Sick, injured, orphaned wildlife - what to do, and what not to do

It is important to minimize human impacts on animal populations. This often includes limiting human intervention during natural causes of animal injury or death (depredation, disease, storms, etc.). Interrupting food-web dynamics may result in cascading impacts on wildlife communities and ecosystem health. Dead or dying animals provide an important food source for many species of wildlife. While it is sometimes difficult to witness life and death in nature, a good phrase to keep in mind is, “If you care, leave it there.”

An unlicensed citizen may NOT attempt to rehabilitate an animal on their own. It is also unlawful to possess or transport injured wildlife for greater than 24 hours unless permitted to do so. Citizens should volunteer or partner with rehabilitation permit holders in order to transport orphaned, sick, or injured wild animal(s) (Rule 6244.0400). Find out more about permitting requirements.

It is unlawful to release non-native animals in Minnesota. Red-eared Slider Turtles, European Starlings, Pigeons (Rock Doves), Mute Swans, and House Sparrows are some examples of animals non-native to Minnesota. Bullfrogs are also non-native outside of Fillmore and Houston counties in Minnesota. Learn more about invasive species.


Unfortunately, the Minnesota DNR’s Nongame Wildlife and Wildlife programs do not have the staff or resources to respond to every injured or distressed wildlife report.

At present, the Nongame Wildlife Program does not rehabilitate wildlife; however, it administers the required permits for those interested in doing so. The public is encouraged to directly contact local rehabilitation clinics or rehab professionals, or let nature take its course when an injured, sick or orphaned animal is encountered.

For questions or concerns that are not met by these resources, please contact local DNR wildlife staff (Minnesota DNR’s Nongame Wildlife Program or area Wildlife Managers).


It is probably no surprise to Minnesotans that the landscape looks very different today than it did even 25 to 50 years ago. Much of the wildlife habitat in the state is now more fragmented and urbanized. This increased fragmentation and reduction of habitat leads to an increase in human-wildlife interactions, some of which result in injury or death to wildlife.

Although it may be enjoyable to see wildlife in backyards, many human-wildlife interactions in the modern landscape have negative outcomes (death or injury). Through changes in food-web dynamics (the decrease and elimination of large predators) many populations of herbivorous animals such as deer, rabbit, and squirrel have undergone population expansions and thrive in the altered landscape.


• Be wildlife aware. Keep your eyes on the road! Road mortality is a serious threat to many wildlife populations, especially long-lived species such as turtles (including the state threatened Blanding’s Turtle and endangered Wood Turtle).

• Help protect native wildlife. Every year free-ranging domestic and feral cats injure and kill millions of wild animals, especially song birds. Consider keeping cats indoors.

Cats kept indoors live longer, they are less likely to contract disease and parasites, they are protected from traffic, and they are protected from urban coyotes that will catch, kill, and eat cats.

• Keep pet food indoors. Pet food placed outdoors can attract skunks, raccoons, opossums, foxes, and coyotes at night. These wild animals can carry rabies, distemper, mange, and can infect pets with these sometimes fatal diseases. Place dog and cat food bowls indoors or in an enclosed location that is not accessible to wild animals. One incidental benefit of this practice is that it does not concentrate these wild predators in your neighborhood where some neighbors may perceive these animals as nuisances and kill them as they roam through yards.

• Be a good host. Moldy birdseed and unclean bird feeders can cause birds to become sick. In wet weather, it is common for mold or bacteria to form on wet birdseed in the feeder or on the ground. Mold can cause fatal avian diseases. Keep birds healthy by regularly cleaning bird feeders!

• Do not feed waterfowl. While many people enjoy feeding waterfowl, supplemental or artificial feeding of waterfowl can create conditions that are detrimental to waterfowl health. Waterfowl need a diverse diet in order to survive and supplemental feeding may reduce the intake of high-quality natural foods.

In addition, increases in waterfowl density may result in contamination of feeding areas and increase bird-to-bird transmission of disease. To learn more about this issue, visit New York’s Stop Feeding Waterfowl  webpage.

• Reduce, reuse, and recycle wisely. Always remember to cut plastics used to hold 6-pack beverages and other products to prevent entanglement and wildlife injury or death.

Do not discard old or unused fishing line, sinkers, hooks, or other materials at a favorite fishing spot. These items can also entangle or poison wildlife and are frequently the underlying cause of injured wildlife reports.

Always follow all local and state laws regarding waste disposal, things like used compact florescent light bulbs, batteries (including small commonly used AAA and AA batteries), automobile fluids, etc. are not safe to put in your regular trash. Find a local household hazardous waste  facility to dispose of the items properly. In addition, use only wildlife-friendly erosion control products  on your property to prevent entanglement.

Wildlife-friendly ammunition and fishing tackle. Lead shotgun shot and rifle ammunition is toxic to wildlife when ingested (directly or in gut piles of field-dressed game). Since 1987, the DNR banned the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting. In 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prohibited the use of lead shot on all Wildlife Protection Areas in Minnesota.

In addition, there is cause for concern regarding the use of lead fishing tackle. The DNR’s “Get the Lead Out” project hopes to educate the public about the risks lead tackle pose for wildlife.

PLEASE REPORT: If you observe multiple dead, dying, or sick wildlife found in close proximity, please contact local DNR staff as this might be related to larger-scale disease outbreaks or poisoning.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.