In the Admit Room

By Stephanie Herman, Wildlife Care Center Manager

When I arrive at the Wildlife Care Center on a Tuesday morning, the building feels empty. There are no voices, just the white noise of our ventilation fans and the occasional clatter of dishes or cage doors. Yet it is the busiest time of day, when every baby animal is hungry, every enclosure is dirty, and every medication needs to be administered. Since there are only so many hands, especially during the Summer of COVID, everyone is giving 150% to get the work done on schedule.

Today I’ll be here for 12 hours. For most of the day, my primary responsibilities will be to answer the front door, provide support to hotline volunteers working off-site, and admit and assess new patients. There are five animals that arrived before I did, waiting for me in the admit room. The hotline team needs help as well, and I identify a photo of a nestling Chestnut-backed Chickadee for them and remind them how to troubleshoot ground-nesting baby birds versus birds that have fallen from their nests.

The doorbell rings.

Baby bird sits on a scale with intake paperwork nearby.
Wildlife Care Center Intake

“The animals and people on the other side of the door reinforce the need for our work and drive our commitment to keep operating even during the COVID crisis.”

Someone is bringing in a cat-caught fledgling robin. We talk about keeping cats inside, but they’re not convinced. I hope the seeds of our discussion will sprout eventually. Since the injury isn’t immediately life-threatening, I set the robin up with heat in a quiet space so it can calm down before its exam; the data tells us this will increase its chances of survival.

The doorbell rings. A volunteer has arrived to release a fledgling Anna’s Hummingbird back into the wild. I catch it up, which takes a while—it’s definitely ready to go!

Back in admit, there are two Barn Swallows in a plastic clamshell that used to hold a slice of ice cream cake. They fell from their nest and one of them was injured by a cat. It has a puncture wound and some nerve damage to its leg, so I place a wrap to support the leg while the injury heals and get the bird antibiotics, fluids, and pain meds.

The doorbell rings and rings.

A volunteer brings a fledgling Western Screech-Owl back from her conditioning flight cage for a pre-release exam. I take a look at the owl—it’s a green light, the bird will go free tomorrow night.

I clean the swallow’s puncture wound. It is 11 a.m., and I have been at work for one hour.

A man brings a Mourning Dove he saved from a jay family. “Not in my yard!” he tells me proudly. I try to be gentle and persuasive as I explain that even predators need to eat, especially this time of year when they have babies. We’ll do what we can for the bird, but our purpose is to help manage the impacts humans have on their wild neighbors, not to interfere with natural processes.

The dove’s wing is badly mangled, fractured in multiple places, and much of the tissue is dying and infected. The wounds don’t look fresh and the bird is very thin. It was likely injured by a car or a cat. I euthanize the bird, and this one is a bit sharper, because I think of the jays who could have benefitted from the dove’s already-ending life. At least it isn’t suffering further.

The next patient has $20 clipped to its intake form. As the person responsible for the center’s purchasing and budgeting, I say a little gratitude prayer for the support. Twenty dollars will buy us five days of mealworms or a week of laundry detergent.

The bird inside the box is a nestling Cooper’s Hawk who looks quite weak and cries quietly when I touch him. He has a warble on his leg, a type of parasitic larvae. Warbles can cause a lot of damage, and I find and remove several. The more I do, the more extensive the damage appears, so I stop cleaning and dose the bird with a pain med. I’ll come back and work on the wound further once the bird has some relief.

I answer the door.

It is the chickadee nestling I identified over email earlier, and the woman who found it stayed up all night to feed it. Unfortunately she didn’t have the right food for him, and I’m worried he’ll develop diarrhea that could be life-threatening in such a small bird. But I’m also touched by her dedication. I know from experience it is not easy to wake up to feed a baby all night long.

The doorbell rings again as I get the chickadee settled. The man outside is bringing me another bird injured by an outdoor cat. He wants me to be honest—we just kill everything, don’t we?

It is 11:30 a.m.

This is how the day goes. Eventually I discover that the hawk’s leg is uninjured beneath the discharge and larvae honeycombed through its downy feathers. The man who wanted me to be honest had brought a very lucky bird, a Spotted Towhee who was largely uninjured and would primarily need antibiotics and time to regrow its lost flight feathers. We save the animals we can—a young crow with respiratory injuries, a Dark-eyed Junco that ended up in a bucket of motor oil. We relieve the suffering of those we can’t help—a goose with two badly broken legs, a Mallard that arrived dying after weeks of poor care in the apartment of its well-meaning but poorly prepared rescuers.

The doorbell rings more than 30 times today. Comparatively, it is a slow day for intakes. Still, there isn’t a quiet moment, and my step counter reads 10,000+ at the end of my shift. I make sure my staff get lunch breaks, but I forget to drink water until after closing. In the end, we finish everything we need to do, and I even get a few minutes to chat with my staff and look through my email. In 12 hours I will do it all over again.

Though I’m tired, I’m not discouraged. The animals and people on the other side of the door reinforce the need for our work and drive our commitment to keep operating even during the COVID crisis. It’s not an easy thing to do, for our staff who have been working full tilt for months or for our organization, which is footing a hefty bill for the additional staffing that keeps us functioning. But the 3,700+ animals we’ve admitted so far this year, and the caring people who rescued them, validate that we’re doing the right thing. So at the end of the day, when I collapse on my couch and put my aching feet up, I know I’m making a difference.