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.
The center operates on a $750,000 annual budget, which comes solely from private donations.
Volunteers do the brunt of the work, cleaning enclosures and feeding animals.
“It’s hard work. It’s mostly about feeding and feces,” Jenni said. “It’s not glamorous, but it’s extremely satisfying.”
Kirstin Parker, a school teacher, is volunteering this summer. She remarked on the recovery on an injured green heron. “He’s now able to eat the minnows in the dish,” Parker said. “On Saturday, he could barely lift his head. He has made great improvements.”
A lot of volunteers are students aspiring to work with animals. Caitlin Mothes of Lakeville is studying zoology at North Carolina State University and wanted some hands-on experience this summer. She hopes to one day work in wildlife conservation and research.
“It’s a lot of hard and dirty work, but I love it,” she said.
Staff veterinarians and veterinary technicians oversee medical care.
A daily chart is kept for each animal. Some are simply orphaned. Others have been injured and undergo X-rays, surgeries, casting and other treatment and rehabilitation.
“I love wild animals. I feel very lucky to be here,” said vet tech Katie Heino, who has worked at the center for a decade.
She said the weekend of the June storms was a new kind of busy. “We were inundated,” she said.
‘We are a hospital’
Jenni remarked that a few years back, some wildlife advocates lobbied the center to stop treating house sparrows. They’re considered invasive and can be aggressive nesters pushing out other birds. But the center treats them all.
“We are a hospital. It’s not up to us who we should and should not treat,” Jenni said. “Our position is the impulse for compassion is strong.”
On the Internet, a blog, website and Facebook following have expanded the center’s reach. After the storms, staff posted a photo and information about how to put a fallen nest with baby birds back into a tree. “More than 40,000 people saw that Facebook post,” Jenni said.
He said that the center doesn’t release a survival rate but that thousands of animals are saved each year and returned to the wild.
The center also has made an impact on the people who come through its doors. At an upcoming memorial service for a longtime donor from White Bear Lake, Jenni will release songbirds at the behest of the family. The center was a big part of her life, Jenni said.
“It made a huge impression on her.”
The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is holding its annual gala — Night of the Wild Ones/Enchanted Forest Masquerade — from 6:30-11:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 10, in Medina. For further information, go to the center’s website, http://www.wrcmn.org