Wild animals that have become sick, injured, or orphaned sometimes are found by caring people. They want to do something to help, but they do not know what to do. It is important for adults and children to know that keeping a wild animal is not only difficult, it is illegal without special permission. A limited number of people have state and federal permits to care for birds and mammals as licensed wildlife rehabilitators.
Wildlife rehabilitators must have state and federal permits in order to perform rehabilitation work. They must keep records of the animals they work with and submit annual reports to state and federal officials. Wildlife rehabilitators want to help animals. Their first concern is the well-being of the animal. They want to learn about the animal's behavior and biology because wild animals are very different from domestic animals in many ways. Many wildlife rehabilitators want to educate the public about injured wild animals and will visit your classroom to present programs.
If a sick, injured, or orphaned wild bird is found, it is very important for it to be handled in a safe manner for the protection of both the person and the bird. Birds like hawks and owls will try to protect themselves with their talons. Other birds like cardinals will bite with their beaks, and waterbirds like herons will strike with their long beaks. All of these birds can seriously injure humans. Do not attempt to handle such a bird without considering the risks.
There are a few rules to follow when determining what to do to help wild animals.
- If you find a baby bird on the ground, it is most likely that the bird has NOT been abandoned. Close supervision may keep its parents away from the nest site. If the nest site has been disturbed, replace the animals and the nest itself or put the bird in a safe place near the nest. It is a myth that the parents will not take the young back if it has been touched by humans.
- If you find a bird and it looks injured - bloody, broken wing, injured eye - LEAVE IT ALONE.
- Do not try to feed or handle the bird. Call a conservation officer or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area.
- If you must handle the animal, do so with extreme caution.
- Always protect yourself. Wear heavy leather gloves. Wrap the animal in a towel, a jacket, or rug. This will calm the bird. It should be put in a carton or box that is a little bigger than the bird, with shredded newspapers or an old towel on the bottom. Make sure the box has ventilation holes and a lid. Put the box in a warm (room temperature), dark, quiet, and safe place, and leave the animal alone.
- Although your intentions may be good, it is illegal for you to keep such an animal without the proper permits.
- If you think you want to keep such animals for educational purposes, you will need permits from both the state and federal government. It is also necessary for any school, university, college, county conservation board, or other organization engaged in natural resource education to have a scientific collector's license. These permits are described below, but contact both agencies for more details.
According to Chapter 109.65 of the Iowa Code, there are three types of permits:
- Education project permit #571.111(109): To possess live state-protected birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, or invertebrates for educational or zoological displays.
- Scientific collector's license #571-111.2(109): To take, for scientific purpose only, any birds, nests, eggs, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, invertebrates, plants, or parts thereof which are protected by state regulations.
- Wildlife salvage permit #571-111.3(109): To possess any state-protected birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, or invertebrates which have died as a result of natural causes or accidents, or specimens which have been donated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Federal special purpose permits are required for possession of any birds, their parts, nests, or eggs as protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.