Birds of a Feather

Birds of a Feather

By Jamie Rhein

Whether passing through or staying for a lifetime, feathered friends have a home in Richland County at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary.

 Orphaned and injured native birds are like family members at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary, a 90-acre nature preserve of woods and marshes along the Clear Fork River. Each has a mishap story. Walk along the bricked walkway in front of their enclosure homes to meet them.

There is Blaze, the peregrine falcon who hatched and fell from a nest on Rhodes Tower in downtown Columbus. The fall hurt his shoulder. Tundra, a rough-legged hawk, identifiable by its

dark belly and black and white wings, was hit by a car while migrating to Ohio for the winter. Some, like Alice the bald eagle, contracted illnesses like the West Nile virus. “He is blind in the left eye, and the right is not good,” says Amanda Vanderford, the licensed veterinary technician and sanctuary’s bird curator.

Although the hope is to release birds to the wild to live normal lives once they are treated, others would not survive. Many of these stay at the sanctuary for life. “We spend a lot of time getting birds to be happy,” says Vanderford.

What other birds call the sanctuary home? There’s Seymour, a great horned owl, and Maverick and Ruby, red-tailed hawks, among the residents that include crows and songbirds. If you head into the aviary with a small cup of meal worm purchased in the visitors’ center, social birds like cardinals, blue jays and finches are enticed to come to you.

Trainable birds like Elliot, a beautiful black vulture who identifies as human after being mistaken as an orphan, are Avian Ambassadors. Elliot is trained to paint. You can purchase his creations in the gift shop. Others like D.J., a red-shouldered hawk, and barn owls Silo and Soren are used to teach bird facts in Keeper Talks and events including photo sessions.

Bird encounters pair with educational programs in the open-air, fully accessible Treehouse Classroom connected to a 200-foot boardwalk. The Avian Encounters area is a new village of enclosures for birds who are Educational Ambassadors. Exciting programs, including free flight, will be held in the center upon completion.

Although the sanctuary’s permanent bird residents and hiking trails are reason enough to visit, bird releases are the celebration moments. “Some are soft release — we open enclosures and let them go on their own terms. From a cardinal to an eagle, they all have their own release story,” says Vanderford. The path to release for some is a miracle. When Forest, a baby red-shouldered hawk, was found with puncture wounds on a forest floor, his chance of survival was iffy. “I had to put him on antibiotics, pain medication and supplemental oxygen” says Vanderford. After months of touch-and-go treatment and testing in a flight cage, Forest was released in a field edged by woods. Abby Yates was the staff member who opened the box to let Forest go. “It’s the most rewarding thing,” she says. “It’s nice to see the success of hard work and see [birds] go back to the wild where they belong.”

Animal Lover?

Enjoy more ways to meet feathered and furry friends.

Learn about and interact with woodland creatures during Mohican Wildlife Weekend, April 26–28, and all year long at Gorman Nature Center. Pet and commune with farm animals big and small at Shady Lane Alpaca Farm, Alpaca Meadows and Westmeister Farm.