to reduce reflections and prevent window strikes.
  • Easiest and cheapest way to keep the reflective glare off windows is to leave your windows dirty-don't wash them.

What do you do if you find a bird that may have injured itself flying into a window?

Often these birds are not seriously injured; they may be dizzy or have the wind knocked out of them. They can recover if they are left alone and out of harm's way. If the bird is not in danger from cats or other predators, leave it alone. If you feel the bird might be threatened, pick up the bird gently using a towel. Place it in a well-ventilated box. Put the box into a quiet, dark place such as a closet. Do not try to feed or give water to the bird. Do not handle it further. Check the bird in an hour or if you hear the bird moving around, and, if it appears stable, open the container outside and let it fly away if it can.

If the bird does not recover in a few hours, contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center for further instructions. A list of Massachusetts wildlife rehabilitators can be found on the Mass Wildlife web site or call the Wildlife Clinic at Tufts University at 508-839-7918, Monday thru Friday 8 am to 5 pm and Saturday and Sunday 9 am to 12 pm.

I found a baby bird, what should I do?

A young bird's best chance for survival is with its parents. First, we need to assess whether we need to do anything. It is normal for young birds (called fledglings - like our human teenagers!) to come out of the nest a little bit before they can fly and fend for themselves. A fledgling is almost all feathered out, can hop around and tries to fly. Its parents are usually very attentive, and if you can observe it from a distance you will see the parents feeding it and encouraging it to fly. Though very vulnerable, the fledging stage is a very important part of the bird's development. The best thing to do for a fledging is to leave it alone, keep the cats and dogs inside or on a leash, and keep people, small children and lawn mowers away. In some cases it may be best to place the fledging off the ground in a bush, but it may not stay put.

Baby Mallards

If the little bird does not have most or any of it's adult feathers it is called a nestling. Some times nestlings fall from the nest or the nest could be disrupted by weather or predators. If it is found on the ground we can help by getting the nestling back in its nest or back in a substitute nest so that it's parents can continue to raise it. Birds lack a strong sense of smell and the adult birds will not abandon its babies because of human scent on it. If you can find the original nest, put the baby bird back in that nest. Sometimes the nest is not intact or we can not reach the nest. The next best thing to do is make a substitute nest and put it as close to where you think the original nest was. A good substitute can be made with a plastic margarine or cool whip container with some hole poked in the bottom for drainage. Line the container with lint from the dryer or dried grasses. This nest can be nailed to the side of the house or tree or secured to a bush or tree with twist ties or wire or duct tape. We do not want to feed the nestling, as its parents will respond to its squawking and return to feed it.

In both cases, after making sure the nestling or fledgling is safe you need to observe and wait patiently to see if the adult birds are attending the little one. This can be the hardest part, waiting and watching from a distance not to disturb the parents. Quite often it is hard to observe a nest from all 360°, but if the little bird seems content and you see adult birds in the area we need to assume the bird is being cared for. Again, a baby's best chance for survival is with its parents.

If you notice that the little bird is injured, know that the parents are dead or are certain that the parents are not attending the young bird you will need to get the bird to a licensed rehabilitator. Mass Wildlife has a list of rehabilitators on their web site. Or feel free to call the Wildlife Clinic if you have a question regarding a little bird or are trying to find a rehabilitator in your area. The Wildlife Clinic does not take in orphaned baby birds and mammals, but does care for native New England wildlife that are sick or injured. The Clinic can be reached at 508-839-7918 between the hours of 8 and 5 Monday though Friday and between 9 and 12 on weekends.

I found a baby mammal, what should I do?

A young animal's best chance for surviving is with its parents. The first thing to do if you see a baby animal is to step away. You can assess the young animal from a distance. Many young animals appear to be abandoned. Oftentimes, their mother has not abandoned the young, but limits the number of visits to the nesting area to prevent predators from discovering the location of their young. Humans are also considered a predator and the parents will stay away while we are in the area. If the young look content and quiet they are probably being well cared for and should be left alone. The following information is about the different nesting habits of common animals we find in this area and what we should look for and do to help them.

