A Hairy Woodpecker became my responsibility briefly one day last week. I was visiting the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville. Staff member Tami Vogel asked if I would like to release a bird. Sure, I said, figuring we would step outside, and I would toss the bird into the air, just like the videos of raptor releases shown on television.
No, that’s not the way it’s done. The woodpecker needed to be released at the Minnesota River Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington because that is where it was found when it was brought to the center for medical attention. That is the territory the bird was familiar with. That is where it had a place in the pecking order. That is its home. This is standard procedure for all releases at the center: the animal goes back to where it was found.
The bird was victim of a collision. A head injury caused what the vets called helicopter flight: the bird flew only in small, tight circles. Rest and quiet care put it straight.
The bird was put in a small box for me to transport. At the refuge I met volunteer Bob Brereton, working the welcome desk in the visitor’s center. Bob grabbed his camera, and followed me outside. Sitting on a low stone wall, near the bird-feeder arrangement, I opened the box. The woodpecker looked around, then hopped onto the wall. It walked down the wall, hopped off, walked down the sidewalk, and eventually onto the grass. It disappeared into the brush. I saw the bird fly at the rehab center. I have no idea why it walked away upon release. Perhaps I should have tossed the bird into the air, given it a jump start. Here is Bob’s photo.