Today I got to visit a wildlife rehabiliator near Poughkeepsie who is far more experienced and patient than I am. Celie would need to be to handle the 98 animals in her care–including a pack of dogs, horses, chickens, birds and other permanent residents. But the reason my friend Vicki and I went to visit was that Celie got slammed by a big baby season.
Every May and June wildlife rehabilitators around the country get tons of calls from people who have found baby animals and birds. The usual correct response is to tell the person to put the animal back in exactly the spot where it was found because mom was just out getting food and she’s going to be pissed when she gets back. Wildlife rehabbers usually won’t take the animals unless they’re injured, orphaned or out on their own way too soon. But in many cases people know that the animals are orphaned because they find mom’s dead body nearby. In the case of many of the animals at Celie’s gorgeous farm, they were hit by cars.
For weeks straight she was getting many calls a day, all leading to more and more animals. She seemed to never say no. So Vicki and I headed up to help out. Really Vicki is used to mass animal raising, but I feel like I’m a farmhand just managing 8 or 9 squirrels. Basically I figured I could clean cages, maybe get to see some animals and learn something about what to if certain animals show up.
The fawns were the stars for me. There were nine, at least two injured in car accidents, one badly. We tried to figure out how to make a rear-end sling for the hurt fawn. They tiny, hungry and eager to come close for milk, which they adorably drink from baby bottles. They seemed to look everywhere for a nipple: one sucked on my pinkie finger; another nibbled my ear and a third investigated my toes. Some bleated as they explored. Celie says they were being affectionate, not just out for a meal. One was scared of people; he’d been brought in later. The older rehab patients of any species are more worldly and wary.
Celie has an amazing set-up with room-sized cages and an attached kitchen. A squirrel with mangled teeth huddled with raccoon babies. They’re friends, Celie says. Nextdoor, a troop of raccoons kept trying to get out to go play. They were every bit as clever, silly and warm as I’d thought when I was a kid. The baby skunks, however, were quiet cautious and hostile. I got to see their notorious foot stamping warning of a spraying. Half had pretty white backs and were seemingly gentler. The black-backed ones sprayed a few times. They would give warning–stomp, turn around a lift the tail and spray. I didn’t get a direct hit. Celie showed us how to pick them up without getting sprayed by pushing their tails over their anal scent gland.
The baby birds would squawk and fluff their feathers to get our attention, then hold their mouths agape until some food–usually soaked dog food–was put down their throats. I hadn’t fed baby birds since I was a kid. A little grackle was the loudest and most demanding. I learned it wasn’t enough to put the food in; they seemed to prefer it pushed most of the way down their throats. A few looked unlikely to make it–despite Celie’s best efforts–because of neurological issues.
The day was a blur of feedings, cleanings and crises. A call about a dead deer with two fawns, so far unapprehended. One skunk listing to the side for unknown reasons. A set of raccoons exploring a bit too far until Celie lured them back to safety with marshmallows. I don’t know how Celie keeps up with all of it. I don’t know how much of a help we were–not much–but I’d be thrilled to go back again.
Where to Go to See Deer
Where to See Animals in the Northeast