The abundance of young orphaned birds challenges local shelters.
By KANTELE FRANKO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
Heather Merritt and Aimee Pico are in the business of rehabilitation, but this year they are finding their patients less flighty than usual.
Merritt, owner of Birds in Flight Sanctuary in Warren, and Pico, who owns Lake Milton Raptor Center, are taking in more orphaned baby birds this year than in the past.
The two owners and several other volunteers are working 60 to 80 hours per week to keep up with the treatment of more than 70 abandoned and injured birds of varying ages, most of which are young.
And the number of ailing birds is increasing.
Though the centers are not open to the public, the birds are often found and brought in by area residents and bird watchers and then treated by a local veterinarian, Merritt said.
Individuals seeking care for an injured or abandoned bird should contact Pico at (330) 281-5455.
Merritt said larger numbers of birds are orphaned or injured and then found in the spring because of late hatching and migration hazards.
But Tom Henry, a wildlife biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, said the higher number of young birds being found is not always a bad sign.
"I would prefer to see a larger number of young out there, even being turned into rehabilitators," Henry said, noting the higher numbers as an indication of a good reproductive year.
He said rehabilitators like Pico and Merritt are important because they have experience treating birds without teaching the birds to become dependent on humans.
Sanctuaries also are important because it is illegal in Ohio to possess some birds without permits, Henry said.
"You have a lot of people who find a bird in their yard and take it in to help it out, but without permits, it's illegal to take them in," Merritt said.
Merritt and Pico give about 100 presentations yearly at schools, fairs and parks to educate students and area residents about conservation, rehabilitation of birds and the related state regulations. They also use five live birds to illustrate their points.
Earnings from the presentations, combined with donations by volunteers and the owners, help to fund the rehabilitation services, which usually cost at least $200 per bird, Merritt said.
The two centers treat about 350 birds per year, and the birds stay between two and 10 weeks, depending on their degree of injury or illness, Merritt said. About 95 percent of the birds regain their health and are released into the wild.
Though the costs are extensive, the bigger reward is teaching students and community members about their feathery neighbors and passing on a little of the passion, Pico said.