As a volunteer, Richard Spinney often transports sick and injured owls to Avian Haven, a bird rehabilitation center in Freedom. Credit: Courtesy of Richard Spinney

This story is the ninth in a series by Richard Spinney about his experiences transporting injured and sick wild birds for Avian Haven bird rehabilitation center in Freedom, Maine.

I hear the bird chirping on my cell phone again. That is my ringtone for Avian Haven, a bird rehabilitation facility in the town of Freedom. I will answer it, and Diane Winn, co-founder of Avian Haven, will ask, “Richard, are you available?”

There is a bird that has been injured somehow — maybe by being hit by a car, or colliding with a window, or being caught by a cat. Perhaps it ate something that disagreed with it, like lead. (Did you know a piece of lead the size of a grain of rice can kill a bald eagle? Yes, I told you that in one of my earlier stories.) Maybe the bird somehow got into some oily substance that coated its feathers. Whatever the cause of the injury or illness, somehow Avian Haven was notified and now there’s a bird that needs a ride to Avian Haven.

How was Avian Haven notified? Maybe the person who found the bird called Avian Haven by phone and spoke directly with Diane or another staff member. If that was the case, the person at Avian Haven got all the necessary information to plan the next step of rescue. In return, Avian Haven provided the person with information about how to care for the bird until a volunteer transporter could arrive to pick it up.

Or perhaps the person who found the bird called after hours or when the phone was busy, and so they were sent to the voicemail recording. The voice on the recording told them to leave a message with their name, location, type of bird, injury and their phone number. The voice will also tell them what to do with the bird, and what not to do while they are waiting for a return phone call.

The “Bird Rescue” section of the Avian Haven website states: “It is important to remember that, from the point of view of an injured bird, its human rescuer is yet another source of stress. A bird that sits quietly on your finger or in your lap is more likely paralyzed with fear than appreciating your intent to help it. Wild animals do not find human touch soothing. Injured birds should be placed in a box that has been lined with an old towel or piece of clothing; the box should be covered and placed in a warm, quiet place away from children and pets. Do not put food or water in the box.”

No matter when the message was left, Avian Haven will call back! Don’t get impatient and think you can help the bird in the meantime. The best thing to do: Leave the bird alone.

This is from a post on Avian Haven’s Facebook page this past October: “We will mention again, don’t try [bathing a bird] at home! Bathing a wild bird is a surprisingly complex process that requires a precise ratio of detergent to water. Both wash and rinse water must be at a certain temperature, and the bird must be thoroughly dried or hypothermia will set in. If you find a bird whose feathers are soiled, please do not attempt to clean it yourself. Keep the bird warm and call us, or your nearest wild bird rehabilitator!”

This is from a Facebook post by Avian Haven on June 27, 2019, about a gull that had gotten covered by cooking oil: “AH staff members worked until 9 p.m. that night to clean up the herring gull. It took approximately two gallons of Dawn!”

Again from the Avian Haven website: “It is a violation of state and federal law for members of the public to hold most species of wild birds in captivity. Improper diet and/or medical care can do permanent damage in a very short period of time. ‘Good Samaritans’ may rescue birds in distress, but must transfer them immediately to a rehabilitator who has the proper state and federal permits. Rehabilitation permits are not ‘just a legal formality’ — they are issued to people who have demonstrated knowledge regarding wildlife nutrition, husbandry, injury, parasites, disease, etc., and who have appropriate housing facilities for wild animals.”

Avian Haven enlists the help of volunteer transporters to pick up injured and sick wild birds found throughout the state and drive them to Avian Haven’s rehabilitation center.

Working as one of these volunteer transporters, depending upon the situation, I might carry with me a net, heavy gloves, a suitable size box, towels — maybe even a bed sheet.

Richard Spinney once transported a Canada goose like this one to Avian Haven, a bird rehabilitation center in Freedom. Credit: Courtesy of Richard Spinney

I once went to get a Canada goose that was in a fellow’s basement. It had landed in his yard, which was surrounded by a high fence. The goose, despite its best efforts, could not clear the fence when it tried to take off and had become exhausted. To protect the goose from predators, the owner had put the bird “in a warm, dark place away from children and pets,” as is instructed on the Avian Haven website. It was not there for very long before I arrived.

The light in the basement was provided by a 25-watt bulb. The basement was dark. I heard the goose hiss, but could not see it.

“Where is it?” I asked.

“Right in front of you,” he said.

Yes, it was. The bed sheet I was holding was snatched from my hands by the goose, which backed away and hissed at me. It had rained the night before and the floor was still wet. The sheet got wet and, when I dropped it over the goose, it clung to the bird. I carried the sheet-wrapped goose up the steep stairs and put it into a large crate with a thick towel covering the bottom. I placed the crate in my back seat and the wet sheet in my trunk.

Then there was the time I went to pick up a “large owl.” That was the only description given to Avian Haven. It was a “big owl that had been injured.” It was in a box, ready to go. When the box was placed in my back seat by the rescuer, I understood why there was little description of the owl: It had been sprayed by a skunk. The rescuer had spent minimal time with the bird and was not going back near it to get a more detailed description. It took two days before the skunk smell left my car.

Richard Spinney lives in Brewer with his wife of 48 years. He retired from the U.S. Coast Guard after 20 years’ service, sold real estate for 23 years while also teaching adult ed algebra for 10 years, was a contributing editor of The Maine Genealogist for a few years and the treasurer of The Maine Genealogical Society for 14 years. He has volunteered for Avian Haven since the summer of 2016.

Watch more: