On a cool Saturday morning Dexter Young, a fourth grader at Methow Valley Elementary, bounced on his trampoline and noticed his cat was entangled in an altercation with a bird by a nearby bush. Dexter thought it was a baby owl and ran inside to enlist help from his mom, Anne.
As the family approached the tussle, the small, dappled bird was pecking at their cat. They quickly shooed the cat away and realized the bird needed care. They gently placed it in a cat carrier and called a friend, Abilene Hagee, to find out where to take the bird for help. As the co-owner of the Trails End Book Store in Winthrop, Abilene has a lot of local connections and Anne often turns to her for information on local matters. She texted the photo of the bird to Hagee, and with confidence her sixth-grade daughter, Sutherland, insisted it wasn’t an owl, but a either a nighthawk or a common poorwill.
Still, the Youngs were out of luck in finding a licensed rehabilitation handler or center nearby. After another text string to her Reiki group, a friend sent Young a link to a rehab center in Arlington. Young loaded up the bird and her 7-year-old daughter and drove over the mountains to Sarvey Wildlife Care Center in a seven-hour round trip excursion which wasn’t part of their weekend plans.
The Sarvey Wildlife Center’s requested that they check in 48 hours after the bird to find out its status. When the Youngs called back to check in on Hooligan Jr., named after a pet owl that lived with a Mazama family for 25 years, they were notified the bird was a common poorwill and had already been released because they do not do well in captivity.
Common poorwills are nocturnal, ground nesting birds that prey on insects. They are hibernating birds in the nightjar family found on the east slope of the Cascades on open slopes and brush. According to the Audubon Society, they are widespread, with stable populations. Here in the Methow, we are in the upper reaches of their breeding range. Because they are nocturnal, they have large eyes, making them look baby-like and undeniably adorable.
The Sarvey Wildlife Center is one of a handful of licensed wildlife centers in the state and member of the Washington Wildlife Rehabilitation Association (WWFA). Wildlife rehabilitation centers are privately run, often by volunteers, and rely on donations or grants to operate. The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife certifies handlers and centers for rehabilitation but does not fund operations.
Fish and Wildlife maintains a policy of letting nature take its course when it comes to sick or injured animals. Often, baby animals found in nature are not abandoned, but left alone while mothers are out foraging. It’s best to leave animals where you find them, unless human interference is suspected. When human infrastructure, machinery and vehicles, or domestic animals are the cause of injury to wildlife, that’s when licensed rehabilitators are needed. In this case, the Youngs did the right thing to seek help. But they wondered if there was a center or person more local, especially since the poorwill’s habitat was east of the Cascades.
I called Kent Woodruff, Twisp resident and former USFS wildlife biologist, who has the honored distinction of knowing such things. He’s my first line go-to for all things beaver, bat and fowl. When I reached Kent, I learned he was at a hawk watch atop a mountain in Pennsylvania, identifying migrating raptors. He affirmed, unfortunately, that no handlers or centers exist in the valley, or in fact the entire North Central Washington region. The WWRA maintains a great website www.wwrawildlife.org for accessing a handler or center, but the nearest eastside center, which specializes in raptors only, is in Kettle Falls. So for now, if animals are injured due to human interaction, call a licensed rehabilitator to find the correct center and get ready for a long drive.