March 22, 2012 was the day I embarked on my new journey into wild bird care and rehabilitation. This is why:
I filmed this Canada goose after notifying staff at The Dupont Education Center on the waterfront in Wilmington of its presence. I had been painting the wetlands at the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge for a few hours that day, and was about to pack up and head home for dinner before my teaching gig in Newark. I knew something was wrong the second I spotted the Canada goose, paddling and spinning against the flow at the tide gate. The Delaware Nature Society member on duty contacted Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Newark, Delaware, whose receptionist asked that we determine whether the goose was capable of flight. If the goose could fly, it was likely healthy enough to feed itself and survive on its own.
By now the lethargic but determined goose had clumsily scratched its way up the muddy bank of the stream, crossed the gate on foot, then plopped into the calm waters of the tidal pool. The elevated boardwalk provided shade for the goose, who clearly was not capable of dipping her head into the water for a drink. Nor could she fold her wings completely, steer, preen, or paddle properly. No way could she fly. A failed attempt at flushing the goose confirmed this.
We reported our observations to the bird rescue and they agreed to send someone out, but it could be a while before locating an available transport volunteer. I’d have captured the bird myself if I knew the best way how. At least now she rested in a safer place, shaded from the unseasonably warm late-day sun, and help was on the way.
I skipped my dinner trip so I could wait as long as possible with the goose, and left just in time to make class. On my trek back to my car, I mentally kicked myself in the heart for not completing training at Tri-State Bird Rescue over a year ago. Back then I had attended an information session—step one in joining the volunteer staff. All that stood between me and saving injured birds was a one day Bird Care Workshop. Twice before scheduling conflicts prevented my attendance to these few and far between events. When would the next training day be? I could look later, after class, right?
*sad, angry thoughts of goose stuck in six-pack ring*
*load website on iPhone*
What were the chances? The next workshop was to be held 2 days later, followed by a 2 month gap before the next opportunity.
*place call and leave message, begging to join this weekend’s workshop if there’s any room left*
About 20 minutes passed before I received a return call from Julie, the volunteer coordinator. She told me there was room, and instructed me to “just show up on Saturday.” She was heading out of town so she wouldn’t be there—just tell them that Julie added me at the last minute, and present my registration fee.
Since March 24, 2012 I have spent 6-16 hours a week caring for injured and orphaned wild birds at Tri-State. If only I had begun sooner, I might have saved that Canada goose. But, at least now I could (and have) assisted in the rescue of dozens and dozens of birds in her place.
As for that poor goose, not a happy ending. A week or so into my on-the-job training, I asked my supervisor to help me uncover the fate of the goose. The admission log had her listed as “DOA” or Dead On Arrival, and I needed to know more.
The supervisor showed me the file drawer where records of each bird’s admission, condition, medical inspection and diagnoses could be found. My goose was “severely dehydrated, malnourished, feathers caked with mud” and “began to seize upon arrival at the rescue, and went into shock” before the staff could transfer her into a playpen for treatment. And she died.
Not all bird rescue stories have happy endings. This is the reality of life, including the impact of human life on wildlife.
Some may wonder why anyone would go through so much trouble to save a single wild life—one in a million of a very common, rather unpopular “pest” species, at that. Destroyer of plane engines, eater of athletic fields and corporate campus pooper. Is it worth it?
In our history, it is not uncommon for a species once considered “common” by one generation to become endangered or extinct within the next, due to our own negligence or irresponsibility. Overpopulations of animals come from human interference as well. I see my volunteer hours as an act of reverence for our shared life force—infinitely great, embodied in forms so delicate.
Plus, most bird rescue stories have happy, even miraculous endings. I will share those here with you too.