Rabbits will have their young in small indentations in the lawn or garden. The nest is barely noticeable and is covered with only dried grass or leaves. Many times this can even be in a yard with a pet dog. Baby rabbit The young rabbits do not have a scent and the mother leaves them alone most of the day, returning to the nest only 2 to 3 times daily to nurse them. If you happen to find the nest and the babies are resting comfortably just cover the nest and leave the area. If you are worried about not seeing the mother, you can put a few pieces of colored sting on top of the nest in a pattern. When the mother returns to the nest she will disturb the pattern and you can be assured she is attending the young. The best way to help them is to avoid mowing the lawn in that area, keeping cats inside and if you have a dog, leash walk it until the young rabbits are old enough to move. Young rabbits are very quick to mature, and are on their own 3 weeks after they are born. They are only about the size of tennis balls when they eating on their own. If the babies are injured or you know the mother is dead, place them in a box with towels and a warm water bottle and keep them in a quiet location. You must wear glove or use a paper towel or cloth to handle the babies. You should never handle wildlife with bare hands. You will need to get them to a licensed rehabilitator as soon as possible. Information on finding a wildlife rehabilitator is listed below.

White-tail deer also will leave their fawns alone. A young fawn will be left curled up just off a path, in a field, even near a road. If you see a young fawn alone, leave it and move out of the area. The mother will not return while you are in the area. Though it is a very vulnerable time and many fawns are in locations far from what we would consider ideal, the best chance for its survival is to be left alone so the mother can return and care for it. If you know that the mother is dead or the fawn is injured, call Mass Wildlife at 508-366-4470 for information on what can be done. Do not handle the fawn.

Baby squirrels are sometimes found on the ground after falling from their nest. If they are not injured they can be placed in a low box or low wicker basket and placed close to the area the nest is in. This will keep them safer from predators. You can put a cloth or dried grass in the box and a warm water bottle to keep them comfortable until their mother retrieves them. Another situation when baby squirrels are separated from their mother is when a tree is cut down or the nest is disrupted. Place the young in a low box or basket near where the nest was. The mother will not reject them because they smell like humans. The mother squirrel will not return to the area while people or pets are around, so leave the area. Young squirrels that have just come out of the nest are sometimes very curious and unafraid, they should be left alone and not fed. If the young are injured or you know the mother is dead, you may need to rescue the young squirrels. You will need to wear gloves to protect yourself from bites or scratches, cover the squirrel with a small towel to pick it up. Place the squirrel in a pet carrier or cardboard box with holes in it and a tight fitting lid and call a wildlife rehabilitator.

Raccoon and skunks are also commonly found alone. One common mistake is to find the young alone in a chimney or outbuilding and remove them. The mother is usually in the area out looking for food and will return. The best solution is to leave them alone and close off the area after they move on. Raccoons and skunks can transmit diseases such as rabies and Balyisascaris (a round worm parasite) that can be fatal to humans. Even if the young look healthy there is no way to test for rabies without euthanizing them, so for their well being and your own, you can not handle them. The Wildlife Clinic does not handle raccoons or skunks, but if you have any questions regarding raccoon or skunks please call the Wildlife Clinic at 508-839-7918.

To find a wildlife rehabilitator in your area, you may call the Wildlife Clinic at Tufts at 508-839-7918. The clinic is open 8 to 5 Monday though Friday and 9 to 12 on weekend. The Wildlife Clinic does not rehabilitate orphaned Wildlife. We are only available to handle sick and injured wildlife. Mass Wildlife has a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators on their web site or you can call Mass Wildlife at 617-626-1575.

What exactly is a Wildlife Rehabilitator and what do I need to do to become a rehabilitator?

Wildlife Rehabilitators are people who have obtained state and federal permits to care for injured, ill and orphaned wildlife, with the ultimate goal of releasing them back to the wild. Most rehabilitators are individuals that work out of their homes, on a volunteer basis, and receive no monetary assistance (they pay for caging, supplies, food and medication out of their own pockets).Baby Beaver

For most kinds of animals, permits from both state and federal wildlife agencies must be obtained in order to become a permitted wildlife rehabilitator. Rehabilitators with state permits can rehabilitate mammals; federal permits re needed to do most birds. Some rehabilitators are specialized, only doing, for instance, small mammals, or rabbits, or waterfowl, or song birds; while other rehabilitators are interested in handling a wider range of creatures and will take any animal.

