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Heat Stressed Wildlife

Friday, December 28, 2018

Specific signs of heat stress to watch for are: Any bird that is panting indicates that they are really hot. A healthy bird will try and get out of the sun and into a cooler place. If you see a bird sitting outside in the full sun panting there’s something wrong.

Put water in a shady place so it stays as cool as possible. Change the water daily or even more frequently if possible, keep the container clean. Put water in places at different heights away from pets or predators for different species of birds, place a few stones or sticks in the water to provide a means of escape for smaller creatures that may fall in.

Flying-foxes & bats also pant and lick their wrists and flap to try and stay cool. They will also hug the trees because they are cooler than the air & move down lower to the ground where it’s cooler. They dive for water, dams and other water sources so leaving water out does not help them. If you see a flying-fox needing help DO NOT TOUCH, call WIRES 1300 094 737.

Kangaroos and wallabies may be lying down and not move away quickly if startled. They may also be seen salivating. It is important to NEVER APPROACH a macropod that is lying down. If they are heat stressed, this will exhaust them even more Also, they are very large powerful animals. If you believe a macropod or wombat needs help call WIRES 1300 094 737.

Birds of prey like other birds will breathe open-mouthed and hold their wings away from their body and sometimes lower their head. You may see them in dangerous places like under a tree instead of up high in the sun. A bird that’s dehydrated won’t be able to fly far or high. Put really wide bowls of water in the shade and keep it topped up.

Possums may emerge from roofs as the top of houses heat up. Lightly misting them with water will help and leaving bowls of water as close to where they live as possible is also helpful.

If you have seen an animal you believe to be suffering heat stress read more about how to help below.


Learn more about heat stressed Wildlife


When we experience extremely high temperatures for several days it may be weather that our wildlife is not used to. This means they may not be able to cope with the conditions. As a result it is possible that animals will be seen suffering dehydration and exhaustion.

Please also remember that on extremely hot days and over holiday periods our rescue line and our volunteers are often dealing with many hundreds of calls for help and our resources will be stretched.

Transporting animals to local vets is a huge help and allows animals to get emergency treatment as soon as possible giving them their best chance of survival.


Identifying a heat stressed animal


  • Birds may pant by opening their beaks,hold their wings out and away from their body
  • Heat stressed animals may appear confused and lethargic 
  • Flying-foxes, possums, gliders, koalas may come to the ground or low to the ground during daylight hours
  • Kangaroos and wallabies may be lying down and not move away quickly if startled. They may also be seen salivating. 
  • Reptiles may seek refuge from the heat in cool, dark places to cool down
  • Severely impacted animals may suffer convulsions or lose consciousness
  • Some animals may also suffer burns on their paws from hot roof and road surfaces

How you can help


If you find an animal (not a flying-fox, a bat, a macropod, wombat or reptile) that is showing signs of heat stress but is conscious and appears otherwise uninjured please read the advice below as you may be able to help the animal

  • Provide shallow containers of water around your yard, ideally in the shade, through days with extreme temperatures can really help. Remember to keep the containers clean, refresh frequently and be sure to change the water daily to deter mosquitos from breeding.
  • Place sticks or a stone in the containers to allow smaller animals that fall in, a way out.
  • It is important to NEVER APPROACH a macropod that is lying down 
  • You can also place some containers around the permeter of your property on the fence line to provide water for reptiles. This has the added advantage of deterring reptiles from approaching houses to access water from taps and other sources closer to your house.
  • Keeping your cats and dogs indoors, wildlife that may be extra vulnerable to predators while in a weakened state
  • Provide shade with a garden umbrella or other cover over distressed animals
  • Gently mist distressed animals with a very light spray of water or place a sprinkler nearby
  • If you have found an animal in distress you can offer it a shallow dish of water to drink from. If it is too weak you can use an eyedropper to gently put a few drops on its lips or beak. Squirting water can choke animals.
If a flying-fox is on the ground or entangled in netting on very hot days you can provide shade and gently mist 1300 094 737 immediately for help.
If you have found a heat stressed animal please read the following more detailed advice

If an animal (that is not a bat or flying-fox) is injured or appears to be a juvenile, or it is suffering convulsions or has lost consciousness, and it is safe to do so, it will need urgent vet attention and should be immediately transported in a well ventilated container to your local vet clinic.

If you are unable to safely transport the animal (or it is a bat or flying-fox) please use our online form to report the rescue or call 1300 094 737 for assistance.

If you can see that an animal has burns on their paws from hot road or roof surfaces it will require urgent vet assistance. 


Flying-foxes and bats


Flying-foxes are especially susceptible to a run of days with high temperatures and humidity. If you find a bat entangled in your fruit tree netting please call us 1300 094 737 without delay. If a bat is entangled on a day of extreme heat it will die quickly. You can help keep it cool by providing shade until our rescuer arrives.

It is important NEVER TO TOUCH OR HANDLE a flying-fox under any circumstance as a very small number may present a risk of contracting Australian Bat Lyssavirus, a disease transmitted through bites and scratches.

If you are waiting for a WIRES rescuer to arrive and you are able to safely provide some form of shade over the flying-fox (without touching it) to keep it out of the direct sun, please do. 

If the flying-fox is on the ground and it’s a hot day, you can place a cool towel or umbrella above it until the rescuer arrives to protect it from the the worst of the heat.

Spraying the animal intermittently with a light mist or setting up a sprinkler to gently wet the animal can also help.

If you’ve found a bird or ringtail possum suffering from heat stress and it is safe to do so you can:

  • Gently cover the animal using a towel and place it in a box lined with a towel. Take it inside to a dark, quiet place away from pets and people.
  • You can place the animal on a towel and mist the animal with room temperature water. The animal should never be made dripping wet. 
  • Do not wrap animals in damp towels.
  • Provide a shallow dish of water for the animal to drink from.
  • If the animal appears unable to drink, you can drip water onto its lips or beak using an eyedropper. It is important not tip or squirt water into an animal’s mouth as this can cause choking.
  • All interactions with people are stressful for wild animals and handling should always be kept to a minimum.
  • If a bird you have rescued starts to look more alert after taking the above steps you may return it to where it was found once temperatures have eased.
  • Possums or any other nocturnal animals must not be released until after dark. Once it is dark they can be released at the base of the closest tree where they were found. 
  • If any animal shows no sign of improvement within one to two hours, please take it to your local vet clinic in a car that has been cooled down and have the radio off as this will minimise stress. If you are unable to transport the animal please call 1300 094 737 for assistance.

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