Tape these broken wings
At the Four Lakes Wildlife Center, injured animals get a fighting chance.
Erin Lemley, wildlife rehabilitation coordinator at Four Lakes Wildlife Center, handles an unhappy hawk.
Photograph by Chelsea Weis
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From the pages of In Business magazine.
Sporting heavy gloves and a wire-mesh facemask for protection, Erin Lemley, 31, approaches the bald eagle sideways, careful not to look directly in its eyes. In her hands she carries a plateful of the bird’s daily sustenance — two venison steaks and one bluegill totaling about 1.3 pounds.
This is a part of the Dane County Humane Society the public rarely sees. As the wildlife rehabilitation coordinator at Four Lakes Wildlife Center, Lemley is one of four year-round staff members aided by a host of volunteers who care for injured or sick wild animals reported by the general public.
These are not pets nor will they ever be. “Our goal is to make animals healthy so they can be released into the wild,” Lemley says.
Often they are successful; sometimes they are not.
One of the two steaks has already been injected with medicines and vitamins designed to aid in the bird’s recovery from suspected rodenticide toxicity likely caused by eating a mouse or rat that had been poisoned, Lemley explains.
This eagle was admitted on Nov. 11. “A farmer found her just standing in the field and she didn’t fly away,” Lemley says. “She came in and her red blood cell count was really low, and she was very weak.”
In this outdoor, 60-foot-long “flight” structure behind the Humane Society’s main building, the eagle is the sole occupant. Lemley entices the bird by placing one steak and the fish on the perch. It works. Then, crouching directly underneath, she offers the medicated steak up to the bird using a large tweezers. The wary eagle takes the bait.
On to the next animal.
While rodenticide toxicity cases are not uncommon in eagles, their greatest threat, Lemley notes, is lead poisoning.
“Eagles eat mostly venison in the winter,” she explains, “and if hunters use lead bullets or leave gut piles in the woods, chances are the eagle will ingest the lead and over time develop lead poisoning. We recommend deer hunters use copper bullets.”
Any donated venison used in feeding is X-rayed first to rule out any presence of lead prior to administering. Lead affects other animals, as well. One poisoned duck was recently released from the wildlife center after nine months of rehab. “That’s the longest stay we’ve ever had,” Lemley says. Unfortunately, waterways often contain years and years of lead sinkers and shot. “It’s a bigger problem up north with loons because they tend to ingest fishing tackle which usually requires surgery.”
This is the slow season. The wildlife center has 19 animals in its care, a fraction of the more than 3,200 animals the center has admitted through the end of November. In addition to the eagle there’s a Cooper’s hawk, two great horned owls, three red-tail hawks, three squirrels, two rabbits, five house finches, a robin, and a pigeon.
Staff is expecting its 20th patient later on this afternoon — an owl that was hit by a car overnight. The man who struck the bird near Dodgeville was able to contain it in the back of his truck and Lemley has arranged for its retrieval. “With owls, we worry most about their eyes. They are enormous and don’t get much protection from the head. That’s the first thing we’ll check,” she notes.
Often, staff knows absolutely nothing about an animal’s injuries. “Why was this animal in that situation in the first place? Was there something else that caused them to have trouble? We do a lot of diagnostics to try to find out exactly what’s wrong,” Lemley notes.