All too often, a passerby stumbles upon an injured animal and wonders what to do. It’s happened to most of us. Do we pick up this wounded bird and bring it to our home? Or, can we call someone who knows what to do? These types of questions are common, but in that moment, when we see the fallen bird, we need to rethink our actions before making a hasty decision.
A myriad of wild animals exist within the confines of the urban landscape, from raccoons and skunks to pigeons and squirrels.Wild animals such as these can sometimes pose dilemmas to urban city dwellers.
Feral cats threaten wildlife, such as birds and squirrels, and are considered a menace by some. These cats, descendants of domesticated felines, are often born in the wild and turn to the streets for survival. They hunt and kill an exorbitant number of wildlife species. And they prey on smaller wildlife — mainly birds,
“You do have cats that are programmed killers,” said Mike Phillips, a community outreach coordinator with the New York City Feral Cat Initiative, a program of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. But, he says, the killer cat syndrome that some of the feral cats have is rare and often the exception.
Besides wild cats, the general public coexists with wildlife, but sometimes forgets the effect humans have on other species. Man’s habitat is also theirs, and with cold winters, such as the one we are coming out of, these wild animals have struggled, in the elements, just to survive.
When wild animals come into contact with humans, it’s often about survival. People tend to want to feed these animals with bread crumbs or leftovers, and while they may feel gratification from the gestures, they need to strike a balance between nurturing wild animals and leaving them to survive in nature on their own, without human assistance.
Every so often, well-meaning citizens attempt to rescue injured, sick or orphaned animals that look like they need assistance. While technically, it is illegal to keep wildlife without a permit or license by the state as a rehabilitator, rescuing wildlife is a common occurrence. But people should heed the advice of specialists whose job it is to rescue and rehabilitate sick or injured wild animals.
In Queens, many go to parks or open spaces to relax. While walking along the path, one might see what appears to be an injured squirrel.
In this scenario, a decision must be made on what to do. Leaving the animal alone, to fend for itself and survive, is the usual correct decision, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. But, if you want to do more, you can contact a wildlife rehabilitator in your area.
Cathy Horvath has been a federally and state-licensed rehabilitator for 30 years and her nonprofit group, WINNOR, or Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation, is based out of her home in Massapequa, LI.
“There are different protocols for different animals,” Horvath said.
Typically, the general public can call park rangers or 311. With some dangerous animals, like a bird of prey, it is inadvisable to pick it up. But, Horvath added, it’s alright to scoop up a songbird or pigeon.
Every year, Horvath and her husband, Bobby Horvath, who works as a firefighter in Far Rockaway, rehabilitate a couple hundred animals.
“I try to fix everything. Some things I can fix, some things I can’t,” she said. “A lot of times the animals don’t make it.”
Horvath admits that feral cats are a constant problem for birds. When an animal has been bitten by a feral cat, they are given pain medication and antibiotics, “because when a cat bites an animal, they have a lot of bacteria in their mouth and it goes into the blood stream of the animal they have bitten,” she said.
In Queens, Donna Bungo, who has been a licensed rehabilitator in the state since 2004, primarily handles small mammals. The most common injuries consist of broken bones and head trauma.
Bungo explained that if the bird is older and hurt, it is probably having trouble regulating its body temperature; it can’t stay warm and is going into shock.
If you decide to help the bird, she says, take it inside for warmth. Sometimes it needs to be dried off with a hand towel if wet.
Then, Bungo says, take a soda bottle with a screw top, fill it with warm water, put it in a sock, and lay the animal next to the bottle in a small box. The smaller the box the better, otherwise the heat will escape. Make sure the screw cap is on tight, so it doesn’t leak on the animal.
Afterwards, if the rescuer can ascertain whether the animal is stable, he or she can give it sugar water, she said. With squirrels, lay them down on their stomachs and put a drop of water by their lips. In the best-case scenario, they will start licking it.
It is critical to rehydrate them within 24 hours, so time is of the essence.
Over the years, Bungo has received numerous calls from Rego Park and Forest Hills. She says nests in the trees sometimes fall during storms.
Squirrel nests are precariously situated on branches or the ledge of a tree and are easily blown over, she explained.
But Edita Birnkrant, the New York director of Friends of Animals, says that it is illegal to treat injured wildlife unless you have a permit.
Birnkrant explained that a passerby should be especially careful with baby birds. The parents could be nearby, and it might be temporarily stunned or in shock, so should be left alone. But if the bird truly needs to be rescued, she said, it should be transported to a rehabilitator or animal hospital in a small box.
Birnkrant says that one of the best resources in the area is The Wild Bird Fund Inc., based on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. It is an emergency care center for birds.
“Generally, we advocate that people do not feed the animals,” she added. “Once wild animals are given food, they become dependent on people. Plus, much of the food isn’t good for the animal and causes digestive issues.”
The wildlife group that Birnkrant directs, which was founded in 1957, deals with issues associated with urban wildlife from across New York City. She is concerned about the Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan to obliterate the mute swan population, which consists of around 2,200 swans throughout the state of New York. But that proposal is now on hold.
Birnkrant added that there aren’t enough park rangers in the city and that one problem area for wildlife is at Kissena Park in Flushing, where fishermen allegedly net turtles, which are protected.