2015 Year in Review: Kate Guenther, Front-Desk Coordinator

It’s time to look back on 2015! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2015 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

I received a call in May from a man whom I guessed to be of Middle Eastern descent. He was clearly distressed and sounded nearly in tears. His English was very broken, but his compassion and motivation to elicit help from me was not.

“I have found babies in trouble! We can’t let them die!” he exclaimed. “You must help me, please!” I listened and listened to his story but between the poor English and high emotion, the best I could make out was that there was a crisis of some sort involving baby birds. I tried to piece together the story line, resorting to asking yes/no questions, but I just could not get the picture of what was happening. Was there a cat attack? Is there a dead parent? Were the babies injured?

I heard him say he had picked up birds and put them in a bird cage. How long in the cage? How young of a bird? I couldn’t tell. But I could hear his deep distress and felt moved at the thought that this man must have made a great effort to work through a number of cultural and/or language barriers to find me.

At the front desk, we have a great cadre of volunteer transporters, folks who are willing to receive a call out of the blue to go pick up an injured animal to bring to the Center. Without this pool of dedicated volunteers willing to give their time, skills, gasoline, and use of their car, many animals would never make it to our Center for help.

It is this same dedicated group of transporters to whom I turn to be my eyes and ears on the ground when I cannot get enough information about a situation over the phone to make a determination of what should happen. I searched through my transporter list to see who would have both skills and abilities to both assess the needs of the birds as well as to attend to the emotional and cross-cultural needs of the caller. I was lucky, in this case, that Shelly H. was nearby, available, and willing to take on the challenge. I asked Shelly to email me once she was onsite so we could determine what should happen next.

As I waited for Shelly to drive to the caller’s house, I thought about the caller. What did these birds mean to him? What inner story of his did they symbolize that elicited such emotional response to a perception of vulnerability, danger, and need for protection? I’ll never know. I can only speculate and wonder if his history in any way played into the empathy he was feeling for these birds.

Shelly arrived and got the story—this man was still grieving the deep loss of his African Gray parrot who had died last year. The man had never had the opportunity to see a wild bird family before and, this year, he had gotten very emotionally attached to watching this cardinal family in his yard raise their young. He thought they were “very great parents. I watch them every morning.” Now, the babies were on the ground and he was terrified something was wrong and that they needed help. So he dragged his old parrot cage up from the basement, scooped up the birds, and placed them in the cage. “I want to keep them in cage and keep safe.”

Shelly and I emailed back and forth:

Me: Where are babies?

Shelly: In cage on porch.

Me: Are babies injured?

Shelly: No.

Me: See parents?

Shelly: Yes. Going nuts from back yard tree. squawking for babies.

Me: Look like a fledgling? Hopping but can’t fly yet?

Shelly: Yes. Flappy, Both parents here. Release?

Me: Yes, release. Educate!

An hour or so later I received this email and picture from Shelley after she got home:

The baby bird guy was very sweet. The nest was up about six feet in a very thorny tree. The baby birds could hop around very well and were very wing-flappy. So we put the babies back on the ground under the tree and stepped away, and within minutes, the parents were back down with the babies.

He asked if he could keep the babies in the cage to be safe, and I explained how that's not good for the babies, and not legal, and obviously these parents care very much for them. He seemed OK with that. He vowed to go to Wal-Mart and get a bird bath and feeder to help them out.

Why did I choose this as my year-end story? I take hundreds of calls a year from people making choices out of the combination of insufficient knowledge mixed with personal anxiety. So often, these folks take inappropriate action on behalf of fledgling birds, kidnapping them from active parents. In that way, this call was a very typical spring call.

My job is to remember that despite our own personal histories that feed both our anxiety and our empathy when it comes to wildlife — it is possible to serve both the wildlife’s true needs and the rescuer’s emotional needs. Win, win.


Keep checking the Wildlife Center's blog for more year-end posts this week!