Center for Wild Bird Rehab -Looking Back on 2020

Written by Grae O’Toole, Director, Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation

2020 has certainly been a challenging year.  The global pandemic not only affected humans in countless ways but wildlife as well.  2020 was the busiest year on record in the VINS Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation (CWBR).  The staff took in 1,025 injured and orphaned birds.  To put it into perspective in 2019 (which was also a record-breaking year) our center received 705 patients.  Our staff cared for hundreds more birds than in previous years all while trying to navigate through a pandemic with more restrictions and protocols put in place for public safety.

As previous graphs show our rehab department didn’t really see a change in our usual numbers until May 2020.  Baby bird season started much earlier than expected and our numbers progressively increased from there.  The pandemic certainly played a role in our overall increased numbers.  Rehab centers across the United States saw a marked increase in patients this past year.  During the breeding season (March and April) many people were at home isolating which gave wildlife the opportunity to find mates and breed in relative peace compared to most years.  As the weather got nicer people were encouraged to be outside.  This led to more people finding injured and orphaned wildlife when they otherwise wouldn’t.  We are still seeing an increase in patient numbers well into colder weather months.  It is unclear why we are still seeing this increase.  It may be pandemic-related as people are still trying to be active outside, but time will tell if we may be trending towards more patients each year as wildlife rehabilitation becomes a more well-known occupation.

Every year CWBR generally sees more of one particular species.  This usually occurs because perhaps that species had a particularly good breeding season or there was an abundance of food that increased survival rates.  In 2020 however, it was an “every species” year.  We saw increased intakes with every species across the board.  The number of woodpeckers in care increased by almost 30%.  We received 25% more raptor patients than in previous years.  We received 50 baby waterfowl in the spring in summer.  A 50% increase from 2019!  All in all, our center took in 105 different species of bird (92 in 2019) from small Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to Bald Eagles and Osprey.

The reasons these birds were brought to us remained relatively the same though.  Roughy 35-40% of all intakes were brought in because the birds sustained injuries due to human impact on the environment.  This includes colliding with windows and vehicles, contamination from human products, being attacked by a neighborhood cat, being abducted as nestlings and fledglings, and getting entangled in string, fishing line, and netting.  For many of our patients, it is unclear what caused the trauma to begin with, but I would estimate that roughly 60-70% of our total intakes are brought to us because of human related causes.

This is why we do the work we do.  CWBR staff cares for these birds every day with the hope that they will be released back into the wild where they belong.  Our influence as humans affects their ability to survive.  We are giving back, trying to help these birds through the rough patches with the hope that we can balance the impact we have on their lives.

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