On February 1 at 7 pm, VFAS will be hosting Flying Free: Birds at the Schuylkill Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic, where  Sydney Glisan, Assistant Director of the clinic, will discuss the rehabilitation process for avian patients.  The following article by Danielle Hagerty provides some background information on the clinic prior to her presentation.

The City of Philadelphia is a hotspot for birdwatchers. Its geographic location combined with ample green space attracts more than 300 different bird species annually. Such a dense population of wildlife in an urban setting means more contact with humans – which can often lead to casualties.

Fortunately, there is a place where injured animals can go to recover. The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education is a center located in Roxborough that aims to connect Philadelphia residents with the natural world. One of their main areas of focus is wildlife rehabilitation – their on-site clinic accepts various wildlife species, including squirrels, frogs, rabbits, and chipmunks.

One of the center’s principal patient populations is birds. “Being the only wildlife clinic in Philadelphia, we typically see species that have adapted well to urban living,” says Sydney Glisan, Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic Assistant Director at the Schuylkill Center. “This has ultimately led to ‘invasive’ avian species being our top patient population each year: Rock Pigeons, House Sparrows, and European Starlings.”

To Glisan, invasive doesn’t directly translate to maladapted. “We are of the belief that these birds have assimilated so strongly to our environment that we treat them just the same as any other species,” she said. “Even though they do compete for resources in the wild, we are still able to accommodate them with the same quality of care.” Other species brought into the center include American Robins, Northern Cardinals, Gray Catbirds, American Crows, Canada Geese, and Mallard Ducks.

Once the birds are brought into the clinic, rehabilitators will let the bird rest, and then perform a full examination to determine any abnormalities. They will then create a treatment plan for each animal, or in cases where the issues aren’t immediately evident, continue to seek out an accurate diagnosis.

Though the center does everything it can to heal all species that come in, many cases aren’t able to be revived. “Release statistics in rehabilitation [is] a very nuanced and challenging issue,” said Glisan. “Most of the animals that end up in our care are in pretty critical shape.” A 30 percent release rate is pretty typical for wildlife rehabilitation centers, which Glisan said the Schuylkill Center was able to meet for their bird patients this year.

“We take pride in our ability to recognize when an injury or illness is beyond repair,” stated Glisan. “Our ultimate goal is to release our patients back into the wild so they can continue their lives where they would be happiest. If this is not an option, we do not believe that it is fair to put an animal through the pain, stress, and indignity of the recovery process.”

There are various reasons as to why birds are brought into the center. One main reason is orphaned infant birds. “We receive countless baby birds each year that have been displaced from their nests or that have been otherwise separated from their parents,” said Glisan.

Another cause for admission is collisions with windows. Philadelphia serves as a major passageway for avian migration, and windows serve as a big hazard. According to Bird Safe Philly, an estimated one billion birds collide with windows, buildings, and other structures each year in the US, most of which prove to be fatal. This is due to artificial lighting and glass, which is invisible to birds.

Domestic animals can also pose a large threat to birds. “Dogs and cats have hunting instincts that they will act on if they see an opportunity,” said Glisan. “Outdoor cats are actually among the biggest threats to bird populations across the United States. Cat saliva has a ton of bacteria in it that can be fatal to birds if not treated.”

Though humans are a big cause of harm to birds, there are many things we can do to keep them safe. In a forthcoming article, we will discuss some measures you can take both at home and on the trail that can help prevent bird death and injury.