Public Post!

It’s been a lit­tle over a year now since I start­ed vol­un­teer­ing at my local rehab cen­ter for birds of prey. The cen­ter is entire­ly non-prof­it, with only 3 paid posi­tions in the whole com­pa­ny, every oth­er per­son involved is a vol­un­teer, which is just an immense project.

Bob, an American Kestrel edu­ca­tion bird sit­ting on my glove.

Birds of prey are man­aged at the fed­er­al lev­el, mean­ing all the activ­i­ty at the cen­ter needs to fol­low nation­al law. They are also pro­tect­ed under the migra­to­ry bird act, which cov­ers a lot more than just rap­tors. All of this means a lot of the work at the cen­ter involves paper­work rather than wildlife. Every ani­mal that is brought into the cen­ter is reg­is­tered in a nation­al sys­tem, and their final results (release, edu­ca­tion, nat­ur­al death, or euthana­sia) are record­ed.

A baby great horned owl, wrapped for wing control/safety, about to be stuffed with rats.

So what does work­ing at the rehab cen­ter entail? Well, poop, most­ly. A whole lot of poop. Almost all birds learn to pro­jec­tile poop when they’re babies to avoid soil­ing their nest, which makes for a very messy hos­pi­tal and rehab cen­ter! I spend about 80% of my vol­un­teer shift scrub­bing cages, replac­ing news­pa­per, throw­ing soiled blan­kets in the wash, and mop­ping the floor.

A bald eagle with a wing injury, recoup­ing in the hands-off ”apart­ments.”

But the oth­er 20% of the time make all that poop-patrol worth it. I am hands-on with wild birds, opos­sums, rats, rab­bits, squir­rels, and more every sin­gle week. I’ve had to hold great horned owls, barn owls, screech owls, and bur­row­ing owls while we admin­is­ter med­ica­tion or wrap bro­ken wings. I’ve car­ried more red tailed hawks than I can count down to the flight where they can prac­tice short glides before they’re released back to the wild.

Flame, a ground owl edu­ca­tion bird that can’t be released due to an eye injury.

I’ve stuffed a turkey vul­ture full of food (rats) only to have him vom­it it all back up in my lap.

I’ve had baby opos­sums pee all over me.

I’ve been mobbed by teenage ravens as I bring them a fresh dish of mice, fruits, and veg­gies.

And yes, I’ve been pooped on.

Tito and Alba, edu­ca­tion bird barn owls that fos­ter orphan babies every year. They’ve raised over 50 endan­gered barn owl chicks that we could lat­er release into the wild.

We are cur­rent­ly see­ing the start of baby season–the time of year when orphan and injured baby birds are brought to the cen­ter in droves. People care about birds, and even though baby birds are not cute like pup­pies, they’re still tiny and help­less. We accept unhatched eggs, infant birds with­out their feath­ers, fledg­lings that fall out of their nests, even adults that have been hit by cars or caught in barbed wire.

Two baby opos­sums in a fleece pock­et, unhap­py that I’ve wok­en them up.

The cen­ter is small. We only have about 20 cages in the hos­pi­tal and only a sin­gle cramped med room. But some­how we man­aged to accept over 400 ani­mals last year with an 86% rehab-and-release rate. We want to get that num­ber up to 90% this year.

One half of the ’big’ flight, where recoup­ing birds can stretch their healed wings.

Since the big fire came through this December, fol­lowed by destruc­tive rain, mud­slides, and flash floods, I expect the num­ber of babies we’ll see this year will be few­er, since par­ents fled the area or are unable to find good nest­ing sites. Despite that, we still get phone calls every day about injured or aban­doned wildlife, and we’ll take any­thing in that can be safe­ly boxed and brought to our build­ing.

A wild, injured red tailed hawk boxed (irri­tat­ed) and ready for trans­port up to the cen­ter.

The work is messy and loud. Sometimes it’s just 5 hours of scrub­bing poop and… left­overs. But I love it and I’m so glad I start­ed work­ing here to get out of the house. I’ve learned so much about all the ani­mals that come through our build­ing and I get to see them improve and thrive week-to-week.

An ugly-cute barn owl chick only a few days old.

I encour­age you to look up your local wildlife rehab cen­ter. Odds are pret­ty good they’re not for prof­it, rely­ing on pub­lic dona­tions or fed­er­al grant to do their work. Centers like ours keep track of endan­gered bird pop­u­la­tions as well as the lat­est devel­op­ments in rodent man­age­ment. Call up your local cen­ter and ask about vol­un­teer­ing, make a dona­tion, or ask about tak­ing a tour. You might be sur­prised at the breadth of work they do!