Submitted by Barb Sinclair
I almost overshot the address for B.E.A.K.S. (Bird Emergency and Kare Society-www.beaks.kics.bc.ca). The house and sanctuary were almost completely shrouded by trees, shrubs and vines. This is the home of Carol Pettigrew, and in it is her passion,nursing every injured bird that comes her way.
Firstly, I met Kaj Byberg, who works for Carol, and who helps to care for the many dozens of injured birds. It’s very warm inside, just right for the patient on the mend. While Kaj returns to the back cages that hold birds just about ready for release, Carol and I chat about how this all started and where it’s going from here.
Carol grew up in Ontario and liked animals from an early age. “My dad knew the game warden who came around one day with an injured bird. Knowing this bird had little or no chance of survival, the warden gave me a chance to nurse it back to health,” she says. “I was told to do the best I could.” That little bird survived and Carol continued in her love of birds, finding out more of what to feed them, their activities, and eventually to be able to let them go.”
This year marks 40 years of her passion, still in full bloom. This spring Carol had a small stroke, but you wouldn’t know it today. She even notices that her hand has recovered. She stays on duty all day feeding the babies every 15 minutes, with the exception of about six hours during night. They are all improving, and although some of the breeds have missed their migration time for this year (usually to Mexico), the rest will stay for the winter and be released next year.
“A newly recovered bird needs to be introduced back into the wild for at least two weeks before their migration begins,” says Carol. “All this food we’ve been giving them isn’t entirely from nature. They have to get real sap from the trees and get a full sampling of the different bugs.” Carol then takes the birds to an area where she finds that same breed feeding or just flying around. She then knows her patient will be just fine.
The sounds within the various cages are quite wonderful. The grosbeak, Chester, is one of two ‘babysitters’ – he has taken it upon himself to look after one of the robins. When that robin is released Chester finds another one to ‘mother.’ The other babysitter is a lovely pigeon who looks after the red-eyed vireos. As we go from cage to cage and room to room, the birds continue to chirp, tweet and gurgle out all kinds of lovely songs – no wonder Carol loves her job.
We stop at one little box with twin Red-Eyed Vireos – they are very, very small. These are the little guys that require constant feeding – mouths always open (yes, that’s them in the photo). Carol gets a meal-worm, pinches off the dark coloured head, and away they go, down the bright red throats of all the little chicks who are in various stages of recovery; robins, one swallow, one sap-sucker, one blue jay, one crow, and many other multiples.
So where do these injured birds come from? If your cat brings a live bird into the house, try and free the bird and put it into a cardboard box. The main thing is to keep it calm and quiet and free from any further harm. You can take your box to the sanctuary and Carol will gladly take the bird and nurse it back to health if she’s able. She would like people to know, though, if you could also help toward the medicine and food to help the bird in its recovery to the tune of $20 it would be most appreciated.
“This will help cover the meds when they first come in, because they’re in shock,” Carol adds, “and also for antibiotics if it was attacked by a cat.”
Medication is very costly and every donation helps. If the bird is a raptor (large bird of prey) the cost is much greater. They often need an injection first or the shock will kill them. A veterinarian in downtown Castlegar, Dr. Kelly Fraser, has been a great help to Carol, and between these two gals the birds have a first-rate chance of getting another flight. Although B.E.A.K.S. is a registered society, Carol receives no grants or operating costs other than the kind donations from people. Food is very expensive, so all donations are very important, even vital. (One thing I noticed upon first entering Carol’s house was a stand of bells for sale for cat collars).
Another common enemy of birds is your front window. How many times have we heard that awful ‘thunk’ from the living room? Look out and see if you can find the bird. If it’s gone, it was likely just ‘winded; if it’s sitting there, keep an eye on it and make sure the cat isn’t out there watching it too. If it’s stunned, just let it sit there a minute or so. If it’s lying on the ground, go and have a look to see if it’s alive – now’s the time for the box and a quick trip to Carol.
Her first plan of attack is to keep the bird calm. He has to settle down. Once it seems like he’s trying to revive, Carol will give him some steroids, and then later on some nutrition with a stress-aid mixed in. After recovery seems like it’s on its way, the rest of the menu includes cat and/or dog food, mealworms and acidophilus powder. Birds also enjoy the berries we would find in season – they are voracious berry eaters.
So now the recovery starts – and it’s very gradual for some that have to overcome broken legs, wings, missing tail feathers and other injuries. You can see from the photos that it is a busy rehab Carol runs, and over the years she has really perfected her routine and the care it takes to bring a broken little body back into the lifestyle of its own kind.
So now I know why Carol’s place has a dome of foliage around it – the precious patients within need to have quiet, cool surroundings – it’s all part of a good recovery.
The society currently has four directors, but eagerly encourages others to join in. Volunteers are needed too – just ask Carol where you could help her the best way. There is also a major fundraiser about to be announced to the public, as a means of raising awareness and the money it needs to keep this valuable rehab continuing. If you would like to sell tickets on behalf of this fundraiser, again, give Carol a call 250-365-3701.