Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

A ‘Naturally Special Place’

Press Story, October 1, 2015

By Gretta Bradley, Program Chair, Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Most of us can identify with what the Wild Bird Care Centre in Ottawa does. As children, however misguided, we followed a powerful need to help a defenseless creature. Running into the house, we offered up the small life to our parents, carefully cradling it in our cupped hands. We marveled at it as it lay under a lamp in a bed of tissues. We would hope beyond hope that this time the bald pink bird would still be alive in the morning. The outcome was always the same. Without proper care, the tiny thing would not survive the night.

Fortunately, treatment is much more sophisticated than that which can be found in a Kleenex box and the prognosis for injured birds is much brighter. The Wild Bird Centre was the obvious choice for the inaugural talk of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) 2015-2016 speaker series, “Naturally Special Places”. Patty McLaughlin is one of those fortunate individuals who has taken a passion and made it her life’s work. She is well known to the younger members of the Field Naturalists as the guiding force behind the Young Naturalists. This evening she would speak about her work rehabilitating and releasing wild birds. The audience responded to Patty’s sense of humour as she introduced us to the unique cast of characters that inhabit the enclosures at the centre.

The Eastern Screech Owl, prominently displayed on our promotional literature, belied its ‘owly’ cuteness. Described as the Houdini of the avian crowd, it is known among those who work with our cagy friends, for pulling maddeningly, puzzling escapes. Although clever escape artists, fortunately for staff their destination is usually predictable. My romantic notion of tenderly, nurturing a baby bird back to health, veered dramatically off script as Patty played video of springtime at the Wild Bird Care Centre. Images of hungry, demanding chicks are expected, but the noise! Nails being dragged down a blackboard at high velocity and maximum volume doesn’t quite capture it. It struck me that they were not particularly grateful creatures, clambering to be fed every 20 minutes. The average number of times an American Robin has to be hand fed until it is released is 1,350 times. Patty joked as she shared her release-day video ‘fails’ with the audience. She apologized as, instead of birds soaring into the treetops looking back only briefly as they took to the sky once again after months of confinement, they flopped to the ground not quite knowing what to do with their newfound freedom.

Photo 1 Wild Bird Care Cntre

The Wild Bird Care Centre, a ‘naturally special’ place.

Bird rehabilitation is not a DIY project. It is, in fact, illegal without proper authorization. The Wild Bird Care Centre operates under permits from both the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Canadian Wildlife Service. If you should find a distressed bird, visit the centre’s website http://www.wildbirdcarecentre.org. There is information there specific to nestlings and fledglings, ducklings and goslings and adult birds. Check the website for the centre’s hours of operations and directions to the facility before you bring in a bird for care (if in doubt, check the ‘birds in distress’ information under the ‘HELP’ link, or call the centre). Finally, the Wild Bird Care Centre does it all without funds from governments or corporations. Memberships and donations fund the return of thousands of birds a year to their natural habitats. Should you wish to donate go to their website and click on the “SUPPORT US” button. Their “peeps” will thank you!

Photo 2 Barred Owl by Barbara AdamsA Barred Owl recovers at the WBCC. Photo Barbara Adams. Photo 3 red tailed hawk P. McLaughlin

A red-tailed hawk, another patient at the WBCC. Photo Patty McLaughlin