Green Guide

Rehab sanctuary at West Texas center is for the birds

Posted September 5

— They may be considered the only surviving dinosaurs but, these days, the odds are highly stacked against birds.

If it's not a free-roaming cat that is threatening their existence, there are the man-made obstructions — everything from development that encroaches on their habitats to collisions with moving cars, windows or electrical wires.

"In the last 40 years, we have lost 40 percent of all wildlife," said Josie Karam, who has rehabilitated birds for more than 15 years.

"That's a huge amount. So we do our little bit to give them a second chance to get out there, thrive and propagate," she told the El Paso Times . "They need us."

After about 60 years of home-based wildlife rehabilitation, the Second Chance Wildlife Rescue, run solely by volunteers, recently opened just northwest of El Paso in Vinton in a spacious home built in the 1900s.

Karam and Marcia Fulton, another wildlife rehabilitator, are there most days tending to injured birds, from nurturing baby roadrunners that were dehydrated to splinting broken wings on white-winged doves and other birds.

Over the past couple of months, volunteers have built an aviary on the property. This past summer, they had about 25 volunteers helping to set up the facility.

In the past week, Fulton has been caring for three tiny roadrunner babies, providing them with a lamp to help them maintain their body heat and their favorite meal, cut up mice.

"When they came in, they were dehydrated and we've been slowly feeding and seeing if they can digest their food. Now, they are begging for food and open their mouths readily so they are easy to feed," Fulton said.

Karam added, "We give them lots of support. Sometimes that's all we can do because we are not veterinarians. We don't have a lab where we can test them. So we basically treat them by observing them."

Karam's goals for the rescue, however, are as big as the property that encompasses the center. The property spans seven acres with 7,000 square feet of building space, including a horse barn.

The natural features of the landscapes — native plants, trees and a protected wetlands with tall cattails — provide the perfect shelter for birds, who once rehabilitated seemed to stay.

Karam said she would like to have several more aviaries built, including a large one for raptors like hawks, owls and falcons that are important to the ecosystem.

"Our vision is to make the whole inside a rehabilitation facility center where we can have different rooms for different things, maybe even a room for education purposes, training and holding areas for animals," Karam said.

Most of the injured birds come via referrals from Animal Services and other organizations that can't handle wildlife calls. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department also assists with calls.

Karam said she would also like to see a bird hospital room and waiting area in a former garage that would make it easy for veterinarians to donate an hour or two for surgeries.

For Karam, taking care of injured birds makes sense. All native North American birds are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

"We are very excited about this facility and El Paso should embrace this center because it's the first time in the history of this county that we have a facility like this," she said.

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