Confused about who to call for sick and injured wildlife? You’re not alone.

Emma Horton, Wildlife Supporter Advisor at the RSPB, and Rebecca Machin, Scientific and Policy Officer at the RSPCA are here to make sure you know who to call when wildlife needs you most.

In 2022 the RSPB Wildlife Team received 3,597 calls relating to animal welfare. That’s at least 3,597 animals that would have got help faster if it was clearer who to call.

Photo above: RSPB Wildlife Enquiries Team taking calls from members of the public by Charlotte Ambrose

The RSPB and the RSPCA’s names are similar, so many people understandably confuse the two. However, the RSPB (the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity and is not involved in the rescue or rehabilitation of sick, injured or orphaned birds, other wildlife or pet birds. Rather, this is very much within the remit of the RSPCA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) - the largest animal welfare charity in the UK.

What’s the difference between welfare and conservation?

Well, both help wildlife in equally important but very different ways.

Promoting good animal welfare involves ensuring the needs of individual animals are met, and that pain and suffering are avoided. Wildlife rescue and rehabilitation is just one aspect of the great work done by animal welfare organisations and is no easy feat. It requires animal hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, along with expert knowledge from experienced vets, animal care professionals and animal welfare scientists.

Photo above: RSPCA Staff caring for a swan at one of their animal care centres by RSPCA

But wildlife doesn’t just need protecting from cruelty, sickness and injury. Every day our wildlife faces threats such as habitat loss, pollution and climate change.

This is where nature conservation organisations come in. Nature conservation doesn’t focus on the individual animal. It protects the habitat that animals call home and identifies and addresses the threats our wildlife faces at a population level - helping to keep common species common and recover threatened species.

Photo above: RSPB staff member and volunteer carrying reed seedlings, to plant reedbeds for wildlife at RSPB Langford Lowfields, Nottinghamshire.

No one charity can or should do everything. While conservation and the promotion of good animal welfare are often complementary, different skill sets and infrastructures are involved. It’s in the best interests of wildlife that we stick to our strengths, and that you know who to contact for help and advice when wildlife needs you most.

So, what puts the P in RSPB?

There is more than one way to protect birds. The RSPB exists to protect habitats, preserve and recover species populations, connect people to nature and help fight the nature and climate emergency.

Emma Horton, RSPB Wildlife Supporter Advisor, said: “Our scientists work to identify the biggest threats to nature and the ways we can tackle them. We then work with people, schools, businesses, industries and Government to implement positive change. 

For example, we’re working in partnership with Birdlife International and with the fishing industry to reduce the number of seabirds killed as by-catch through the Albatross Task Force. Our Investigations Team works tirelessly to stop illegal raptor persecution. We fight damaging proposals which threaten special places like the Swanscombe Peninsula in Kent. We support community action, and in partnership with WWF and AVIVA we’ve made £1 million available to community groups protecting and restoring their local nature. We also campaign boldly for the urgent action we know nature needs. We have collaborated with over 60 partners to produce the most comprehensive report on the State of Nature in the UK, clearly outlining to decision makers the threats and solutions."

Photo above: Juvenile Black-browed Albatross caught in trawl net, unfortunate victim of bycatch by RSPB ( 

RSPB's Emma continues: "The RSPB also manages over 200 nature reserves across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland where wildlife is protected and can thrive. Here, we’re not only restoring the land and locking up carbon but reserves such as Wild Haweswater and RSPB Medmerry are showing how nature-based solutions can be used to protect communities from flooding and the effects of climate change. In doing so, Medmerry has seen the arrival of breeding Avocets.”

Photo above: Lake at RSPB Haweswater Nature Reserve, Cumbria by Rosie Dutton ( 

The RSPB is however not a welfare charity and does not have the expertise or facilities to help with the welfare of individual wild animals or pets. Nor does the RSPB have access to any non-public databases of wildlife or pet rescues. 

There are already lots of great organisations doing exactly that. And, when an animal needs urgent help, it’s in the best interest of the animal that they’re in the hands of a professional with the correct facilities as soon as possible.

