Highland Veterinary Clinic
Wild Bird Rehabilitation Program
Succesful Flight: Veterinarian Helps Injured Birds Get Back to the Wild Date: 11/10/2005
By Sharon Sorenson, Evansville Courier & Press columnist
If not for Dr. Gregg Gormley, this diminutive 8-inch-long owl, <Picture is property of the Evansville Courier and Press and is not included on this site—rather photo, bottom center is an American Kestrel we raised last summer.> likely struck by a car, would have died, its bright eyes dimmed, its bones picked clean by roadside scavengers. But Gormley, a doctor of veterinary medicine and the only medical avian rehabilitator in this area, added the little screech to his list of nearly 300 birds treated just since January. Gormley's success rate, measured by the number of birds released back into the wild, hits 50 to 60 %—an incredible number when taking into account that fractured joints generally forecast a death knell for injured birds.
Working out of compassion, Gormley is neither paid nor reimbursed for expenses incurred rehabbing wild birds. Occasionally, though, some generous soul offers a donation for a certain bird, procedures, medicines or dietary needs.
Although Gormley has maintained a regular companion animal veterinary practice for 30 years, he found himself involved in wild bird rehabilitation quite by accident when, 10 years ago, a citizen brought in an injured barred owl and pleaded for his help, pointing out that there was nowhere else to turn. He couldn't say no. And although the owl suffered from a wing fracture and could not be released, the handsome owl reached a soft spot in Gormley's heart. Now he loves what he's doing. "I feel that everything we have is on loan from our children. This work is a way to give back to creation," he said.
But keeping any wild bird for any reason is illegal, so Gormley needed state and federal permits to rehabilitate and house migratory bird species. Gormley limits his rehab practice to birds, primarily as a matter of practicality, resources and safety.
"If I treated mammals, I'd need more space, which costs more money, and I'd have to worry about issues like rabies."
Gormley has treated both the largest and the smallest area birds, including a bald eagle downed by mercury poisoning, and a ruby-throated hummingbird likely injured in territorial battle. Both birds were rehabilitated and released. Although he's probably treated more kestrels than any other species, Gormley's favorite patient was a turkey vulture which came to him as a handful of fluff. For more than two months, using mirrors to help it identify with other vultures and using puppets to feed the bird to prevent its imprinting on humans, Gormley and Welch nursed it to adulthood, a bird sporting a 5½-foot wingspan, now soaring free.
In spite of his satisfaction aiding the vulture to reach maturity, Gormley's most rewarding experience was rehabilitating a bald eagle. "It just really feels good to see such a magnificent bird healed and strong enough to fly free," Gormley said.
Although he lacks the huge flight cages necessary to completely rehabilitate large raptors such as eagles, Gormley works cooperatively with Wild Care Inc., a charitable rehab center in Bloomington, Ind. Noting the organization's volunteer staff and fund-raising base, Gormley added, "I don't have the time, inclination or wherewithal to establish a center like theirs, but I'll do all I can to help."
Unfortunately, Gormley must also deal with birds that cannot be released. Perhaps they've lost a wing, an eye or a leg - any of which renders the bird unable to survive in the wild. Those birds face one of two fates: permanent transfer to an educational facility with a rehab license or, sadly, euthanasia. But Gormley accepts the sad parts while finding satisfaction in the successes.
"Some birds, like sharp-shinned hawks, are real clowns. And regardless of the species, every bird has its own personality. One barred owl is different from the next. We just have to remain detached to keep the birds as wild as possible."
The biggest threat to a rehabber's well-being comes in the form of talons. "You really have to watch those feet," Gormley chuckles, "especially those of hawks and owls. And if a bird is unconscious, it can suddenly come to; then watch out."
While most birds stay with Gormley for a couple of days to a couple of weeks, kidnapped birds (baby birds "rescued" by well-meaning folks) must stay until they've developed to maturity. When a bird is ready to return to the wild, Gormley releases it at the Three Lakes Girl Scout Camp near Warrick County's Bluegrass Fish and Wildlife Area, a great wilderness for birds with a new lease on life.
When asked if birds seemed to appreciate his help, Gormley struggled with his answer: "That's really a spiritual question. But when I see that bird back up in a tree, I know they're feeling better. But I think we have to make up those feeling on our own."
Wild Bird Rehabilitation Program Donation List
Thank you all for expressing an interest in our wildlife work over the years! Our work with wild birds has been and will continue to be a free service to the environment! There has, however, been a huge increase in demand for our services in this charitable endeavor. In order to see that we help as many birds as possible, you’ve asked us to provide a list of things that we can use to help with this environmental cause. Items that are in blue are seasonal in nature and needed in late spring and summer only.
While we certainly appreciate any and all efforts to help us, if you wish to donate something that is not on our donation list, please contact us to make sure that it is something we can use (i.e. food products etc are brands based on researched nutritional ratios). Call us at (812) 867-6651 and ask to speak to Molly—or write to her