I have recently discovered something that has given my life such meaning and improves my attitude and outlook drastically each time I go. Before I talk more about it, though, this post requires a “Do not try this at home” disclaimer.
Do not try this at home. I get to do the following things because I am working with a licensed organization, have gone through orientation and training, and work under close supervision.
Now, on with the fun stuff. I have started volunteering for a group called Wildwoods. Located in Duluth, MN they take in injured, sick and orphaned wildlife and do what they can to rehabilitate them for release back into the wild. Since I don’t have my pre-exposure rabies shots and I don’t have a license from the DNR I am limited in what I can do, plus I’ve only been volunteering a couple weeks, but I have done enough to know that I was born for it. Since I am a beginner a large part of my duties is to feed the squirrels who aren’t quite ready for release yet. This involves holding them and feeding them formula from a syringe. Each time I go, though, I learn something new and witness amazing things.
My First Day: Training
Learned how to feed squirrels and observed the experts feeding and caring for nestlings and orphaned foxes and fawns. One of the foxes was a teeny tiny baby silver fox; he was smaller than my kitten was at 1.5 months old. I am not allowed to touch the foxes because they are “rabies vector” species (they can carry rabies), as well as raccoons and bats and other things, but I can observe, and let me tell you, it’s incredible. Just watching these things going on around me, being in the same room as wild animals, it was mystifying.
Fed squirrels, was allowed to climb in the aviary and feed worms to the starlings and robins, who were just about ready for release. To top off this incredible experience, there was a beautiful young Baard Owl there and I was allowed to feed it chunks of raw chicken. He was a gorgeous bird who looked super soft, and for the most part felt super soft, but the feathers near the skin felt a little pokey. This was an experience I will never forget as long as I live.
Two fawns had arrived and I got to feed them in addition to the squirrels. I had never held an animal with hooves before and I remember thinking the hooves were a lot smoother than I thought they’d be, and the fawn’s fur was softer than I expected. I also remember having to fight back tears of disbelief and amazement that I was actually getting to do this.
Sounds inspiring, right? Want to go cuddle a fawn, right? Well too bad. You still can’t try this at home. Don’t try to cuddle with wild animals. Call professionals, then find a place to volunteer.
Yesterday started fairly “normally” except the squirrels had already been fed. I went in to feed the starlings that hadn’t been released yet, then my supervisor trained me to feed the Flicker nestlings (you can see a picture of what they look like here, though the photo was not taken at Wildwoods). Flickers are relatives of woodpeckers and the craziest thing about these guys is their tongues. So our tongue goes down into our throats. The tongue of a Flicker, instead of going down the throat, goes UP along the inside center of the skull. There is an indentation in the tops of their heads and when they stick their crazily long tongues out you can see it move the skin of that indentation. It is FREAKY and cool and weird. After that insane experience it got even better. I witnessed the licensed rehabbers rescue an EAGLE, America’s national bird. I want to make it clear right now that I never touched the eagle—they are very dangerous; talons as long as my fingers—but the licensed rehabbers allowed me to stand in the corner and watch while they explained what they were doing so I could learn. The eagle was beautiful. He was an immature male so he didn’t have a white head yet, but he was still magnificent. He was brought to Wildwoods because he had a broken wing, and luckily the break was mid-shaft so it can be mended. They cleaned and dressed the wound and got it ready for transport to the Raptor Center at the U of Mn in St. Paul where the eagle will get specialized care.
When I got home that night after seeing the eagle, I kept thinking, “this just doesn’t happen in real life. I don’t think these people know this isn’t normal.” I was so excited and mesmerized that when I walked through my front door at 10pm I couldn’t fall asleep for hours. The craziness, the drama, the rush and the high of it all left me feeling stunned and incredibly blessed. Very few things in this life make me feel as useful, fulfilled and excited as wildlife rehabilitation does.
If you see an animal that you think needs help and are near Duluth, MN, call Wildwoods at 218-491-3604 to find out what you should do. Otherwise, take a look at the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association website.