A Lesson Learned Today
I often assist with wildlife rescues. Over the years I have helped with injured pelicans, owls, eagles, swans, hawks, geese, and probably other species I don’t remember. Unfortunately, the successful recovery rate has been less than I have hoped for.
Regulations are in place that dictate which injuries can and cannot be treated. So, if I take a bird to a rehab specialist with an elbow injury, recovery may be possible. If the same bird has a shoulder injury, regulations require the bird be euthanized. An examination with diagnostic equipment provides the guidance on treatment or not.
Sometimes the birds that partially recover, but not to the point of being able to live in the wild again, become educational birds. Such birds live the remainder of their lives in zoos or nature centers. I have pondered that fate for a long time. What must it be like for a once wild animal to suddenly become dependent on humans…humans that now control every aspect of life, humans that can approach closer than the animal was ever used to due to confinement, humans that in the best interest of the animals have restricted movement? On the other hand, is death to the animal a worthwhile option compared to captivity? Until today I wondered about such questions. Is rehabbing to confinement appropriate? Then early this afternoon my question was answered.
A family member and I were touring the Quarry Hill Park and Nature Center outside of Rochester, Minnesota. Quarry Hill Park and Nature Center is feature-packed educational center operated in a partnership between the City of Rochester and the Friends of the Quarry Hill Nature Center. Not only does the park have several miles of trails to hike, but they also have an interactive nature center and many live animal displays. Their American kestrel is a retired falconer bird and the northern saw-whet owl recovered, with permanent injuries, after being hit by a car. I do not know the story behind the reptiles, amphibians, and insects.
The lesson I learned today was really an observation that painted a very clear picture. When my family member and I walked through the wildlife viewing area and the animal display, we had nobody to share space with. I could move around to compose the pictures I wanted and take as much time as needed at the displays. Before we left I went to the car to switch lenses and when I returned there were a half-dozen or more teen girls enjoying the various birds and bird displays. From my quiet spot where I was shooting pictures I could overhear their conversation about birds and wingspans and how the birds moved around. Then they began asking me questions about birds, birding, and nature photography. As we talked the bells were going off in my head… captive (recovered-but dependent on human) birds had opened the door to an appreciation for wildlife and the outdoors. When I explained why the center had a mist net hung (to temporarily capture birds harmlessly for banding and release) and that the ladies could read the banding records in a display behind them, they were fascinated. Again, it was the bird displays that planted the seed of appreciation for the outdoors. When I bid farewell to the young ladies, each chair at the bird feeding viewing windows was occupied by curious persons who will eventually be a part of the generation to take over the care for our environment when we are no longer able.
It has taken me some time to understand that the line between wild and captive does not have to be black and white. I now realize the gray area (educational birds and animals) is important and has value. I do hope there are never enough educational birds and animals due to recoveries and returns to the wild, but I do understand and appreciate the value of educational birds.
Thank you to the City of Rochester and the Friends of the Quarry Hill Nature Center for a very nice park and nature center!
Following are images recorded at the Quarry Hill Park and Nature Center (all animals were captive except for the eastern gray squirrels) Notice in the timber rattlesnake images how in one photo the sheathed fang is visible. Notice in several others how the snake appears to almost be cuddly – almost: