When the warmer weather hits, we humans aren’t the only ones who start venturing out more. Spring and summer are prime seasons for spotting wildlife as the animals emerge to find food and have babies, and it isn’t uncommon to see everything from wild turkeys and woodchucks to foxes and coyotes. Despite Nashville’s continued commercial and residential growth (and also because of it), wildlife is out and about in spades. (There was even a black bear spotted earlier this summer in South Nashville!)

While it’s exciting to uncover a nest of baby bunnies or happen upon deer grazing in a nearby field, what do we do when we find an animal that’s injured, abandoned, or in distress? Here are four local organizations you can call for help, plus tips for how to handle the situation.

Baby raccoon
What should you do if you find an abandoned or injured animal? These four Tennessee-based organizations are here to help.

Harmony Wildlife

Accepted animals: mammals such as opossums and raccoons, fledgling owls, hawks, and falcons, injured adult songbirds, and baby mourning doves.
What to do: Call or text (615) 266-5701
More info: harmonywildlife.org

Located right here in Music City, Harmony Wildlife provides a temporary place for at-risk wildlife to mature or recover before being re-released in the wild. The organization is also an excellent resource for the proper steps to take if you’ve found an animal needing care, such as baby rabbits and songbirds. Step-by-step instructions take you through everything you need to know as you await professional help — from what to do with a fallen bird’s nest to protecting yourself if you’re attempting to rescue an injured or sick mammal.

Squirrel on a bird feeder
Did you know that it’s against the law in Tennessee to keep wild animals? Even if you intend to release them back to the wild, keeping critters such as squirrels, skunks, and raccoons is illegal. You are, however, permitted to transport injured or orphaned animals to a licensed wildlife rehab facility.

Nashville Wildlife Conservation Center

Accepted animals: reptiles, amphibians, opossums, and small native birds
What to do: Call or text (615) 270-9009. Include the exact address or location you rescued the animal from, along with a picture.
More info: nashvillewildlifeconservation.org

The Nashville Wildlife Conservation Center (NWCC) is all about promoting a symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. A nonprofit wildlife hospital, the NWCC focuses its resources on wildlife rehabilitation education and research and readying animals to be re-released into their natural habitats. Most of the injured animal patients admitted to the NWCC hospital have been hit by a car or lawnmower or attacked by a domestic pet, and you are encouraged to reach out if you find an injured, sick, or orphaned animal. Due to limited space and resources, they only accept a small roster of critters and native birds.

Box turtle in the dirt
If you find a turtle in need of care, keep it in a dark, quiet place (like a cardboard box) until you can reach someone to assist you further. The Nashville Wildlife Conservation Center advises against cleaning any wounds, which are often deeper than they appear. If disturbed, the wounds can cause infection or even death.

Walden’s Puddle

Accepted animals: See the full list of species they’ve rehabilitated here.
What to do: Call (615) 559-WILD (9453)
More info: waldenspuddle.org

With a facility in Joelton, Walden’s Puddle is one of Nashville’s best-known resources for animal rehabilitation. They’ve admitted, rehabilitated, and released everything from moles and groundhogs to red foxes and coyotes. While they can no longer take in bats (due to Tennessee law), you can call them for most other birds and small wildlife. The Walden’s Puddle website is also a reliable source for instructions and wildlife-related guidance, whether you’re pondering how to prepare sugar water for hummingbirds or figuring out what to feed a baby squirrel until you can get it to a licensed rehabilitator.

Fawn with white spots in the grass
A recent law change in Tennessee no longer allows for the rehabilitation of fawns. The restriction was made to minimize the spread of diseases across the state during rehabilitation transportation and to keep white-tailed deer wild — rehabilitated fawns show changes in behavior that render them more vulnerable to predators, which can be counterproductive. The greatest chance of survival in the wild is without human intervention, so leaving a young deer alone where you found it is best. More often than not, the mother will return for the fawn when it is safe.

Ziggy’s Tree Wildlife Rehab

Accepted animals: small mammals, birds
What to do: Call (615) 631-2205
More info: ziggystree.org

Operating out of two different locations — an avian (bird) facility in North Franklin County and a small mammal facility near Murfreesboro — Ziggy’s has been an official nonprofit since 2010. Inspired by an overwhelming need for local wildlife care and conservation, the organization offers services and education to the Middle Tennessee area. Caring for roughly 1,000 animals yearly, they specialize in newborn mammals and songbirds. They are, however, licensed to take in larger birds such as hawks, owls, and geese. They provide care seven days a week, 52 weeks per year.

Mama hawk feeding her two babies in a tree
Good samaritans often try to save orphaned baby animals by capturing them and bringing them to a local wildlife organization for care. However, sometimes the young animals are healthy, and their parents are nearby — even if you don’t spot them immediately. A baby on its own doesn’t necessarily mean it has been abandoned!

Found an animal who might need help? Here’s what you should do.

While all of the rehabilitation center websites offer up helpful advice on what to do if you find an animal in need of care, the Nashville Wildlife Conservation Center has great tips on what to do before removing an animal from its natural environment:

You should take action by contacting a wildlife rehabilitation center if:

  • The animal is bleeding.
  • The animal is missing whole or part of a limb(s) or cannot use its limb(s).
  • The animal looks underweight.
  • The animal is leaning, circling, losing balance, appears tame, is unresponsive, may be blind, has stiffening or twitching limbs, or has rapid eye movement.
  • The animal has discharge from the eyes, nose, ears, or mouth.
  • The animal has a foreign object or substance stuck to a body part, such as a plastic jar or grease.
  • The parents have been killed or seriously injured.
  • The animal is covered with flies, ants, or other parasites.

You should hold off while you further observe if:

  • The animal is moving periodically. You will need to do this from a distance.
  • The animal is eating. If so, it may be reluctant to leave its food. This is normal behavior.
  • It’s a young animal. It may be out of the nest or den and exploring its environment while still being cared for by its parents. Check for parents you can see or hear nearby.
  • A wild animal’s best chance of survival is to be raised by its parents in the wild.
Baby woodpecker on tree
I found this baby woodpecker flapping around the base of a tree in my yard last spring — it had fallen out of its nest. I initially thought it was abandoned, but Mama was nearby watching as her baby learned to fly. Observing before acting can mean the difference between disrupting nature’s course or allowing an animal to thrive in its natural habitat. Just be sure to keep pets away! Image: Jenna Bratcher

State and federal laws do not allow for any protected wildlife in our possession (even temporarily) unless an injured animal is transported for medical attention. If you have contacted a rehabilitation center and determined that you need to transport an animal, follow these steps:

While transporting wildlife, remember:

  • Whisper or speak quietly.
  • Do not play your car radio.
  • Do not transport an animal in a person’s lap, unboxed or unrestrained. The animal can get loose and cause injury or damage.
  • If you are transporting a baby, keep the inside of the vehicle warm.
  • Do not make additional stops.

While waiting for a return phone call or email from the wildlife rehabilitators listed above, you can visit Animal Help Now for assistance. Additionally, you can look for other nearby organizations via the TWRA permitted wildlife rehabilitators list. Be sure to leave a message for any wildlife rehabilitator you reach out to, and follow up with a text message if possible!


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Jenna Bratcher
About the Author
Jenna Bratcher

Jenna Bratcher is StyleBlueprint Nashville’s Associate Editor and Lead Writer. The East Coast native moved to Nashville 16 years ago, by way of Los Angeles. She is a lover of dogs, strong coffee, traveling, and exploring the local restaurant scene bite by bite.