Free Bird

Who doesn’t stop and marvel at a beautiful deer when it happens by? Or wonder how birds of prey find food in winter?

Wildlife delights us. We feel honoured when an untamed creature gives us its attention. They’re a mystery in many ways.

That’s what makes Salthaven so special. Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Centre heals sick, injured and orphaned wildlife and then releases them back into the wild. They’re in Strathroy, and they have a second centre, Salthaven West, that opened in Regina, Saskatchewan five years ago. Rehab is job one but education is a big focus. Humans do so many thoughtless things that harm wildlife. I’ve tossed hundreds of apple cores into ditches over the years until Brian Salt convinced me to stop. The food draws wild animals closer to the road, endangering their lives. We all have a lot to learn.

Last week, they invited me to a wild bird release. These events are not made public. After they bring an ailing or injured bird back to good health, it’s released near where it was found. On this day, two red-tailed hawks and one Canada goose were going home.

It was a cold afternoon in a London park. When Salthaven took in a boy named Sue, the first hawk, he was convulsing and not expected to make it. But there he was, strutting out of the travel crate, opening his wings to show how formidable he was. After posing for the cameras, he flew off majestically into a stand of trees. It’s an incredible feeling to watch a wild creature return to its habitat. I thought I might only watch one release – after all, I was freezing – but it was so thrilling, I couldn’t wait to do it again!

Next, Brian Salt and a few photographers and I convoyed to another park. First, the goose was set free near water. He wandered around for a long time, seemingly enjoying the attention, before trotting down to the river. Some ducks came by to check him out. We moved up near some trees to release the last hawk, Sherry. She had been found on her back, unconscious, almost covered in a fresh snowfall.

In the video of her release below, you might glimpse a blur in the lower left of someone ducking out of her way – that’s me! Sherry turned sharply and headed straight for me. She quickly turned again, and I avoided a case of hawk face. All I could think of was Fabio. Remember Fabio? In 1999, the then-superstar model took an inaugural ride on a Virginia roller coaster and his face collided with a goose. I didn’t want to “pull a Fabio”, for the bird’s sake and for mine.

Salthaven’s success rate with wild animals is 65-75%. Without Salthaven, that rate would be 0. They do incredible work, they’re funded by donations and almost everyone on staff is volunteer – including Brian. Here is Sherry’s freedom flight, courtesy of Salthaven.

5 thoughts on “Free Bird”

  1. Thank you for sharing this story. I too used to throw things out the window that I thought would feed wild life. Not anymore, I never thought how close the animal would be to the road.
    What a beautiful sight seeing the hawk soar into the blue sky.

  2. I love this! I volunteered there for a couple summers a few years ago and it was such an awesome experience. For every shift I drove to Salthaven feeling so nervous. Its a huge responsibility. And every day after my 4 hours of feeding birds and cleaning poop, I would drive home utterly exhilarated! I loved being around all of those birds and the volunteers there are stellar.

    1. That’s so great! I hope to get out there as soon as it’s okay. I’m considering volunteering as well. It sounds very rewarding. Thanks for telling us about your experience, Sue.

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