Northern Parula

Northern Parula
Photo: Northern Parula on a willow tree

This little wood warbler wearing his dark necklace recently arrived from Central America to breed near wetland. Formerly classified in the genus Parus (meaning ‘tit’), along with Eurasian titmice such as the Willow Tit. A mnemonic for its song goes like this: zeeeeeeeeeee (buzzy)-chyoo.

  • On a tree by a river a little tom-tit
  • Sang ‘Willow, tit willow, tit willow’
  • And I said to him, ‘Dicky-bird, why do you sit
  • Singing ‘Willow, tit willow, tit willow’
  • “Is it weakness of intellect, birdie?” I cried
  • “Or a rather tough worm in your little inside” …
  • From the Mikado (Gilbert & Sullivan)

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The Kindness of Rehabbers

In a week bringing news about grey wolves shot and poisoned in Idaho and a naturalist attacked and left for dead by badger baiters in England, I have also seen love and devotion for helpless Virginia wildlife. The human spectrum that arcs from cruelty to altruism is astounding, if all too familiar.

I write about rehabbers. They are AWARE volunteers, mostly women, trained and licensed to help injured and distressed wildlife. They care for road casualties and orphans in the breeding season, besides all the accidents that can befall wild creatures, potentially any with a backbone (arthropods can’t repair broken parts and starfish need no help to regenerate an arm!).

Corn snake

When an animal is rescued, it is triaged to weigh its chances of recovery. Pro bono services from veterinarians provide advice, medication and surgery as necessary for repairing a broken wing, healing the stump of an amputated leg, nursing concussion, etc. Too often, euthanasia is the merciful decision.

Although they might wish otherwise, rehabbers can’t accept all-comers because each chooses to focus on particular groups of animals. The national status of Bald Eagles requires sending to one of the wildlife hospitals in Virginia. Recently, I heard of one given chelation treatment after eating carrion contaminated with lead shot, but unfortunately too late to save it.

American Kestrel

The ultimate goal is to rehabilitate animals so they can be returned to nature. This brings relief and satisfaction, although sometimes a bittersweet parting after weeks of intimacy with wildness. Some patients restored to health are still too disabled to survive on their own, yet often have long lives with their carers as ‘ambassadors’ for the education program.

On the day I attended a demonstration along with other master naturalists we saw a box turtle and corn snake (pictured), two owls, an American Kestrel (pictured), Red-shouldered Hawk and Osprey, two vultures and several bunnies and nestlings. All in a day’s work as they say! A long day when chicks need a special diet fed by hand every 45 minutes until sundown!

Volunteers set aside part of their property to accommodate patients and year-round ambassadors. They pay out of pocket for expenses not covered by donations or fees from education. Other family members and friends touched by the plight of vulnerable animals and seeing the labor of caring for them offer helping hands. We mostly have only fleeting glimpses of wild animals, who have little reason to trust us, but here is an example of the kindness of strangers, whose hearts are kinder than in the famous play that coined the cliché.

Listen to a Rehabber:

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Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl

This miniature owl with a fierce visage is the rufous morph of Eastern woodlands. This little fellow rests securely on the gauntlet of a wildlife rehabilitator.

After colliding with a moving vehicle, he suffered brain injury and hasn’t recovered sufficiently to be released into the wild. But he now receives more attention as a celebrity for child and adult wildlife education. More often heard than seen he trills and whinnys to render the night more mysterious, even ominous.

  • Should one hear a badger call,
  • And then an ullot (owl) cry,
  • Make thy peace with God, good soul,
  • For shortly thou shalt die.
  • From David Naitby (circa 1800)

Next Post: The Kindness of Rehabbers