Boise’s Only Bird Rescue
By Laura Wolstenholme, photography by Mark Dyrud
Frequently last May, director Jennifer Rockwell walked through the Ruth Melichar Bird Center (RMBC), quickly attending to tasks to keep her wards stable. The RMBC, a branch of the Animals In Distress Association, is an emergency room, intensive care, and rehabilitation ward for birds all rolled into one, and the busy season had begun. In the baby bird room, 150 tiny birds, nestlings, and juveniles, lay fragile and helpless; and just as mama birds do, staff needed to feed each bird every 20 minutes for the next 12 hours. Another room housed juvenile birds being taught to eat on their own, and a medical room sheltered injured birds that need to be monitored and cared for according to their needs. This meant another 150 birds requiring hands-on-care several times daily. The tasks required to keep all of these birds recovering begs the question, how does the RMBC do it all?
Rockwell answers firmly, “Our volunteers.” Without their passionate, consistent help, there’s no way the center could function. The RMBC is the only wild bird rehabilitation center in the Treasure Valley, operating without city, state, or federal funds. The center helps an average number of 2,500 birds each year, most within a five-month period from May to September. The center works with local veterinarians and can splint broken wings and bones, handle trauma, and administer medication.
2015 has been a typical year for the number of birds that have needed help, the majority having fallen from a nest or victims of cats, or from car and window impacts. All types of birds have entered the center, from city birds to less common types like great horned owls or black chinned hummingbirds.
Rockwell explains that each year is unique because of many factors: a winter’s harshness, spring’s arrival date, temperature fluctuations, and storms all influence birds’ migration and well being. 2015 stands out for the high intake of distressed ducklings in the spring and summer, injured swallows, and a late summer influx of western tanagers.
RMBC sits on a verdant half-acre lot on 36th street on the north side of Quail Hollow Golf Course. It’s a refuge for healthy birds too, with groves of fruit trees and lush vegetation that offers cover and food.
Rockwell has been with the RMBC since 2001, and has served as its director for the past two years. Her involvement began after she brought in an injured bird, and “it’s been a perfect fit,” she says, because she’s always had a connection to animals, from bugs to frogs to birds. Volunteers love it here too, even though sometimes the work is difficult, “tugging at the heart at times.”
What is “emotionally rewarding to the soul,” Rockwell says, is releasing a bird, although it is a complex task. The center tries as much as it can to return the bird to its family group. This summer, Rockwell experienced a release that still makes her smile. One rainy day, a raven was brought in that appeared to be injured or ill. In a week it began to fly well, and Rockwell prepared to return it to its original family group. After some research, she learned that its family was still near where the bird had been picked up, so she and the raven headed out in her car to the local farm. Sure enough, when they arrived, Rockwell could see a flock of ravens congregated on a fence. She left the raven on the fence, but the family immediately flew away. Minutes passed, and then in the distance, she could see a lone raven returning. It landed on the fence, and settled a few feet from her raven. They inched together, her raven making “food calls.” Finally the two ravens took flight together, and merged into the family group roosting across the field. For Rockwell, returns like this are a triumph, and make all the time and hard work worth it.
As Rockwell puts it, “the Ruth Melichar Center does an incredible service to the community.” It’s designed and equipped just for birds, giving them a protected, caring place to heal. For birds, and bird lovers, that’s as beautiful as a nightingale’s song.
The Ruth Melichar Bird Center, avian facility of Animals in Distress Association (AIDA) rehabilitates over 2,500 injured and orphaned birds a year, and operates strictly from private donations and grants. Please visit our website on how you can help (www.idahowildliferescue.org), or send donations to Animals in Distress Association at: P.O. Box 7263, Boise, Idaho 83707-1263.