Kyla Lovbakke

Many hungry mouths to feed at WildARC

Animal rescue centre serves an important function for small animals

A thousand followers on Facebook. A thousand dollars in donations. A thousand honest politicians. While some aspirations may be unattainable, hitting 1,000 is usually a significant milestone, worthy of celebration.

Not so at WildARC, the Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre. Not even halfway through the year and they have hit their 1,000 milestone — with the number of animals they have treated so far this year. The thousandth customer, said Manager Kari Marks, was a Brewers blackbird from Sooke, who sadly did not make it. It was hit by a car which resulted in a fractured femur and had to be euthanized.

The Sooke News Mirror was led to WildARC by Shane Robertson, who called to say he was collecting two truck loads of broken branches to donate to WildARC. Marks said they use these donated branches in a number of ways.

“One is to provide enrichment in cages, to make the animals feel more at home. We deck it out like a forest sometimes,” details Marks. “The other is for feeding, deer in particular.”

When asked of their most common clientele, Marks gave a bird’s eye view.

“We take in amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, all of them small to medium size. We don’t take the large predators. We don’t take the wolves and the bears. We just don’t have the facilities for them.”

Contrary to most business practices, Marks would actually love to see business slow down.

Dispelling a few myths can help reduce their numbers. For instance, when a bird falls out of its nest, you can indeed pick it up and put it back in its nest. There is a myth out there that says if you do that, the parents will pick up your human (if you’re so inclined) scent and will abandon the nest and its babies. Not so says Marks. Bird’s can’t smell.

And if a big wind (or a felled branch) results in a nest being demolished, get an old margarine container, scoop up as much of the original nest as you best can, reconstruct it as best as possible, return the nestling back into it, and place it as close to the original vicinity as is possible. The parent will recognize the sound of their babies, and if they can find them, will return to them.

So there’s one myth — that birds avoid human-contaminated nestlings — ousted.

There’s also the myth of the attacking crow.

Marks recounted incidences of people calling in with stories of being attacked by birds in their own yards, most commonly crows.

When crows transition from nest-dwellers to sky-travellers, they go through a period of running around, on foot, on the ground. This stage is called “fledgling.”

“For the most part in most birds’ lives,” explains Marks, “they spend a period of time on the ground before they can fly. They get too big for the nest, and they pop down and spend a week on the ground.”

There’s very little the parents can do at this stage (which might sound familiar to parents of human teenagers), so they feed them, hover over them, and ward off what (and who) they can.

If a bird is attacking you in your own backyard, take it as a compliment: they trusted your space enough to have their babies in the vicinity, and are now doing the best they can to protect their little ones. It will only last for a week or ten days, said Marks. For the duration, Marks recommends you “take an umbrella, because they are going to come at you. Alternatively, you can simply avoid that particular area for the time being.

A second myth — that Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds is being realized in your backyard — flatly demolished.

Last is the myth of the abandoned fawn. If you happen across what appears to be an abandoned fawn, your best course of action is to leave it there. First, fawns are probably the most obedient baby in the animal kingdom (humans included), for when the mother indicates that the fawn is to “Stay put,” that’s exactly what a fawn does. It stays exactly where it is told.

The biggest danger, says Marks, is actually the mother. The fawn has no scent, and when it is left alone, it’s best defence is to stay still.

“The mother will attract the predators, but a fawn won’t,” explains Marks.

A cougar can walk right past its nest, and if the fawn doesn’t move a muscle she (or he) will escape notice.

Converse to our ingrained human thinking, the best thing a mother (deer) can do for her newborn (fawn) is to stay away.

When a fawn is brought in to WildARC, the animal is first checked over for injury and then put right back where it was found. The re-unification rate in these situations is actually quite high.

In cases where the mother is known to be dead, the fawn is then raised by WildARC until the fall then released.

Another myth — the myth of the abandoned fawn — busted.

When wild animals become hurt, theyhave no one to look out for them. WildARC does what they can. They are privately funded and rely heavily on the kindness of strangers. Parkland Poultry from Sooke, for example, donates eggs. They match any order and give a complementary two-for-one.

WildARC also has over 150 volunteers, about 15 of them come from Sooke.

As luck would have it, Sooke-based Courtney Robertson, and daughter of Shane who first called our attention to this story, was working with the the millennium crow from Sooke.

“I want to do the vet assistant course, so I thought I’d get the volunteer time and experience working with animals,” Courtney says, explaining her reason for volunteering. “I’m getting all the experience with animal handling and feeding, giving them their medications. Going into that field, you need to be comfortable. I’m starting to get comfortable with the raccoons who bite at you, and the birds that fly at you.”

Volunteering, donations, and education are key to operating WildARC, and contributions can range from complex and time-consuming to incredibly easy and simple.

“I noticed in your Wednesday paper there was a letter in there saying someone was dumping branches in their yard, and telling them to stop,” mentioned Robertson. “Anyone that needs to dump branches should be bringing them to WildARC.”

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