Wildlife clinic at 30: 80,000 wild animals later

Baby redtail hawk with parent puppet

By Anna Lehr Mueser, Manager of Communications & Digital Strategy

In an unassuming building on Port Royal Avenue, our Wildlife Clinic treats over 3,000 animals each year, from hundreds of baby squirrels to injured raptors like peregrine falcons and red-tailed hawks. In this building life-saving treatments save opossums, mend broken wings on Canada geese, suture the shells of turtles hit while crossing the road, and nourish tiny mammals brought in when they are too young to feed for themselves. This year, our clinic celebrates its 30th anniversary.

We’re proud to mark this anniversary, a testament to the dedication and care of the hundreds of staff and volunteers who have given their time and their hearts to this clinic over the years. Wildlife Clinic Director Rick Schubert notes, “Most of our volunteers have been here for over five years, many over ten. They’re very loyal, very dedicated; we couldn’t run the clinic without them.” Our clinic was founded by environmental educator Trish O’Connell – longtime members may remember her – in 1987, and we first operated out of an old barn. We’ve come a long way since then (with some hard times, to be sure – the clinic even closed for a bit); thanks to the support of our community, the clinic is stronger now than ever. Our capacity has been expanding – we were excited to add a third staff rehabilitator, Megan Haines, last fall and a volunteer recently constructed a special outdoor enclosure for helping rehabilitate large raptors such as red-tailed hawks. “The Wildlife Clinic is a vital program,” says Executive Director Mike Weilbacher. “An unbelievably committed team is literally saving lives. Sometimes, the stories are heartbreaking – baby owls rescued after the tree they were nesting in was cut down or waterfowl that are injured when they mistake asphalt for open water. But Rick, Michele, and their team do remarkable work.”

In a given year, our Wildlife Clinic will treat anything from a common house sparrow to an endangered peregrine falcon. And each year, our staff and volunteers treat more animals. In 2016, our clinic set a record, treating 3,960 wild creatures. This incredible number – a more than 20% increase from 2015 – demonstrates the critical role our clinic’s wildlife rehabilitators and volunteers play. As Manager of Wildlife Rehabilitation Michele Wellard notes, “as human activities continue to impact wildlife, there will be a growing need for wildlife rehab.” Indeed, an increasingly urban human population intersects with wildlife at every corner. From suburban white-tailed deer to urban coyotes, from the songbirds on telephone wires to grey squirrels in our attics, every day, we interact with wildlife and often wildlife are put at risk. This is where places like our clinic can offer some response.

On January 2, 2017, the Wildlife Clinic greeted the New Year by receiving a young red fox, emaciated and wounded. On any given morning, in the main feeding room of the clinic, three or four volunteers may be found gently holding baby squirrels in a towel and bottle-feeding them; down the hallway in another room, alive with the twittering of songbirds, volunteers feed baby birds at least once every hour (and as much as every fifteen minutes). With dozens of baby animals, no sooner does one feeding shift end than the next is beginning. A corps of 80 volunteers keeps these shifts running, assisting in cleaning, preparing indoor and outdoor cages, feeding around the clock, and making sure that the Wildlife Clinic is always ready to care for the next arrival.

Our Wildlife Clinic is, today, the only clinic in a four-county region. While 2016 set a record for the number of animals treated, our clinic sees records all the time. In 2014, we noted that baby squirrels were arriving later and later into the fall; in 2015, we noticed they were also arriving earlier and earlier in the spring. Last year, we treated a hatchling pigeon in February—February! In the three decades since 1987, when our clinic opened, we’ve treated nearly 80,000 wild animals. Please help us keep up this work – a donation of any size makes a real difference.

Our clinic doors are always open. Seven days a week, 365 days a year. Help us keep it that way.

Wildlife clinic peregrine falcon

This essay first appeared in the Winter 2017 Quill, our members’ newsletter.

Correction February 16: this article has been edited to clarify that baby birds are fed at least once an hour, not every four hours.