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How to Help Baby Animals

I've received many e-questions from anxious nature lovers asking me what to do with baby raccoons and baby birds.

I've decided to share your questions and answers so that others may benefit from the information.


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How to Help Baby Raccoons

Let the Mother Do Her Job

If you see young raccoons without an adult, watch for several hours to see if the mother returns. Cubs may wander from the den if their mother is gone too long. A mother raccoon will not abandon her cubs unless she is killed or the den site is disturbed.

Young Raccoons Need Professional Care

You'll need to take orphaned or injured cubs to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. Rehabilitators are trained to care for wild animals.

  • Children should never approach or touch a wild animal. Instead, call an adult for help.
  • Baby raccoons will usually not bite, but any wild mammal can transmit rabies to humans and pets. For this reason, always wear protective gloves when handling wild animals. Place the cubs in a cloth-lined pet carrier or covered box with air holes.
  • Cubs need to remain warm. Fill a plastic juice bottle with hot tap water. Tape the bottle to the sides of the box to keep it from rolling onto the cubs.

Emergency Feeding

If you can't take the cubs to a licensed rehabilitator immediately, feed them one of the temporary diets listed below. Make sure the cubs are warm; they can't digest food when cold. Wearing gloves, feed the cub by holding it upright or on its stomach. Formula should be warm, but not hot. Use a pet nursing bottle or a human baby bottle with a nipple used to feed premature babies. Raccoons will over-eat; feed until the belly feels full, but not tight. When finished, wash your hands with antibacterial soap.

If the cubs' eyes have not opened, feed:

  • Any commercial kitten or puppy milk replacement formula found in pet stores or veterinary clinics.
  • Feed 10 cc's (about ounce) every two hours from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • After every feeding, young cubs need help to urinate and defecate. Gently rub the abdomen with a soft cloth to stimulate elimination.

If the cubs' eyes are open, feed:

  • One small can evaporated milk, one raw egg yolk, one tablespoon clear corn syrup, one small jar strained banana baby food, and one eye dropper of liquid baby vitamins (no-iron variety).
  • Feed 50 to 60 cc’s (2 ounces) every 3 to 4 hours during daylight.

Why Can't I Keep a Baby Raccoon as a Pet?

Your cuddly baby raccoon will grow into an aggressive adult. If it hasn’t learned the skills to survive in the wild, it can’t be released. There are 13 diseases people and pets can catch from raccoons, such as distemper and rabies. If a wild mammal bites you, contact your local animal control service so that they can capture the animal. See your doctor immediately.

Whom to Contact for Help

To find a wildlife rehabilitation facility near you, contact your local zoo, veterinarian, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, or the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA).

How to Help Baby Birds

First things First

Some folks get annoyed with me when I tell them they should not try to raise baby birds themselves. There are two reasons for this request. First, migratory birds are protected by federal law and may be kept only by licensed rehabilitators. Second, baby birds are very difficult to properly care for.

Please contact your state wildlife agency, zoo, Audubon Society or veterinarian for the name of your local wildlife rehabilitation facility. Or contact the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association for the name of a rehabilitator near you.

Emergency Feeding

You will need to take the injured or orphaned bird to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. Place the bird on paper towels in a box with air holes. Keep the bird warm, but out of direct sunlight.

Very young birds need to be fed every 10 minutes during daylight hours. If you can't bring the bird to a rehabilitator immediately, feed this TEMPORARY diet: Mix a finely mashed hard cooked egg yolk with 1/3 cup chopped beef canned dog food. Feed the bird tiny pieces from the tip of a child's watercolor paintbrush. NOTE: more complete information may be found in The Robins In Your Backyard. (If you like, Order a copy now).

Your FAQs

Dear Ms. Willis,
I found a robin's egg under a bush in front of my house. Do you think we can hatch it at home?

From Jeffrey, age 7 3/4

Dear Jeffrey,
You will probably not be able to hatch the egg. The embryo, or baby bird, was probably damaged in the fall from the tree or may have gotten too cold to survive before you found the egg.

Also, if there was something wrong with the egg, the mother may have tossed the egg out of the nest, or a predator (like a crow or squirrel) may have taken the egg and dropped it.

Ms. Willis,
Two days ago a robin nest fell out of a tree near my house, and there were five eggs in it. I am trying to hatch the eggs - could you tell me what temperature to keep the nest?
Thank you,


Dear Wayne,
A robin's normal body temperature is 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The female has a "brood spot" of bare skin under her breast feathers where she incubates the eggs. She turns the eggs periodically for uniform heating. Incubation takes about two weeks. You will need an incubator to keep the eggs at a constant temperature.

If the eggs hatch, you'll need to get the hatchlings to a licensed rehabilitator ASAP. Nestling robins need to be fed a special diet every 10 minutes from sunup to sundown.

Dear Nancy,
My children are wondering how you can tell a male robin from a female robin.


Dear Linda,
The male robin has a darker red breast and a black head. The female is gray on top and lighter red underneath.

Can you tell how those color differences might better help the robins do their respective jobs?

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