Wildlife Care Center Phone Call Study Provides Valuable Information About Urban Wildlife Populations

By Wildlife Care Center operations manager Lacy Campbell and avian biologist Joe Liebezeit, Bird Alliance of Oregon

Each year the Wildlife Care Center takes in approximately 3,000 wild animals for treatment. However, we respond to nearly three times that number of wildlife-related phone calls. These phone calls provide valuable insights into issues affecting our urban wildlife populations and the way in which people interact with wildlife on the urban landscape. The calls run the gamut from people reporting interesting sightings and trying to identify what they are seeing to reports of injured and sick animals, illegal poaching, and human-wildlife conflicts. We have 14 volunteers per week whose primary role is to answer the phones and to manage animal intakes. The Wildlife Care Center is the only facility in the Portland metropolitan region that is open seven days a week, 365 days a year to answer wildlife-related inquiries.

Using data collected over the past two years, we conducted a study summarizing the phone call information coming into the Wildlife Care Center. Our goal was to gain a better understanding of the types of calls we are receiving in order to better guide our outreach, response services, and conservation activities. The other purpose of this effort was to explore the dataset and to identify places where we can improve data collection moving forward.

One of the first things we did was map out the areas from which we receive calls. Not surprisingly, almost all calls are from the Portland-metro region (88%). What is surprising is that we have received calls from nearly every other state in the U.S.! Many people turn to the internet for advice about what to do when you find a baby bird on the ground, and our website’s baby bird page often shows up at the top of Google search results across the country. The page includes the Wildlife Care Center’s phone number, which means we end up offering services on urban wildlife at a nationwide scale.

Well over half of the calls we receive are related to questions about injured wildlife (31%) and caring for baby birds (29%). Calls about specific conservation issues like bird strikes, cat-caught birds, and coyote sightings are far fewer (<10%), but with close to 10,000 calls per year, that still adds up to a lot of information. Many of the calls categorized as “injured wildlife” may actually be “cat-caught” or “bird strike” cases, but if we are unsuccessful in securing detailed information from callers, we cannot make those assumptions. Our volunteers work hard to get the most precise information possible when receiving calls. This is no small feat, especially during baby bird season when the care center is very busy and we receive more than 50 calls per day — nearly one call every nine minutes!

Despite challenges, the power of the information we are collecting is clear. As an example, the small percentage of bird strike calls we receive (4%) reveals a wealth of information when you drill down into the data. We know that songbirds make up most of the bird strike calls (59%) and this includes over 30 songbird species. American Robins make up most of the bird strike calls (>70%) although other species of higher conservation concern – including seven neotropical migrant species like Black-headed Grosbeak and Yellow Warbler – were also documented.

Ultimately, this dataset is allowing us to track important wildlife issues in our urban area, both through time and across the landscape, and can help us prioritize our urban conservation efforts. Already there is a demand for this information in the wider community. For example, we are collaborating with Portland State University to provide coyote sighting locations, gleaned from the phone tracking database, to the Portland Urban Coyote Project. This is a good example of the power of this type of information to identify hotspots in the landscape to direct conservation and outreach attention.

As we continue to serve the public to reconcile urban wildlife interactions, the data we collect on these calls enables us to monitor the pulse of conservation challenges for wildlife in Portland and the wider region.

Every year the Wildlife Care Center treats 3,000 injured or orphaned native animals. If you would like to make a donation to support our wildlife rehabilitation work at the Wildlife Care Center, click here.