I have some great news! Recently I started volunteering with a wildlife rehabilitator named Joyce that runs Whispering Willow Wild Care, associated with Guilderhaven, Inc., a non-for-profit for animals. While it varies from country to country and even state to state, in New York most rehabilitators don’t work in business-like facilities that get paying visitors, but instead work from their homes, and this is what Joyce does. They depend on volunteers and donations to help the animals in their care. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation regulates the giving out of rehabilitator licenses after the potential rehabilitator passes a test. The license is good for five years. Depending on the types of animals someone may specialize in, some rehabilitators may need a federal license as well in order to hold such things as migratory birds or endangered species.
Joyce has been doing this work for many years. She works with some mammals but focuses more on birds, though I was introduced to a few prairie dogs and a juvenile porcupine. Currently there are two red-tailed hawks, three species of owl, two ravens, and two small falcons. These animals sometimes come in as orphaned babies (or babies people thought were orphaned; please check out A Friend In Need to see if an animal really does need your help or if you should leave it alone) but most of the time are injured.
Rehabilitators work closely with veterinarians to do their best in healing the animal, and the intent is to release them back to the wild where they belong, if at all possible. Sometimes, though, it’s not possible. Perhaps the injury is too great and a wing or a leg needs to be amputated, or a beak or eye is injured, all of which would greatly affect the animal’s survival. In these cases the animal is often kept. They can be brought to larger rehabilitation centers or the rehabilitator may keep them. Some of these animals can then be familiarized with humans enough to where they will allow safe handling and can then be used as educational ambassador animals, often brought to schools or other public events, to teach people the value of other living things.
I’ve only been volunteering a few short weeks so far but I have and will help clean the cages, feed everyone, and make improvements to the enclosures. I will also be learning how to handle the birds and potentially be assisting in education programs. In addition to this I have given myself the task of learning about captive animal enrichment programs, especially for the birds and ravens. This is important and interesting to me, and now that winter is approaching, challenging as well. Many enrichment activities involve hiding food or making the animal work to get it, such as putting the food in hollowed out pumpkins, closed boxes, etc. However, here in New York the food freezes too quickly for this during the cold months, so I will do more research and try to be creative.
I hope to toss you a few pictures (the one’s here are from their web site; cool, right?) or interesting events as they develop. For my first, I can add being hit in the head by an owl to my growing list. I’ve also been smacked by a seagull and a vulture. Not many people can say that, right?
If you think you might be interested in volunteering with a wildlife rehabilitator, it’s possible you might have one near you. Do an internet search and see if you can find someone in your area, or perhaps your state or country has a wildlife rehabilitator organization that can help (New York has the New York State Wildlife Rehabilitator Council, Inc. where they offer a list of rehabilitators, advice, links, and more); then reach out and see if they need assistance. Sometimes not only do they need help with the animals, but also with things such as their web site (if they have one), building enclosures, organization, developing educational programs, fund raising, etc. Several of my friends volunteer with Joyce and they range from a bartender to a counselor to a student, so you don’t need to have a wildlife degree to get involved!