Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
April, 2010
Regional Report

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Be mindful of potential dangers to wildlife in your yard, then be prepared if an accident happens.

Be Prepared for Wildlife Emergencies

Gardens naturally invite wildlife, but popular trends in gardening really roll out the red carpet. Nectar, seed and berry producing plants lure birds and butterflies, feeders bring in even more birds, bird and bat houses provide lodging, while birdbaths and decorative ponds provide water. When birds and butterflies flit about our gardens, we consider it quite enchanting. But what happens when an animal is found injured? Or you've cleaned up a raccoon's attempt to raid the garbage cans for the umpteenth time?

First-Hand Bird Rescue
These questions came home to roost (pun intended) last week when a green heron's beak became entangled in some netting while feeding along the edge of my pond. (The netting was applied several years ago to stabilize the pond bank and was supposed to be biodegradable. It wasn't, and now any that was exposed along the pond's edge has been removed.)

By the time it was found, the heron had very possibly been struggling overnight and appeared dead. Upon closer examination, it showed some signs of life and I realized the problem. With a small pair of shears that I keep in my pocket, I cut it loose. But not being accustomed to rescuing sharp-beaked birds, I was afraid to cut too close to the beak. Unfortunately, that was a mistake on my part, as some mesh was still entangled in the fine saw tooth edges of the beak, and the bird still couldn't open it's mouth properly.

By now the bird had gained some running agility but could not fly, and there were several curious dogs eyeing the weakened bird. With some maneuvering, a large box was placed over the bird for momentary safekeeping. Now I had a few moments to figure a way out of this dilemma. I wasn't afraid of the bird, but was afraid of hurting it. I needed someone knowledgeable about birds, so I called a friend who is a serious birder. We each frantically looked on the internet for contact people, and I made a number of phone calls. Eventually, through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, I found a listing of people, by county and by type of animal, who are available for wildlife rescue help.

In my case, the volunteer for bird rescue in my county was not immediately available, so eventually my birder friend came over. He held the bird while I removed the rest of the netting entangled in the beak. The bird flew onto a branch sticking out of the pond to gather his wits about him, then flew off about an hour later, hopefully to a long and happy life.

Keep A List of Emergency Numbers for Wildlife Rescue
The bottom-line lesson of this experience is to do the research before the crisis. See if your state department of natural resources has information on various aspects of wildlife, including both rescue and how to deal with nuisance wildlife. For instance, Indiana has information on wildlife rehabilitation at and for nuisance wildlife at Purdue University, our state land grant college, has a wildlife hotline in conjunction with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources at

Purdue also has an excellent report available, Conflicts with Wildlife Around the Home, at, which has useful advice on dealing with nuisance wildlife wherever you live.

Specifically related to birds, you can also turn to the Birding Guide at, which has information on when and when not to rescue birds, plus a list of bird watching clubs by state. The Audubon Society ( also lists birding clubs by state. The club lists are not identical on these two sites, so it pays to look at both of them.

Bottom line, be prepared ahead of time with names and phone numbers so that if a wildlife emergency happens in your yard, there'll be no panic and a happy resolution. And as backup, make friends with a birder!

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