Monday, May 14, 2012

Rehab Releases

One of the hardest jobs at World Bird Sanctuary is working in the Rehabilitation Department.  I don’t mean in terms of physical labor, although keeping the Wildlife Hospital clean is by no means easy.   Each department at World Bird Sanctuary has quite a lot to maintain.
A Great Horned Owl recuperating in our wildlife hospital
When we receive a bird into our hospital, we immediately check it over to determine any injuries.  Any treatable injuries are immediately addressed, and if no physical injuries are apparent we, along with our vet, attempt to determine the problem with tests and x-rays.  Sometimes all a bird needs is supportive therapy until it is old enough or strong enough to hunt on its own. 
A Red-tailed Hawk well on his way to recovery
Once a diagnosis is made we prepare an enclosure where it can recover.  We then feed it, to make sure it gets the nutrients it needs to heal.  We admit between 300 and 400 injured birds of prey every year, and we generally have a 44% release rate.  This is one of the best release rates in the wildlife rehab industry.  It means that 44 out of every 100 birds we see in the hospital are released back into the wild without a problem.

It is hard to see birds struggle with illness and injury, and succumb to these maladies every day.  We do everything we can to help these birds recover, but  even with our best efforts it sometimes isn’t enough.
An Osprey spending time in a flight mew to build up his flight muscles
Working in the Wildlife Hospital is a paradox.  Dealing with those patients who don’t survive is one of the saddest parts of WBS.  At the same time, those who do survive, and are able to be released, is one of the most rewarding experiences at WBS.

In my time with WBS, I have released two birds from the Rehabilitation Department: a Cooper’s Hawk and a Great Horned Owl.  The Cooper’s Hawk was a female, and she had been injured after she flew into a window.  Her shoulder was dislocated, and she recovered at the hospital for a few weeks before she was ready to be released.

It was the very last day of my internship in 2010, and I was very excited to be able to release a rehabbed bird.  I picked the hawk up on a Saturday morning, and drove with her to Busch Wildlife Conservation Area in Weldon Spring, MO.   My parents came along, happy to be part of the occasion… and happy to take a gazillion pictures as well.
My very first release - a rehabilitated Cooper's Hawk
We picked a spot near one of the numerous lakes at Busch Wildlife, as there was certain to be a large concentration of small songbirds, the Cooper’s Hawk’s favorite prey.  I pulled the hawk out of the crate and prepared to release her.  The release went off without a hitch.  My parents and I watched the hawk soar over the lake, into the trees and out of sight.

My second release was just this summer.  This time, it was a Great Horned Owl.  This bird had been an orphan, brought into the hospital because its parents weren’t feeding it anymore.  She was fostered at the lower site by our experienced Great Horned Owl mother, Genie, for a few weeks before her release.

I drove this owl all the way to Cuba, MO to release her.  I could have gone somewhere closer to home, but this release was special to me.  My grandfather lives in Cuba, and I wanted to be able to share something special with him.  He is a bird lover like me (I come by it honestly, I guess), and I knew that he would be thrilled to witness the release of this owl.
My most special Return To The Wild because I got to share it with my Grandpa
My grandpa owns land in Cuba, and one part of this land has a small pond.  We chose that spot to give the owl some flying room.  At dusk, we walked down to the edge of the pond--my grandpa, my parents and me. I  pulled the owl from her crate, and, with a much smoother movement than with the Cooper’s Hawk so long ago, tossed her into the air.  She winged her way silently over the pond to begin a new life.  My grandfather stood in awe as she flew away.  I was so happy to be able to experience the thrill of release with him.

Though working with the sick and injured birds in the Wildlife Hospital can be disheartening at times, you remember the reason you do it when you see a rehabbed bird soaring away from you toward freedom.

If you or a member of your family would like to experience the thrill of releasing one of our rehabbed patients Click Here for information about our Return To The Wild program.

Submitted by Emily Hall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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