What To Do: Urban Wildlife Encounters

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Helpful tips on keeping wild animals and self, safe

Curve-billed Thrasher nestlings: Nestlings birds are easily recognized by their pin feathers, and are not ready to leave the nest.
Curve-billed Thrasher nestlings: Nestlings birds are easily recognized by their pin feathers, and are not ready to leave the nest.

Texas Border Business

 By John Brush, Urban Ecologist, Quinta Mazatlán

As urban areas expand, more and more people will find themselves face to face with a wild animal. Two of the most common encounters are finding one hurt and finding one orphaned. Many may have experienced one of those encounters already, and if not, the odds are that one eventually will. The question is, what to do when it happens?

First, it’s important to know if the animal is actually injured or orphaned. Signs that an animal is injured include bleeding, obviously broken limbs, or if it was brought in by a pet dog or cat, making it very likely that there are injuries. If the animal has any of those signs, one should call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator; the Texas Parks and Wildlife has a list of rehabilitators by county on their website. It is never advisable to try to rehabilitate an animal on one’s own. Many animals are protected by law from possession including all native bird species and may bite or otherwise harm you if handled.


Great-tailed Grackle fledgling: Fledgling birds often have shorter feathers and can’t fly as well as adults, but were ready to leave the nest.
Great-tailed Grackle fledgling: Fledgling birds often have shorter feathers and can’t fly as well as adults, but were ready to leave the nest.

Knowing whether an animal is orphaned is critical. Unfortunately, many young animals are inadvertently kidnapped from their parents every year by well-intentioned passersby. In reality though, an animal that seems orphaned is often still being care for, but it just isn’t that apparent or obvious. Animal parents are stealthy by nature, taking care not to attract predators – including humans – to their vulnerable young. The parents may also stay away for long periods of time, depending on the species and their offspring’s age.

Fledglings– young birds that have grown enough to leave the nest – are usually well-feathered, albeit with shorter tails and wings, but aren’t skilled fliers. They do not require assistance. In the case where one has to move them, such as if they are in the street, only move them to the nearest bush or tree.

Nestlings are young birds that are not yet capable of leaving the nest. They usually have developing feathers, or pin feathers, and exposed patches of bare skin. If one encounters them in a fallen nest, simply put the nest in the closest tree. Similarly, an individual baby bird should be returned to its nest, if possible. If not, contact the local wildlife rehabilitator. More than just being incredibly difficult to raise a baby bird, which needs to be fed two to three times an hour, it is also illegal to possess native migratory or resident birds.

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Turtle in road: If you move a turtle off a road, only move it in the direction it was going.
Turtle in road: If you move a turtle off a road, only move it in the direction it was going.

Another regular encounter is finding a turtle crossing a road. If it seems like the turtle can make it on its own, let it. If one has to move it, gently pick it up by the back of the shell – never it’s extremities – and move it across the road in the direction it was going. Do not move it any further than that!

Lastly, never pick up an animal if one doesn’t know what it is; it may be a protected species, like the threatened Texas Tortoise, or a species that could cause harm. When in doubt, leave the animal alone and call the local nature center or wildlife organization for advice. Wildlife was here long before cities – humans should make every effort to safely share the space with them.

Visit Quinta Mazatlán at 600 Sunset Drive, McAllen, TX, call (956) 681-3370, or visit www.quintamazatlan.com for more information about Rio Grande Valley plants and animals. 

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