Calling the wrong organisation costs wildlife

Sadly, calling the wrong organisation can not only delay an animal receiving the correct help, but it can also take vital resources away from other important areas of wildlife work.

The RSPB has a small, dedicated wildlife advice team who provide crucial support to the public, businesses, councils and services such as the Police on matters relating to wildlife conservation. However, despite not having the expertise to help with welfare matters, these accounted for 28% of calls taken in 2022. This is sadly reducing the resources available for the team to help where they could make a real difference.

Who should I call if I’m worried about sick, injured or orphaned wildlife?

Animal welfare is at the heart of everything the RSPCA does. It deals with all animals, including wildlife, and covers England and Wales; the SSPCA works to help animals in Scotland, while the USPCA covers Northern Ireland. RSPCA staff and volunteers work to improve the lives of individual animals by rescuing and caring for those most in need. The organisation advocates on behalf of all animals, and its education programmes inspire people to treat animals with compassion and respect.

Photo above: RSPCA staff member carrying an injured gull by RSPCA

Rebecca Machin, RSPCA Scientific and Policy Officer, said:Wild animals are an important part of the RSPCA’s work. As well as working to prevent cruelty to animals, we help wildlife that is injured, sick, or orphaned. Our national call centre receives around 600 calls each day, many of which are about wild animals who are suffering; in 2022, the RSPCA recorded 81,400 incidents involving wild animals. We have four national wildlife centres, whose staff care for a huge range of wild animals, preparing them for release back into the wild. In 2022, 7,814 wild animals were admitted to our wildlife centres, representing over 170 species. In addition, our network of RSPCA branches took in 4,577 wild animals in addition to domestic animals."

Photo above: RSPCA Inspector, checking over a wild bird by RSPCA

RSPCA's Rebecca continues: "Although rescuing and caring for wild animals is an important part of the RSPCA’s work, our inspectors and officers are always busy and, unfortunately, can’t attend every animal the public calls about. Sometimes, calling the RSPCA isn’t the quickest or best way to get help for an animal who needs it. It is essential that the RSPCA prioritises cases where their specialist staff are most needed. Where appropriate, helping small wildlife by contacting and transporting them to a local rescue centre or vets, can be the best option. The animal can access help more quickly, and the RSPCA’s specialist officers are able to attend the more difficult and urgent cases. Our Kindness Index research shows that the public care about wildlife, so we want to help them to do the right thing if they are concerned about a wild animal’s welfare.”

Cases which you should call the RSPCA about include those involving trapped wildlife, or larger animals that may be difficult or dangerous to handle, such as Badgers, deer, and swans. You can find further advice on how and when to contact the RSPCA, here.

Photo above: RSPCA staff member carrying a sick/injured swan by RSPCA

So, if you find a wild animal in need, and it’s not a case that requires the RSPCA’s specialist skills, here’s what to do:

1. Firstly, make sure the animal actually needs help.

In 2022, the RSPCA’s emergency line answered 6,019 calls about baby birds, but many of these were healthy and still being looked after by their parents. 

If you ever find a fledgling (fully feathered baby bird) on the ground, if they’re not sick or injured they’re usually best left alone. They leave the nest before they can fly, and their parents are usually nearby and still caring for them.

However, nestlings (baby birds without feathers) found out of the nest will need help. The RSPCA has more advice online about baby birds, and when they need help including species specific advice for:

2. Ring a local independent rescue for advice

If you’re still concerned about a wild animal, it’s often in their best interest to find help locally. This can be quicker and reduce the need for transportation which is stressful for wildlife. For small wildlife, the RSPCA website has advice on how to handle and transport them yourself.

You can search for local wildlife rescues here.

3. If you can’t find a suitable wildlife rescue, contact your local vet.

All vets are members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and should provide emergency treatment to wildlife free of charge. Some vets may understandably limit access to their buildings due to avian flu, but should still be able to see birds outside. If after treating the animal the vet decides that rehabilitation is appropriate, it can be transported to a local wildlife rescue. You can search for a local vet here.

You can find further advice and support on how to help wildlife on the RSPCA website here