Wildbird rehab sign of humanity

When I first read Craig Medred’s column in the Sunday paper a few weeks ago, I decided the best course of action would be to give myself some time and distance from it to make sure I could deliver a reasoned response as opposed to the somewhat scatological one that originally came to mind. I’m pretty sure that even in today’s climate, certain words are just not considered appropriate outside of x-rated publications.

I’m referring to the column where he questions the efficacy of the International Bird Rescue group’s efforts to save oiled birds from our most recent spill. In it, he also questions the motivation behind these efforts. At one point, he claims torture best describes the effects of the rescue work on the birds.

For anyone in the wild bird rehab business, them’s fighting words. 

I volunteer at Bird TLC and have ever since I moved to Anchorage. For those not familiar with this organization, it’s a wild bird rehab and education center.

If we can save the birds and return them to the wild, we do. If we can’t return them to the wild but they otherwise have a chance at a healthy life, they enter our education program or are placed at various licensed centers throughout the country.  And if they can’t be saved, then we put them down with gentleness, respect and, frequently, tears.

What we don’t do is torture birds.  Not unless you count as torture putting a tube down the throat of a patient in a hospital to get them over a crisis till they can feed themselves again. That seemed to be Medred’s biggest gripe – putting tubes down birds’ throats. 

Well, here’s the reality from someone who has done it.  It’s never easy. It’s never done lightly, and it’s only done for the minimum amount of times needed to get over the crises.  Most birds, once the tube makes it past their throat, swallow at it as though it were food. 

Is it a pleasant procedure?  No, not for a person and not for a bird.  Does it save lives?  Yes, both people and birds. 

Of course the difference here is that people can make a conscious decision to accept or reject this therapy at least some of the time whereas birds are at our mercy. We have to decide what is best for them without their input.  But that’s simply the way it is and that’s not a reason to curb our more merciful and caring feelings towards all of god’s creatures.

Medred goes on to cite some old and questionable studies about the life span of the birds that are saved and set free.  But the reality is that without intervention, none of them would have lived.  And with intervention they have a chance to return to the wild and live out their natural life span.

The other thing Medred did not note is that many birds become accustomed to their hospitalization and learn to accommodate it for the length of time it must be endured. Not all birds do this. Swans are notoriously difficult to save if it means handling by humans. But many birds make the transition.

We have eagles at Bird TLC that herd from one mew to the other with little difficulty once they get the idea of what is expected. I’m sure that within ten second of being set free after rehabilitation, they totally forget about how to herd. They are creatures set to survive and they accommodate as needed to whatever is required for that survival.

We don’t torture birds. We treat them in a hospital/clinic like setting with the best our current knowledge has to offer.  The majority, whether Medred wants to believe this or not, leave out clinic healed and able to take their place again in nature.

I’m not claiming that every bird we get is happy to be in our little hospital or survives for years after being released. If they are small birds, they might be tomorrow night’s dinner for an owl. That’s the cycle of life.  We at Bird TLC accept that. Our only goal is to give these birds a chance to complete their role in that cycle.

The impulse to save other creatures is a good one in the human race and should be encouraged as a characteristic of humanity at its finest.

Medred should spend some time working with us as we rehab wild birds. He might then actually be qualified to write about it.