Non-Native, Domestic and Exotic Animals
Portland Audubon’s Wildlife Care Center does not accept non-native, exotic or domestic animals for treatment. This is both consistent with our mission to conserve our native ecosystem, as well as the limitations imposed by the law and the permits we operate under.
Some of the most common Portland-area non-native animals and their key identifiers are listed below. However, species identification can be extremely tricky, even for experienced people. When in doubt, call the Wildlife Hotline at (503) 292-0304 or send a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org for personalized assistance from one of our Wildlife Solutions Counselors.
What are non-native, exotic, and domestic animals?
- Non-native: Through no fault of their own, many animals found in Oregon are not native to this area and pose a threat to native wildlife. These animals include Rock Doves (city pigeons), Starlings, House Sparrows, Nutria, Opossums, Fox Squirrels and Eastern Grey Squirrels, who have been introduced by humans from other places and have established in Oregon.
- Exotic & Domestic: Animals such as feral cats and dogs, domestic ducks and geese, Red-eared Sliders, and peacocks are domesticated animals that have either escaped or been abandoned. In all cases, exotic or domesticated animals do not belong in the wild.
Why doesn’t the Wildlife Care Center accept these species for care?
- Threats to native species: Introduced species compete with and reduce the populations of native wildlife, are ecologically harmful, and can carry diseases contagious to native species. While it may not be immediately apparent, returning introduced, non-native species to the wild can have dire impacts on native wildlife. For example, the introduction of nutria (a large South American rodent) to a wetland can make an entire wetland uninhabitable for other bank-dwelling wildlife (otters, muskrats, beavers, etc.). Starlings and House Sparrows are fierce competitors with many native species including Western Bluebirds, wrens and swallows.
- Permits: Our permits do not allow us to care for or release non-native or exotic pets.
- Limited resources: Each year, the Wildlife Care Center treats more than 3,000 injured and orphaned wild animals, an effort which requires a huge investment of time, money, and space. Caring for non-native, exotic, and domestic animals directly competes with and reduces our ability to accomplish our mission to care for and return native wild animals to the wild.
What do I do if a non-native, exotic, or domestic animal needs help?
Non-native/invasive wild species: If you find an injured or orphaned non-native species, there are limited options available. It is against Oregon law for you to care for it yourself or to have a veterinarian treat it. In addition, caring for wild animals of any species requires specialized knowledge, skills, and equipment. Attempting to care for wild animals without these things results in serious consequences that can include the death of the animal, chronic illness and pain, and behaviors that endanger the animal or people it comes into contact with.
Unfortunately, the kindest solution is humane euthanasia. This prevents the animal from experiencing further suffering from its injury or lack of parental care. While the Wildlife Care Center cannot treat and release non-native species, we do offer humane euthanasia for non-native animals. We do not enjoy performing this service, but we are committed to both animal welfare as well as environmental stewardship, and we feel the responsibility to provide an option that minimizes the suffering of these animals.
Domestic species: If you find an abandoned or escaped domesticated animal (eg. species kept as pets or farm animals) please contact an appropriate agency such as the Oregon Humane Society or Multnomah County Animal Control. These agencies do not take in non-native wildlife species such as Starlings, House Sparrows, Rock Doves, opossum, nutria, Fox Squirrels, or Eastern Gray Squirrels.
If you have a domesticated animal you no longer want, do not release it into the wild. It is inhumane, ecologically damaging, and also a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in prison and fines not to exceed $1,000 to deliberately abandon a domesticated animal.
How do I know if I have a non-native, exotic, or domestic species?
Unfortunately, finding a non-native, exotic, or domestic species is a common occurrence, especially in highly urbanized settings, where native wildlife often struggles. Common species include Rock Doves, European Starlings, and House Sparrows to more surprising animals such as a Nile Monitor Lizard, Fennec Fox (native to Africa), Prairie Dogs, European Hedgehogs, miscellaneous parrots, and European Ferrets.
Below are some of Oregon’s most common non-native wildlife.
Introduced to the United States from Europe, the starling aggressively competes with native bird species for nesting cavities. It is now the most common bird in the United States. Starlings come in a variety of very different plumages. Breeding starlings are iridescent black with yellow bills. In the fall, adult plumage appears more brown. Juvenile plumage appears a gray to brown. Nestlings are easily identified by their huge yellow “clown lips.”
Introduced to the United States from Europe, House Sparrows are notorious for aggressively competing with native bird species for nesting cavities. Differentiation from other native species of sparrow and finch is best done via a good bird identification guide.
City Pigeons/Rock Pigeons
The common city pigeon or Rock Pigeon was introduced to the United States from Europe. It is easy to distinguish from our native Band-tailed Pigeon. Band-tails have yellow legs while the introduced Rock Dove has red legs.
The opossum is native to the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. It has become established along the West Coast and negatively impacts native bird species by raiding nests and consuming eggs.
Fox Squirrels were brought to Oregon from the eastern United States and have established themselves in urban and suburban habitat throughout the state. They are the most common tree squirrels found in Portland. Fox Squirrels are reddish brown in color with large bushy tails and tan undersides. Fox Squirrels are notorious for breeding “out of season,” and infant and very young squirrels found after October 1 and earlier that April 1 are members of this species.
Eastern Gray Squirrels
This small gray squirrel with a white belly was introduced to Oregon from the eastern United States. It is rapidly expanding its range and is just now becoming established in Portland. The Eastern Gray Squirrel can be differentiated from the Western Gray Squirrel by the brown or reddish coloring that is interspersed with its grey fur, especially around its head and feet. Western Gray Squirrels do not have this brown or reddish coloring.
Box Turtles/Red-Eared Sliders/Snapping Turtles
Oregon has only two native turtles, the Western Pond and Western Painted. The pet industry has imported a number of non-native turtle species to Oregon that have subsequently become established in the wild. These turtles transmit disease and compete directly with native turtles and other wildlife.
Many of the ducks inhabiting urban parks are domestic ducks that have escaped or been deliberately released from captivity. Many of these birds then successfully breed in the wild. They include the domestic Mallard (usually much larger than the native wild Mallard), the Muscovy Duck, Indian Runner Ducks, and a variety of mixed breeds. The presence of these mostly flightless, non-migratory ducks in urban wetlands and parks causes overcrowding and reduces the already scant urban habitat available to native waterfowl.
Many of the geese inhabiting urban parks are domestic geese that have escaped or been deliberately released from captivity. Many of these birds then successfully breed in the wild. They include the Chinese Goose, the Graylag Goose, Toulouse Goose, and the “White” Goose. The presence of these mostly flightless, non-migratory geese in urban wetlands and parks causes overcrowding and reduces the already scant urban habitat available to native waterfowl.
The nutria, or “coypu,” was brought to the United States from South America to be bred on fur farms. This species subsequently escaped to the wild and established itself across the United States. Nutria are sometimes confused with native muskrats and beaver. An adult nutria is significantly larger than a muskrat and unlike the beaver has a thin, hairless, rat-like tail.
Chukar/Button Quail/Bobwhite Quail/Peacocks
These are all domestic fowl that are raised in captivity and occasionally escape or are released to the wild. Identification is best done via a good bird guide.