If you would like to know more about becoming a wildlife rehabilitator, permit prerequisites, and application procedures, call Mass Wildlife at 617-626-1575. You may also contact the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Massachusetts (WRAM), 25 Tami Court, Suite B, Bridgewater, MA 02324, (508) 279-3936. Leave a message requesting information about the organization. WRAM is a statewide association that provides a network for its members, hosts meetings, and publishes a newsletter. There are also two national organizations you can join, both publish information, hold annual meetings and have web sites that are very useful for rehabilitators (see below).

A very good way to learn more about rehabilitation and see if it is something you want to pursue is to volunteer with a local rehabilitator in your area. For more information on wildlife rehabilitation, you can check out the following web sites or call the Tufts Wildlife Clinic, (508)839-7918.

What can I put out to feed the deer in the winter?

Please resist the urge to feed deer in the winter. Providing supplemental feed for deer in winter is not in the best interest of the deer and can be a detriment for many reasons. In the winter deer activity, movement and feeding naturally decrease. They utilize their body fat and browse on natural available vegetation.

Changes in diet caused by the introduction of rich, unnatural foods during this season can cause disruption in the microorganisms of the digestive system. Even hay can cause problems in a digestive tract that has geared down for the winter. Supplemental feeding of deer may actually decrease its chance of survival. Encouraging deer to congregate in unusually high numbers at a feeding area makes them more vulnerable to predators and at risk for the spread of disease. Feeding deer is very often done in proximity to paved roads. This practice can increase deer traffic to the area and increase deer/vehicle collisions. Many states have made feeding deer illegal.

Land owners can learn more about the importance of providing suitable winter habitat for deer and other native wildlife by contacting their state wildlife agencies or conservation organization.

When doing spring yard work, are there any special considerations for wildlife?

If a tree or branches must be removed, an assessment of any living creatures that may call it home should be done. The natural benefits provided by dead and dying trees extend beyond cavities in the trunk. The separating or peeling bark can shelter resting bats during daylight hours, or provide habitat for insects that many wild birds consume. The bare, weather-worn branches are favored hunting perches for hawks and owls. After the tree falls, it provides shelter for amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and insects.

Boreal Owl

These cavities in dead and dying trees - as well as some living trees - are invaluable to squirrels, owls, bluebirds, American kestrels, wood ducks, flickers, pileated woodpeckers, chickadees and many other species. If a tree looks to be inhabited the best possible choice for the wildlife is to wait until after the baby season has passed. If a tree or branch needs to be removed right away or has fallen and young are separated from their mother steps can to taken to reunite them. For squirrels, the best chance for their survival is to place them in a low basket with a hot water bottle and some bedding and leave them as close as possible to the site they came from. Care should be given to leave the area as quiet as possible, with children, pets and workers staying away from the site. Birds or owls can be placed in make-shift nests or nest boxes in the closet tree around. Owl boxes can be made using wicker laundry baskets and nests for song birds can be made with small plastic containers with holes punched in the bottom for drainage. the babies and their nest can then be put in the container and placed in the nearest tree or bush.

As a homeowner, one of the best preventative measures that you can take to secure your home from animals is to cap your chimney. An uncapped chimney is an open invitation for an animal. This should be done in early spring to assure no mother has already set up a den in your chimney.

I have something living in my house, how can I find out what it is and how do I get rid of it?

Baby Oppossums

Many animals and birds have adapted to living in and around us and our homes. Sometimes they just find our homes attractive for building a nest or finding a quiet safe place to raise their young. Other times they are attracted by things we unintentionally do. Putting bird seed out to feed the birds also attracts rodents and rodents attract skunks. A chimney without a chimney cap is a wonderful safe den for raccoons. A garage door left open or a small whole in vents to the attic are an opportunity for squirrels to move in.

The first thing to do is to identify the problem, the next thing is to encourage the animal or bird to move out or away, the third thing is to fix the area so that the animal or bird can not return. We always advise doing this when we are sure that there are no babies. Babies left after the mother has been excluded will die and the mother will possibly do more damage trying to get back to her babies.

The MSPCA (Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Living with Wildlife has a wonderful interactive web site, that will help you identify and solve problems with wildlife; in and around your house.

The site will guide you though the wildlife that quite often take up residence in your home, some natural history on them and how to resolve your conflict with them.

Please always remember not to handle wildlife with bare hands; baby mammals though very cute can still carry disease like rabies.

If you have any question you may call the Tufts Wildlife Clinic at 508-839-7918 between business hours.  Monday- Friday (9 to 4:30) and Saturday and Sunday (9 to 12).