They may be given names like Little Bit, Squirt and Ewok, but the hawks, eagles, turtles and other animals at Badger Run Wildlife Rehab are not pets, but injured wildlife and ambassadors teaching about the local environment.
Since Liz Burton founded Badger Run in 2004, it has grown to be the only center in the region that provides short and longer term medical care to around 250 animals a year, as well as community outreach through volunteer staff.
They regularly travel into Lake County, Northern California and across the Nevada border to collect injured animals. Most often the injuries are human caused, including collisions with cars, encounters with barbed and electric wires and hunting. Treasurer Laura Hale, who is also a biologist, estimated approximately 12 volunteers drove just under 30,000 miles in their personal vehicles last year.
Hale said that because of the demand, the nonprofit is regularly stretched thin. This is particularly true in the spring and summer, when there is a proliferation of baby birds, including herons tumbling out of nests and barn owls, which can fall off hay trucks or be found in hay bales.
“So it’s a lot of fledglings, a lot of babies out of the nest,” said Hale. “We try to convince people to put them back, but every so often, we’ll get baby birds, so we’ll be full up. They’ve got to eat every 15 minutes, from sun up to sun down.”
Currently, Badger Run is prepared to take in animals affected by wildfires — with injuries such as burns and smoke inhalation — which hasn’t been an issue so far this year. They have a horse trailer stacked with cages in case of an evacuation.
In the colder months, starvation is a big issue, especially during harsh winters.
“What we’re going to see this fall is all the baby raptors who aren’t good at hunting,” said Hale. “We’re going to see a spade of them.”
When an animal comes in, the volunteers do a medical evaluation, often relying on the advice of on-call veterinarian Tawnia Shaw. In a good year, 50 percent of the animals are able to be released.
While in the facility, volunteers are careful to not imprint on the animal, a situation in which it loses its species’ characteristics. This involves training rehabilitated wildlife to hunt on their own and not rely on humans.
Board member Beverly MacLeod, who recently released a great horned owl, said this is the fun part of the job. MacLeod is a former special education assistant and has volunteered for Badger Run since 2013 after hearing a presentation at Running Y Ranch Resort.
Other animals are euthanized if their injuries are too severe. Some are rehabilitated, but not strong enough to survive on their own or are an invasive species that are illegal to rerelease. These animals become Badger Run ambassadors.
Hale said ambassadors are “integral” to the organization’s educational efforts. Take Dexter, a turkey vulture: Many have prejudices against these birds because “most people think vultures are gross, but they meet our turkey vulture, and they love vultures.”
She added that often, people are not even aware of what particular animals they are bringing to Badger Run.
“The goal is to use those ambassadors as ambassadors for their species, to teach people in general to regard wildlife and the environment well,” she said.
Hale also has grown Badger Run’s image in the community through its Facebook page and adding the rehab facility to the travel website www.tripadvisor.com. Although she is now giving an average of a tour a day, she said the outreach has been crucial to Badger Run’s educational mission and to increasing donations.
Hale joined in 2012 after retiring from a career in pharmaceutical research and moving back out West. She enjoys continuing her biological work, but focusing on animals. The organization is always looking for volunteers ages 18 and over who have a love of nature and are willing to do the “dirty work.”
“We get a lot of volunteers who come once, and I don’t have a problem with that, but they think they’re going to come out here and immediately work with wildlife,” said Hale. “No. What you’re going to be doing is slicing and dicing dead muskrats and ground squirrels for food prep. So it’s bloody and it’s smelly, and a lot of people just can’t handle that.”
To combat this issue, Badger Run recently implemented a new policy that if volunteers want to work with wildlife, they have to commit to staying at the rehabilitation center for two years.
For the volunteers that stick around, the opportunity can be rewarding. Disabled combat veteran Hayleah Olson has only volunteered for a month, but she said that the experience has already helped her with her depression and anxiety.
“I came here with my mom, spur of the moment, and next thing you know, I was signing up,” said Olson, who enjoys walking the birds. “This has done more therapy for me than the last five years of therapy. It’s incredible, and it’s very peaceful.”
If you do find an animal, Hale said, it is important to make sure it is actually harmed. For example, if a bird has a drooping wing, this is a clear sign it’s injured. Badger Run regularly receives offspring that people assume are orphans when in fact their parents were just not around.
“We get calls for animals who are gorged and just too fat to take off,” said board member MacLeod. “And that’s hard for people to wait a few hours” to see if it is truly alone or injured.
Hale added that it is important to “call us for advice before you take anything.”
After determining that the animal needs medical attention, Hale said, it is crucial to bring it to Badger Run as soon as possible and not to administer at-home care. Because of limited staffing, it is most useful to bring the animal to the facility if possible instead of asking a volunteer to pick it up, and there are cages outside available for use if no one is around.
Every donation counts
In recent years, Badger Run has been able to continue growing its facilities, which include a medical center with a digital X-ray and breeding area, small and large flight pens, isolation cages to prepare animals for release and freezers full of rodents, fish and other feed for the wildlife.
In the cages, they recently installed misters to keep animals cool in the summer. Staff are working on expanding electricity outside, so the enclosures can be heated during the winter and the birds won’t have to be moved inside. In the future, Badger Run would like to build a duck pond, as it has not been able to fully address the many injured water birds.
“We always like to continue making improvements on the facilities, and we’re a nonprofit,” said MacLeod. “Every dollar goes back to the critters.”