Audubon’s efforts give injured animals new hope

Wildlife Rehab Volunteer Zoe Sheehan tube feeds a nestling Mourning Dove.

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Audubon’s efforts give injured animals new hope

SHARON — The Sharon Audubon Center located just off of Cornwall Bridge Road is made up of 1,149 acres of mostly woodland habitat and has helped countless animals return to the wild.

The refuge acts as a temporary home for injured and orphaned songbirds, birds of prey, small mammals and reptiles. Nationally it serves as one of two Audubon centers with an animal rehab clinic and, as stated by Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation Sunny Kellner, “is always busy this time of year.”

Kellner, who has been in the role since June 2015, grew up in the area and started working as a volunteer at age 13. It was at the Sharon Audubon that she discovered that helping animals could be both her career and lifestyle.

When asked about the rehabilitation process, she emphasized that every situation is unique and that there is “no one size fits all” for patient care. The process often starts with a report that an animal has been found either injured or orphaned and images are then taken of the animal to determine age, condition, and species.

Once brought in and a full examination is complete, patients are stabilized and treated for any life-threatening issues while also being slowly re-hydrated and fed. It is at this point that staff members and veterinarians will treat all other issues and administer any antibiotics. Continued care is provided up until the patient shows signs of self-reliance for two weeks (self-feed, weatherproofed feathers, ability to move freely).

A North American Porcupine rehabilitated at the Sharon Audubon Center.Provided

The most common injuries seen in the clinic are derived from human impact, while toxicities and pathologies follow as other contributors. Examples of human impact injuries include motor vehicle/window strikes, attacks by house pets, and entrapment.

In the past few years, woodpeckers and nuthatches have been disproportionately affected by the sticky tape being wrapped around tree trunks. Put up in an effort to repel spongy moths, trunk space is now taken up by this plastic that is simultaneously trapping and killing bark-climbing birds.

The overarching goal of the clinic is to return the patients back to their natural environments as quickly as possible, but more importantly, in a viable state. For some patients this may mean being in the clinic for a few days while others need to stay closer to a year. Of the small mammals that the Sharon Audubon does take in, porcupines are at the forefront.

Kellner, who specializes in porcupine rehab, explained that the babies typically stay over winter and are released in the spring. The release rate for all species falls between 40-43%.

Animals that are “non-releasable” due to human imprinting or permanent injury typically become residents. Current resident animals include the reptiles on display in the Education Center and the raptors in the outdoor aviaries.

Three fledgling American Robins getting ready to move into an outdoor aviary.Provided

Though the clinic is animal-centered, it is human-dominated. The amount of help and the speed at which animals receive it, is dependent on the number of people ready to jump in. The summer months, commonly referred to as “baby season”, are especially busy. Volunteers and staff work around the clock feeding and caring for baby birds of all species, but specifically Chimney Swifts.

“They need to be fed about every 20 minutes for at least 14 hours,” stated Kellner.

Volunteers learn just about everything - how to feed, handle, identify, and care for patients. They are welcomed year-round with no prior experience required, just the desire to help.

The sprawling property is home to 11 miles of trails, two ponds, raptor aviaries, the Pollinator Garden and a working sugarhouse. In addition to animal rehabilitation, it functions as a community nature center where people of all ages have the opportunity to engage and educate themselves on local wildlife.

The Sharon Audubon has plans to extend their premises in the coming years, providing a larger space for wildlife rehab. Though still in the works, the goal is to have waiting, triage, and isolation rooms, as well as more aviaries and storage areas. It is anticipated that this building will be separate from the public areas, allowing more privacy for patients. The planning of this project comes at a “great time” as pressing illnesses and more regulations are being brought up.

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