I thought hunting season was pretty much over. I was under the impression that all the little birds and rodents that had manage to survive birds of prey and ground hunters had grown into seasoned warriors, able to foil the plans of predators many times bigger. How wrong was I. Turns out certain rodents still produce offspring in September, so my nightmare of animal rescues still has no end in sight.
I wrote about Cookie the cat just the other day. Gin, my other cat does not hunt much. He might catch something once a year and that’s because he is getting to the age where sleeping sounds like more gun. Cookie, on the hand, is young and playful so my small animal carrier found itself quite useful. In June, I had a really bad month where I had to take four injured animals (at different times) to a local vet who knew a wildlife rehabber. These were the ones that lived long enough for me to take them to see professional help. We had a wood mouse with a shredded eye (he survived), a baby sparrow which was one of the worst cases I had, as Cookie had brought a nest of baby sparrows home in his mouth, about three of them. Two had broken necks but this one survived with a small injury. I never was able to find out what happened due to our wildlife lady being so busy. She receives hundreds of birds per year. We had a field vole and a full grown sparrow too, that month. There was also one incident where Cookie came back soaked with a duckling. The duckling was very much alive and escaped outside when I manage to get Cookie to let go.
So when the weather started turning, I was relieved for I thought that that was the end of his hunting spree for the year. So imagine my despair when I found him carrying a field vole in his mouth! Luckily, I got to him fast and tossed him (gently) into the house. The field vole appeared quite traumatised so I prepared a carrier and popped him (could have been a her!) inside. He was 4cm long, excluding tail so I guessed he was a juvenile which explains why he got caught so easily. Sorry about photo qualities here, I used my phone.
If you tend to find many injured animals in your area, it is good to be prepared. I use a hamster carrier but you can make one using a small storage box with ventilation holes drilled in. In an emergency, a cardboard box will do, with holes for air but bear in mind, if you rescue an animal that was not injured, they can easily escape before you locate a good release point. I like to place a piece of kitchen paper to line the bottom; this is to mop up any urine. Shredded tissue paper and empty tissue rolls can provide good places for animals to hide.
When handling wild animals, I wear a pair of gardening gloves. This is to protect my hands in case they become violent although this has never happened before. If you are able to, perform a quick examination of the animal. From past experience, the more injured an animal is, the more it will keep still, most likely from shock. If you have a bird, gently open the wing slightly. Look for signs for of scratches, bites, wounds. Be gently as you may not notice broken bones. If you are able to, clean any wounds and bring to vet as soon as you can. Cat saliva contains many germs that can cause serious problems for small animals so antibiotics are important. The local vet would also be able to give you advice on how to take care of it; some vets will take in an injured animal or will direct you to a wildlife rehabber.
My vole didn’t seem injured as I saw no open wound but I decided to keep him overnight as he was in slight shock. Animals can die from shock, their body temperature will plummet. You want to grab a hot water bottle and place that next to the carrier or place the carrier on top of the bottle. Be careful to leave an area that isn’t touching or on the bottle so they can move away from the heat. If the animal is bleeding, you can’t get to the vet and it seems to be going into shock, you can try this. Place the animal in your hands (gloved if you are worried) to keep it warm, grab a tissue and hold it against the wound till that clots. Your body temperature will help it recover slightly and you really need to get the wound to clot as they have a lower volume of blood so you don’t want too much blood loss. This was how I saved the wood mouse with an eye injury. When the bleeding has stopped and you can feel the animal moving again, you can put it into a carrier and use a hot water bottle.
Next, provide water and appropriate food. I like to put water in a plastic bottle cap as this is not too deep or big that a rodent can drown in it. As for food, bird seed is a good thing to put in for both birds and rodents. Some dried bread and also some bread dipped in milk (to encourage fluid intake) are some ideas. Finally, find a quiet place where no cat can reach, cover with a cloth (leaving enough space for air) and leave it alone for a few hours. You’ve done all you can. Meanwhile if it is needed, call a vet or a wildlife carer for advice. Just remember that injury = antibiotics. If you cannot get to a vet, see if anyone around is willing to drop the animal by a vet. They shouldn’t charge you, I’ve never been charged before and I’ve taken many injured animals to the vets. Although each time, I left the animal there for a wildlife rehabber to pick up.
I checked on the field vole after a few hours and he seemed very lively. Unfortunately it was dark and I found him in the morning so he had wait for the sun to come up. It is best to release an animal at around the same time you found them. Field voles are active both day and night but the place where I plan to release isn’t a good spot to visit at night.
This morning I went to a field about five minutes away from my house and released him by some bushes. He rushed off straight away, eager to be back where he belonged. Releasing is the most satisfying part of the whole rescue. I scattered some bread and seed inside the bush to get him started. I strongly recommend releasing in a different area to the one you found the animal in. the last time I released a bird where I found it, the same cat caught it again, resulting in me having to take the bird to the vet. Try to find out what kind of habitat that animal lives in and release in a similar area.
Word of warnings: never rescue a fledgling (young baby bird – looks rounder with fluffier feathers) bird unless injured. Chances are, the parents are nearby and waiting for you to leave. Keep your cats indoors and if after a few hours, the fledgling is still there, then you can try a rescue. Never keep a wild animal longer than necessary, the longer you keep them and the more contact you have, the lower their chance of surviving outside due to them being too reliant on you.
I really do hope I never meet this field vole again! He might look very cute but he belongs outside.