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Science and Innovations

Earth Notes: When Does Wildlife Need Rescuing?


When Bea Cooley and Brooks Hart headed down Oak Creek Canyon to do some birding last winter, they had no idea just how close their bird encounters would be.

As oncoming cars swerved to avoid what looked like a rock in the road, the pair of birders saw that it was, in fact, an injured Mexican spotted owl. They carefully retrieved the bird, made some calls, and brought it to the Wild at Heart rehabilitation center. With skillful care, the owl recovered, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists returned it to Oak Creek Canyon.

Though Arizona’s wildlife rehabilitators treat thousands of injured wild animals throughout the year, their busiest time is spring and summer, when baby animals start streaming in. But according to the Arizona Department of Game and Fish, very few of the young animals brought to rehab facilities actually needed rescuing.

If you find a seemingly orphaned or injured animal in the wild, watch carefully to see if there’s really a problem. If it’s a young animal, the best action is to leave it alone. Chances are good that the parents are nearby, either gathering food or scared off by your approach. Baby animals have the best chance of survival if they’re raised by their parents.

Sometimes, though, an injury is obvious, as with the Mexican spotted owl. In that case, call your local state wildlife office, or visit the agency’s website for a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators in the region. 

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