The woodpecker arrived in a box. It waited there while the veterinarians worked on the duck.
The duck, a lesser scaup, had been treated for a broken wing, now wrapped to support the healing bone. Drs. Agnes Hutchinson and Leslie Reed flexed the wing, then gave the bird a pain reliever and an antibiotic — routine stuff. A slight abrasion on the duck’s foot got a smear of Bag Balm. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville is prepared for anything.
Now it was the woodpecker’s turn. The doctors put on protective glasses — woodpecker bills are dangerous weapons. The bird, a pileated, had banged into something. It was found on the ground with a hawk nearby, either bystander or perp.
The large black and red bird was taken to the X-ray room, where mildly sedated, the woodpecker was spread-eagled on the X-ray deck. Pictures revealed a broken keel, the large bone that separates the breasts. It was a rest-and-recuperation injury.
In the X-rays, viewed on a large computer monitor, the woodpecker resembled an archaeological find, a small feathered dinosaur.
This was mid-December. The bird would spend the next four weeks as a recovering patient at the center before being returned to the wild at the place it was found.
The woodpecker was one of 11,991 animal intakes for 2015, a record year. The count included 109 bird species, 31 mammal species, and a mix of 12 turtles, newts, snakes, toads and salamanders.
There are three doctors at the center: the two tending the woodpecker plus Dr. Renee Schott. They are small-animal specialists, a career choice, one of them told me, based on the variety of the workdays, always something new arriving in a box or wrapped in a towel.
There are 12 people on staff, supported by 600 volunteers.
The center is a compact one-story building, mostly hallways and small rooms. It resembles a rabbit warren in a way, more so in spring when baby rabbits build the usual seasonal intake of 100-plus patients a day.
There is a nursery room for birds, another for mammals, and a third for waterfowl. There is a turtle room. There is a flight room where birds are prepped for release. There are cages outdoors as well.
Not an inexpensive operation, the center was supported in 2014 by $800,000 in contributions and grants.
Two years ago, 5,700 people made 6,500 trips to the center, bringing animals from throughout the Upper Midwest. Phone calls asking for wildlife-related information totaled about 25,000.
Training was provided to 23 veterinary students attending nine vet schools in the U.S. and five foreign countries. When possible, the remains of animals that must be put down are sent to the University of Minnesota veterinary medicine school for dissection lessons.
Before leaving, I watched a white mouse, once frozen as animal food, drifting with the current in the snapping turtle tank. The turtle had been hit by a vehicle near Victoria. Despite being treated for cranial and jaw fractures, it was eating mice, worms and crickets.
Someone will take it back to Victoria in the spring. Animals are always released where they were found, the territory they know and in which they have a place.
Read Jim Williams’ birding blog at startribune.com/lifestyle/ homegarden/blogs/Wingnut.html.
Bird hit a window? Found an orphan or injured animal and wonder what to do with it? The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center’s website, wrcmn.org, has a list of answers to such frequently asked questions. Or call 651-486-9453 if your question isn’t listed there. The center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.