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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 23, 2005

Newly formed group to coordinate rehab of rescued birds

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

It started when Linda Leveen found an orphaned baby bird on the sidewalk. She knew if she left it there, it would die.

"I realized that, oh, my goodness, there's no place to take this bird. No place to call, even."

She had to learn how to care for the bird herself.

That was seven years ago. Since then, Leveen has rescued, fed and bandaged hundreds of birds. She is one of a few volunteer "bird rehabbers" on O'ahu who take in orphaned and injured wild birds and care for them at their own expense.

Still, there is no organization that will take in a myna with a broken wing or a clutch of featherless baby doves.

Orphaned wild birds need labor-intensive care by volunteers. The Wild Bird Rehab Haven will provide a central location for such care.

Photo courtesy Joan Volk

Leveen is determined to change that.

She's president of the newly formed Wild Bird Rehab Haven, a group of volunteers who are setting up a nonprofit organization. They have a state permit to care for wild birds and are applying for a federal permit to be able to care for endangered and migratory birds.

"It's all about saving their lives," Leveen says. "Here's this helpless little creature and there's no hospital for him to go to and he's sick. We get really sick birds that come in and we put them on a heating pad and give them fluids and antibiotics and within a couple of days they've perked up. They're on their way to recovery. That bird would have probably died that night if someone hadn't found it. This work is so rewarding."

If not for the work of these volunteers, hundreds of birds and the kind souls who find them would have no place to turn.

Wild Bird Rehab Haven

To make donations, volunteer, or sign up for free classes on how to care for baby birds, call 923-6034.

Sea Life Park will rehab sea birds, but only those with webbed feet.

The Hawaiian Humane Society doesn't have the resources to do bird rehab. If an injured bird is taken to the Humane Society, it is put down. If it's a baby bird that can't yet fly, the Humane Society calls one of the volunteer rehabbers of the Wild Bird Rehab Haven. Mostly, people just find Leveen's number and call her to drop off little rescued birds.

"People are so appreciative when they find our phone number. They say, 'Oh, thank goodness you can take this little bird! I didn't want it to die!' "

A white dove led Joan Volk into the world of volunteer rehabbing. A few years ago, Volk happened upon the injured baby bird near her house. She learned how to care for the bird as she went along, relying on advice from veterinarians and from experienced rehabbers.

"It was just something to watch her grow up from a bird that didn't have any feathers and was near death, to feed her and take care of her and watch her teach herself to fly. It was a wonderful thing."

Bird rehabbers try to release birds that are strong enough to go back to the wild. About 10 percent to 15 percent can't make it on their own because of permanent injuries. Those, the rehabbers keep to live out their lives in comfort.

Volk released her dove into the wild, but the bird came back.

"She's a beautiful white rock dove, which happens to be the dove of peace you see on Christmas cards and stuff," Volk says. "She's just so pretty. She'll play catch and play soccer with a little ball we got. We'll throw it to her and she'll hit it back with her beak."

There are about 12 core rehabbers in the organization and several others who take in birds when they can.

It can be labor-intensive. Newly hatched birds have to be fed with an eyedropper every half-hour. When they're bigger, they eat every four hours.

"Those of us who work will cart little babies around with us to our jobs or just rush home and feed them and rush out again," Leveen says. "That's why we got together and decided we needed to have an organization. We need to find a place to have a center because this is so much work."

Each volunteer can have close to 50 birds at a time. Rehabbers take in two or three birds a day. During baby bird season, which is coming up in March, that number jumps to about 15 birds a day.

"It's almost impossible to say, 'No, I can't take that bird' so everyone tends to just squeeze one more in," Leveen says.

The Wild Bird Rehab Haven is looking for more volunteers to join in their mission. They're happy to train people to care for birds, and for those who want to help in other ways, there's lots to do.

Donations for basic medical supplies and veterinary care would be greatly appreciated.

The big dream is to secure a place where there could be a one-stop rehab center. A quiet plot of land would be great.

Or a little house with a yard. Even an old construction trailer in a vacant lot would be helpful. Any donations or leads toward this goal would be appreciated.

"I envision a big, beautiful outdoor aviary for different types of birds and the ones who can't be released can just stay there and live out their lives at the center," Leveen says.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.