Mother Knows Best: Techniques for Wildlife Rehabilitation


In the summer of 2004, a chimney we broke open in a house just outside Montgomery, Alabama. Out spilled four Barn Owl nestlings and many years worth of pellets from previous broods. The homeowner, unsure of what to do, called The Wildlife Center.

Nestled in the hills of Oak Mountain State Park, outside of Birmingham, Alabama, The Wildlife Center is the realization of a dream over 25 years in the making. Anne Miller, the Executive Director, began quite humbly rehabilitating local wildlife from her backyard in 1977. Helping everything from snakes to mountain lions, Miller began to gain support from locals and was eventually able to convert an old restaurant at Oak Mountain State Park into a rehabilitation center that not only serves the state of Alabama, but has also aided in rescues in Georgia and Tennessee.

The spring and summer months between March and August are the most trying for the non-pro[] center. In 2004, 883 baby songbirds, 693 baby mammals, and 139 baby raptors were aided by a staff of 6 and countless volunteers. 2005 has already exceeded those admissions.

As experienced and caring as the staff and volunteers are, it is intnitely better for the babies to be raised by their own parents. People were encouraged to place healthy babies back in nests and dens whenever possible, but often the nest had been destroyed or parents killed. In those cases, the center was dealing with orphans. Years ago, those orphans would have had to be raised by people and released at the point they could care for themselves. Now, they have other options.

Using special techniques, developed by Miller, The Wildlife Center can now foster babies with wild parents, provide new nests, and even call in parents to those nests. Miller's Juvenile Raptor Restoration Project proposed using recorded food-begging calls from the babies to attract their parents when reuniting them. First used with juvenile raptors, the technique has been even been used successfully to reunite bobcats and is now being attempted with other bird species.

Rehabilitators across the country are pummeled with an intux of babies during those crucial spring and summer months. Many attempt to foster what they can, but most are so busy and understaffed, reuniting sometimes only happens when success is a certainty. Armed with Anne's technique, The Wildlife Center has begun an aggressive ~other Knows Bestraampaign to either reunite or foster any uninjured baby that comes in. The success has been overwhelming with over 50% of baby animals either going back to their own parents or being fostered with others.

Babies unable to be reunited or fostered tnd themselves in the best of care. Very young raptors spend their rrst day or two in intensive care until it is certain they are taking to the diet of skinned cut-up mice (SCUM). They are placed in nest boxes containing a mirror for them to have a Ollddyras many raptors come in as singletons. The nest boxes also have one-way glass viewing windows and small feeding doors.