The Raptor Conservancy of Virginia is a small, non-profit, volunteer-only organization that takes in and rehabilitates wild raptors (hawks, owls, eagles, etc.) with the goal of eventually releasing them back into the wild. I have been volunteering with them for some time now, and I was thrilled to see them get some recognition, kudos, and press for a red-shouldered hawk release-after-rehabilitation (Washington Post, 7/12/2014, “Born to be wild: a hawk native to Virginia is released after feather-loving care” by Ileana Najarro).
Wildlife rehabilitators, I’ve found, have a zeal for animals (birds, in this case) which is hard to find. They take calls in the middle of the night for injured bird pick-ups. They tolerate large amounts of paperwork (permits are required to take in wild animals, and that’s just the beginning) and constant vet visits. Unpredictability, loss, and chaos don’t (permanently) discourage them. Want to work for them or with them? Toughen up: you have to put up with blood (sometimes yours), sweat, and tears if you want to make a difference.
They need volunteers: lots of them. The amount of work it takes to rehab just one bird is incredible: and rehabilitators often have many, many injured birds: it’s like having a full hotel. Chick season (spring) brings in even more birds. 80% of raptor chicks do not make it to their first birthday. But the rehabbers try to push the odds to the chicks’ favor.
So what do the volunteers actually do? They feed birds, clean cages, and assist in the hand-feeding of birds who are too ill/concussed to feed themselves (this takes two people). They pick up injured birds. They take calls and assist in outreach programs. They pick up food, prepare food, get supplies, hose down dirty cages, vacuum, clean floors. They exercise able-bodied birds that need to get into flying condition in preparation for release.
It is grueling work, but the rewards can be astounding. In the past months I was able to assist in the care and feeding of a Great Horned Owl chick – five weeks old – found on a crowded golf course, no parents or nest anywhere to be seen. (After consideration, it was determined that it was too dangerous to just leave him on the golf course. Rehabbers try to unite bird parents with their chicks, but sometimes it just isn’t possible.) The chick is doing well and will be released when he’s ready.