Birds find refuge in Friendship
Friendship — Cindy Mackie and Beth Settlemyer have always had a fondness for birds. On May 23, the pair was rehabilitating a fledgling robin that had been flung from its nest. The spirited bird's eye was cocked to the sky, indicating a condition known as star gazing, an affliction of the nervous system.
"Hopefully he'll grow out of it," said Settlemyer, who holds a graduate degree in wildlife management and wildlife diseases. Without the knowledge and compassion of Mackie and Settlemyer, the robin wouldn't have a chance at survival.
On the Rush of Wings wildlife rehabilitation center, a certified nonprofit organization located on Martin's Point in Friendship, began as a dream that morphed into reality a year and a half ago when construction of the aviary began. The first season commenced last July. Thirteen birds were treated, from loons to mallards, and four were successfully rehabilitated and released.
"After two years of planning, research, and going back to the drawing board, finally we came to the realization that if we could pump ocean water into pools, we might have a chance to maintain and rehab sea birds," said Settlemyer.
Of the process, Beth added, "Talk about gray hair."
Settlemyer interned with Avian Haven of Freedom for two years, treating perching birds and raptors.
The aviary was built to strict specifications to appropriately treat sea birds although their license allows the center to treat any migratory bird. Settlemyer and Mackie are specifically equipped to examine, stabilize and treat pelagic birds.
When there is space in the clinic, the partners and volunteers try to aid any bird that requires help. "We have to be very careful, because sea birds can only last in salt water. The aviary and clinic is a niche rescue, and is the only private wildlife center equipped to care for pelagic birds in the state," said Mackie.
The center can't be overwhelmed by shore birds during the summer season, however, because other centers can provide adequate treatment for such species. Pelagic birds only have a chance at On the Rush of Wings.
The aviary is an elaborate and extensive operation, built to serve the needs of sea birds. The design closely mimics environmental landscapes, so birds heal in a familiar habitat. The roof is made of Plexiglas panels, so birds can see the sky. Two saltwater pools are modeled to fit the needs of varying species, whether a diving bird or a wading bird, requiring a deeper pool or graduated steps. The pools are fed by a 40-gallon-per-minute pump that draws water from the nearby ocean. The system is an open system, maintaining clean water. There are also different substrates, or floor textures, for the birds to walk on to avoid foot complications such as bumble foot.
The clinic has seven recovery cages, extensive examination equipment, and therapy pools to treat hypothermia and measure the waterproofing of the bird. The clinic is also equipped with an egg incubator and a stereo system that plays ocean sounds. When the birds are stable, they are transferred to the aviary.
Birds are fed fresh and often live fish, stored in two large, aerated drums. There is a haul out to catch live fish on the property and O'Hara's of Rockland donates herring for the operation.
Most of the birds arrive to the center from the public or marine wardens. The most common ailments treated are emaciation and inadequate waterproofing.
"One of the most exciting things that happened last year was when we rehabilitated a pre-fledgling gull, its age prohibiting flight. When the gull was ready for release it took him a few days, but when he opened up his wings and took off it was an exhilarating feeling. He was really magnificent when he flew, and it was amazing to know we had something to do with helping him back into the wild," said Mackie.
Mackie and Settlemyer limit interaction to avoid imprinting on the birds, aiming to preserve the wild nature of the animals.
"We always tell people, this is your wildlife, we're just helping, and that's why we need your support."
Visit ontherushofwings.org for more information.
Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached by email at JLaaka@courierpublicationsllc.com or by phone at 594-4401 ext. 118.