Spreading Its Wings
Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research has evolved over the past 30 years. Now it’s working to take another big step forward—bird by bird.
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This is the best part of my job,” Jim McCoy says as he tramps down a trail in Killens Pond State Park. “Not that they pay me, but this makes eight weeks of cleaning up duck crap worth it.”
McCoy, a volunteer for Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, is carrying a soft-side cooler that contains a precious cargo: a baby barred owl that, two months earlier, had been discovered by Brownies from Troop 511 in Dover. The girls found the nestling lying in a trail in this very same park several weeks earlier, the night after an intense storm. High above, they could see its home in the trees.
“Luckily we came along when we did,” says Brownie leader Linda Volmett, “because five minutes behind us was a woman with a bloodhound on a leash that could’ve gobbled that bird up before anybody knew what happened.”
The baby owl was transported to Tri-State’s 18-acre site at the end of Possum Hollow Road in Newark. The staff there splinted its broken right foot, stitched a cut under its wing, then performed physical rehabilitation and trained it to fend for itself. After two months, the bird was fitted with a tracking device from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, packed into the cooler, then sent off with McCoy to be returned to the wild.
Park ranger Gary Cooke signals McCoy and the girls when they’ve found a suitable spot for release. The Brownies try to contain their exuberance as they prepare their cameras.
McCoy unzips the cooler. The girls oooh and ahhh as the owl flits upward, then, as it perches on a thick tree branch, they turn silent. As they do so, another sound becomes apparent—the hoots of other barred owls welcoming the once-injured bird home.
Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research was established in 1976, after the Liberian tanker Olympic Games spilled 130,000 gallons of light Arabian crude into the Delaware River. It was the sixth major spill in the Northeast in three years, and it killed tens of thousands of animals.
Determined not to let such a tragedy happen again, Delaware Audubon Society founder Lynne Frink assembled a team of biologists, pathologists, veterinarians, chemists, and concerned citizens to research the effects of oil exposure on birds, develop treatment protocols, and improve responses to oil spills.
Since then, Tri-State has responded to more than 110 spills on three continents at all hours. It is one of only two agencies in the country that can professionally oversee a wildlife oil spill response.
Tri-State’s 20 full- and part-time staffers, as well as 200 volunteers, treat thousands of birds every year. Not all are victims of oil spills. Most have been orphaned or injured in some other way. Since the 1970s Tri-State’s caseload has increased 73 percent, due in large part to increasing suburban sprawl. With the resulting habitat destruction comes loss of food sources, attacks by dogs and cats, collisions with vehicles, electrocution, and destruction of nests and nesting areas.
Tri-State’s headquarters, surrounded by the 800-plus-acre Middle Run Natural Resources Area, may look much like a barn on the outside, but inside and around back are facilities to care for the thousands of birds.
Tri-State is equipped to handle species from nightjars to bald eagles, with a nursery to care for baby birds and outdoor pools for loons and other waterfowl. In 1989 it opened a modern facility complete with animal care wards, nurseries, research labs and outdoor aviaries where birds hone their flying and hunting skills, and an oil spill facility.
Mauri Liberati is a biology student from Virginia Tech who interned at Tri-State. Every day over the summer, Liberati helped to feed and care for baby birds. “The baby birds need to eat every 20 minutes, 14 hours a day,” she says.
The barred owl was an exciting addition to the nursery, which is usually filled with sparrows and wrens. Though dealing with orphaned and injured birds makes up most of Tri-State’s work, oiled birds require more immediate attention.
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