WildCare

5 Nov

escapeeDavid Duckworth, The Escape Artist, 2013. Pen-and-ink on paper, 9 x 12 in.

I began volunteer duties at WildCare’s San Rafael hospital in April of this year following four training sessions.  This is where I spend Sunday afternoons.  The hospital is one of several facilities in Northern California that cares for wild animals in physical distress.  I chose the “bird room” after listening to Francoise, a long-term staff person, present during a training session.  The largest birds we care for are crows and ravens, although I have not yet met a raven during my work.  Ducks, hawks, woodpeckers and other birds are treated in facility areas outside of our own.

My fascination with crows is what brought me to WildCare, following advice from a friend who has been a volunteer helping shore birds for over ten years.  Crows are highly social beings.  Fearless too; I have watched an aggressive crow chase a hawk out of its territory.   They are also ruthless towards other species of birds.  Stories abound to their intelligence and ingenuity.  As omnivores, the dishes we prepare for them are intentionally colorful: mouse parts, smelt parts, grapes, scrambled eggs, orange slices.  At a young enough age, it is possible to feed them from these bowls using tweezers, something I take great pleasure in doing.  They swallow whole making a peculiar gobbling sound as the food drops down the gullet.

Spring is the busiest time of year in the bird room as birds give birth to their young in the wild.  Babies fall out of nests or are abandoned by parents.  Birds are attacked by domesticated pets, especially cats.  Birds fly into windows and glass doors or are hit by traveling cars.  The rodenticides we liberally feed the environment poison birds.  Lead poisons birds of prey.  Tar and oil disable water birds.  Birds are beset by diseases.

When the patient arrives, a health assessment is made.  Broken bones may be set.  Open wounds are treated.  Nutritional and medicinal needs are prescribed.  The bird room itself is equipped with incubators that provide oxygen-rich, warm environments.  Small cages also serve to house patients.  Crows and pigeons are eventually moved to walk-in cages.  Release back to the wild is the ultimate goal for every patient, but some, alas, do not make it during the first twenty-four hours.

I never thought I would like a pigeon, but once you have tube fed a young one you fall in love.  The most difficult part of this volunteer work is holding in your emotions.  It is not permissible to speak to the birds, nor cuddle them.  The smaller song birds tend to be skittish.  Calm, controlled, quiet movement is required when working around the patients.  Still, for all the restraint required, just being with the birds is richly rewarding.

For more information about how you can contribute to WildCare’s various programs, visit: http://www.wildcarebayarea.org.

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