We often have concerned clients bring us sick and injured wildlife animals. Twice in one week we were brought little ducklings who had been found to be lost and without their mother. With the spring season bringing a lot of storms and unpredictable weather, we are right into 'wildlife caring' season.
One of the most important things about young wildlife is that usually their mother is their heat source. Small or infant animals have a high surface area to volume ratio - this means they lose heat very easily. They also have very low levels of insulating fat. Your first instinct in the case of a duckling would probably be to provide water for it to splash around in, mimicking its natural habitat. This is actually a very effective way to bring down their body temperature and cause life-threatening hypothermia! It is more important for a duckling to be warm than for it to be getting fluids while you are calling a wildlife carer or your local veterinarian.
We often receive wildlife animals that have simply been easy to catch because they are young. It can be difficult to distinguish between adults and juveniles if you are not familiar with the species. When you can't tell for sure and suspect an injury, you should always note the specific location where you found the wildlife animal because that's exactly where we would need to release them back into the wild when they are better. If we release wildlife outside of their territory, they may be bullied, or they may push another species out and upset the ecosystem of that region so it is very important we note where they came from.
Remember that it is actually illegal for you to hold on to wildlife animals unless you are a registered veterinarian or wildlife carer. Wildlife animals are very different to pets, and it is vital that they are not over-handled or tamed as they belong in the wild and can get stressed easily. If you find injured wildlife, first ensure your own safety. Handling them with towels is a great way to avoid bites and scratches, and makes the animal feel more secure too.
The wildlife animals we see around here are small enough to fit into a cat carrier. By placing a towel over the top of the carrier will make it dark and this helps reduce the stress on the wildlife. In the case of the ducklings, keep an eye on them to ensure they can't escape! They are very small and get through small cracks easily. Modifications to the carrier may need to be made to ensure their security.
With thousands of different wildlife species having very different dietary requirements, it is also important that you seek advice before offering food if the wildlife is going to be with you for a few hours. For example, lorikeets are nectar feeders and require sweet fruits to eat, whereas ducks are herbivores and insectivores requiring fresh grass and a special insectivore mix whilst in care. Of course nothing beats their natural diet and habitat in the wild.