The Wildlife Care Center in the Time of COVID-19

By Steph Herman, Wildlife Care Center Manager, and Bob Sallinger, Director of Conservation

As the only facility in the metro region devoted to providing emergency and lifesaving medical care for wildlife, our Wildlife Care Center has for decades operated 365 days a year no matter the circumstances. We take this commitment very seriously. We believe that providing injured wild animals with high-quality, humane medical services and the public with access to useful and accurate information to deal with wildlife emergencies is an essential service. For decades, we have staffed our facility through holidays, snowstorms, natural disasters, recessions, and all manner of challenge. We know that shutting our facility would not only result in increased suffering of wild animals but also increased risk to the public as they attempt to care for and treat wild animals on their own. We are doing all that we can to maintain our services throughout the COVID-19 crisis. 

Dr. Connie Lo reviews an x-ray of an injured bird on a screen.
Veterinarian Dr. Connie Lo reviews an x-ray of an injured patient.

We are also committed to fully supporting efforts to limit the impacts of COVID-19 and keep our staff, volunteers, the public, and people utilizing our Wildlife Care Center services as safe as possible. In order to maintain our basic services and meet COVID-19 crisis management goals, we have had to make some significant changes to the way we operate. 

First, we have made the decision to stop using volunteers due to the demands of working in close quarters in our very cramped facility. This means the loss of over 150 volunteer shifts per week: approximately 500 hours or 12 full-time positions. We are temporarily adding new staff to fill this gap, and will have them in nonoverlapping teams of two to reduce risk for exposure, so that if one team becomes ill, we will be able to bring in unexposed teams to substitute. This situation will be particularly challenging as we are entering our busiest time of the year. Spring and summer are when we receive the vast majority of our 3,000-4,000 patients and 15,000+ wildlife-related phone calls. This necessary change has increased our costs substantially during the pandemic, and we encourage you to support the Wildlife Care Center through our challenge match campaign.

Third, we are working to streamline our services as much as possible. We will be focusing our phone services on the highest priority cases and emergencies. We will also need to make difficult decisions about what animals we treat. Our goal is to continue providing quality care to all of the animals that come to us, but the reality is that we will also have to triage based on available resources. We will prioritize strategies that provide the most good for the most animals.

Second, we have closed the interior of the building to all but essential personnel and moved to no-contact animal drop-off procedures. As seen in the photo, if you drop off an animal with us, you’ll be asked to put the animal on the prepared shelving, fill out a paper form, ring the doorbell, and stand back behind orange cones. Staff will retrieve the animal and paperwork as soon as possible.

We desperately need your help to keep wildlife safe this spring to ensure that we are able to help the people and wildlife in need of our services. This is the time to get proactive about minimizing our impact on wild animals. Here are some steps you can take now, to help:

Wildlife Care Center staff Stephanie Herman and McKenzie Joslin-Snyder treat an injured Bald Eagle.
  • Help us focus our resources on injured and orphaned wildlife and other urgent wildlife issues. Please email, instead of call, if you have a non-urgent question. Due to decreased staffing, we’re not able to provide updates on patients in care at this time.
  • Make your windows bird safe before a bird hits your window during spring migration!
  • Keep your cat safe at home—as baby birds begin popping up all over the city, cats are the number-one danger to them. It is crucial you manage the risk posed by your pet.
  • Learn what a healthy fledgling looks like, and give them space! Bringing healthy fledglings into the WCC is not a solution for the birds, who need to learn from their parents, and this practice will only overwhelm the WCC quickly. 
  • During yard work, be extra conscious that wildlife is everywhere this time of year, and they’re extremely good at remaining low-profile! Many babies come to us each year because of tree trimming, lawn mowing, home improvement and demolition, and moving woodpiles.
  • Do not intentionally trap, relocate, or kill adult animals—it isn’t humane any time of year, but in the spring you are almost certainly orphaning their babies. There are other options! Check out our website or give us a call to get help problem-solving.

Our team is adapting to this new normal as quickly as we can, and working out innovative solutions as we go. Regardless of how the details change in response to this crisis, our staff and our organization remain committed to the health and safety of the people and animals that need our help. But we can’t do it alone—we need your help to keep Portland’s wildlife safe and in the wild this spring. And thank you for supporting our Match Challenge to keep the Wildlife Care Center operating without our corps of dedicated volunteers!