Some of you know me, Bernadette Clabeaux, Ph.D, as one of the authors of the Wild Faith Blog. Others know me from my other professional pursuits. I thought you might enjoy hearing about the tie that binds together all of my roles.
I’m a Professor of Biology at Medaille College. I’m also the Director of WNY Raptor and Wildlife Care, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to the rehabilitation and release of injured or orphaned wildlife. We also focus on research and educational components of wildlife conservation (www.wnyraptor.com).
Throughout my life, I have felt very spiritually connected to the world around me. I love interacting with God’s creation- from observing sunsets over Lake Erie, exploring a new area I’ve never been to, hiking or blazing a new trail, or caring for small baby mammals, or large magnificent raptors. I love it all, and am passionate about it! I would have to be – I routinely switch from teaching Biology-related courses to college students to busy days filled with wildlife care.
Each animal in nature is awe-inspiring to me. They are all specifically and beautifully designed to exist in their habitats. They have bloomed where they are planted- meaning over thousands of years they have evolved specific adaptations to their environment. We see this incredible design in the extraordinary adaptations in hawks and owls. Both are birds of prey with muscle-tearing talons and sharply pointed beaks that tear flesh of their prey. However, one has perfectly evolved to hunt during the day, and the other at night. Both utilize the same habitat and hunt the same grounds, but they coexist and share resources (likely unknowingly). We can learn a lot from behaviors like these. It is almost as if all of life’s lessons can be observed in nature and were intentionally put here for us to discover by Him- if one only opens their eyes and heart to see them.
And there has been a lot to see this year! With everyone home more due to COVID-19, 2020 has been “one for the birds.” We’ve been inundated with calls from worried homeowners finding injured or orphaned baby animals that need care. Depending on how you look at, maybe these sightings are a good thing? Sure it’s sad to see animals in distress and in need, but people are more in tune with their surroundings, and nature, which is one of the exact reasons we wanted to pursue the formation of a wildlife organization in the first place—to help connect people with nature.
This season we have helped over 80 animals in our community. Right now, we are rehabilitating a Great Horned Owl that was found on the road- a bit confused and very emaciated. S/he must have lost its way and was separated from its parents. We had two choices, either release it back to the nearby forest where it would likely die of starvation or bring it into our rehabilitation facility. We chose the latter. At first, we had to hand feed it, then it “graduated” up to eating on its own and started gaining weight-success! Now, it is hunting and is on track to be released in mid to late July 2020. This rescue has been such a rewarding experience- to say we were able to help a critter like this out and release it back out into nature where it belongs.
You might ask, is one animal that important?
Last year, in July 2019, we released a Red-tailed Hawk that we rehabilitated for 8 months. She was a victim of West Nile Virus, a virus that infects crows, blue jays and raptors in particular, and is spread from bird to bird by a vector mosquito carrying the virus. The animal will get dazed, confused, and cannot hunt when it is infected. People will find these critters on their lawn, still and motionless, and if a rehabilitator doesn’t intervene, death will likely follow. To top it off, the red-tailed hawk we rescued also had a broken wing. Double whammy! We were able to coordinate with the police and the electric company to gain access to the power substation where she was found. Its presence could have caused a local power outage if we didn’t get it out! So, we did, and we brought her home. She rested in a dark, quiet place, and then we hand fed it a meal. The next day, she was feisty as ever and hated me (a good sign!). It was a long road to recovery, but she made it! She began eating on her own, then hunting, and after conditioning, she was able to be released!
What is important here is the fact that she SURVIVED West Nile Virus, and now has antibodies to this virus that affects many raptors. This is one reason why rehabilitation is important! She will (hopefully) be able to reproduce and have quite a few clutches in her lifetime (red-tailed hawks live to be up to 15 years in the wild). This case has generated several important questions: how long will she live, will she pass on immunity to her offspring, how many clutches will she have? There is much to be discovered!
Two things have continually resonated with me in regard to why we care for these wild creatures. First, I’m reminded of a poem called “The Starfish Story,” adapted from the original by Loren Eiseley:
Second, our work always makes me think of a statement uttered many times by Mother Teresa: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
Do little things with great love. It really is that simple.
Donations to our wildlife rescue can be made by clicking the donate button on our website, www.wnyraptor.com. We also have a donation request on our Facebook Page (@wnyraptor). Please “like us” there or follow us on our Instagram (handle wny_raptor).