Summer storms create a generation of wild orphans

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 23, 2013 - 3:28 PM

Nearly 500 baby birds, ducklings, rabbits and other animals were brought to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center after June’s severe storms.


Avian nursery coordinator Jessika Madison-Kennedy offered grub worms to swallows, which capture their food in flight.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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The June storms that knocked out power for 600,000 Minnesotans also knocked countless baby birds from their perches. Torrential rains displaced rabbits, squirrels and ducklings.

The outlook was dire for most of them. “They’d been declared dead by nature,” said Phil Jenni.

Concerned Twin Cities residents scooped up about 450 of these creatures and took them to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota in Roseville. It was a record weekend — the line of people with injured animals often extended out the nonprofit’s door.

A month later, many of those orphans are growing, healing and learning the skills they’ll need to survive on their own. Many have been released.

Jenni, the center’s director, said a lot of good came out of the bad weather. Saving a baby bunny or a nest of young robins doesn’t tip the scales in terms of wildlife preservation, but “it’s a powerful moment of compassion, especially for kids,” he said. “For families involved in a rescue, it’s a really powerful experience. It can be transformative.”

People brought in nests of robins, swallows and sparrows, which were fledging at the time the storm hit, as well as rabbits, squirrels and ducklings.

Baby robins, some needing to be fed with droppers every 15 minutes, are now hopping around cages in the center’s avian nursery and learning to eat worms and grubs. Ducklings, waterlogged and separated from parents during the storm, are growing.

Ducks know how to eat on their own at birth but often will die without the protection of their parents, Jenni explained. At the center, ducklings nestle underneath feather dusters, which mimic their mothers.

“They need to get to the point where they are capable of fleeing predators,” Jenni said.

The nonprofit, located on Dale Street in Roseville’s Central Park since 2003, was founded in 1979. Last year, it took in a record 8,900 orphaned and injured wildlife of 180 species.

With a medical staff of eight and more than 600 volunteers, the center is one of the largest and busiest wildlife medical operations in the nation.

Spring and summer are the high season; more than 1,000 birds and animals are in the staff’s care right now. The center spends $4,000 a month on grubs, crickets and mealworms during the warm-weather months.

Some of the more showy patients have included swans, heron, mink, fawns and the director’s personal favorite — pileated woodpeckers.

“I think they look so prehistoric, and I love their size,” Jenni said.

There’s a large snapping turtle with a feeding tube. He underwent surgery for a broken jaw and now is recovering.

There are also rooms of songbirds, rabbits, baby opossums and ducklings.

Rules and regulations

The center is licensed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. It adheres to many rules and regulations. Many animals, including turtles and deer, must be released back where they were found to prevent the spread of disease.

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