Maine residents, seasonal visitors, and tourists often look forward to spending time outdoors across our state in the summer. But while enjoying the water, strolling downtown or exploring the woods, would you know what to do if you happened upon a bird appearing injured, abandoned or otherwise in distress?

Fortunately, for the past two decades, guidance and resources have been available thanks to a Maine nonprofit organization called Avian Haven. It serves as a hospital and rehabilitation center, dedicated to the return of injured and orphaned wild birds to their natural roles in the wild.

Year ‘round, anyone in Maine who is aware of a wild bird in need of help can contact Avian Haven for advice and expertise in determining whether, and how, to intervene. Through a statewide network, local volunteers transport (or help by relaying) birds, ranging from hummingbirds to sparrows to bald eagles, to Freedom, Maine where Avian Haven provides clinical care, nutritional support, species-appropriate housing, and flight conditioning made possible by a small group of professionals and skilled volunteers. If at all possible, the bird is eventually returned to the area where it was found when it is deemed able to be released back to the wild. A small number of birds that cannot be released for medical or other reasons become permanent residents, playing a vital “foster parent” role, year after year, to newly admitted young birds each season.

Because improper diet and/or medical care (even with the best intentions) can quickly create permanent damage, it is illegal for members of the public to keep wild birds in captivity. “Good Samaritans” may rescue birds in distress, but must transfer them immediately to a rehabilitator with the proper state and federal permits, such as Diane Winn and Marc Payne, who co-founded Avian Haven in 1997. They took in 300 birds that year.

Between January and December 2017, an astonishing 2,536 birds representing 123 species were admitted to Avian Haven. An additional 48 birds, admitted in 2016, were held over for care. They include native and non-native species – as an equal opportunity rescue organization, Avian Haven does not turn away any bird in need. Some birds arrive at Avian Haven via veterinarian referrals, Maine wildlife biologists, Maine game wardens, animal control officers and from other Maine rehabilitators, 365 days a year.
Wild birds’ predicaments are often caused, either directly or indirectly, by human activity. Many injured birds have struck windows, been hit by cars, become tangled in fencing or trellises, trapped in buildings, or captured by free-roaming cats.

And “It’s important to remember,” says Winn,” that from the point of view of an injured bird, its human rescuer is yet another source of stress.”
During the summer months, she cautions, “it’s not uncommon to notice immature birds in seemingly inopportune places. Birds often fledge [leave the nest] before they are fully competent fliers; their parents are most likely nearby and watching, though they may not approach their fledgling if people are close to it. Unless the fledgling is injured or in danger, it is most likely not in need of rescue.”

Gaining insight, knowledge and appreciation for our birds, and learning ways to help them, can become a rewarding and memorable part of your Maine summer this year and beyond. According to Avian Haven’s website, “In practice, the rehabilitation and repatriation of wildlife is a medical, ecological, geographical, cultural, and educational endeavor.”

Want to learn more?
Avian Haven’s Education and Outreach Coordinator, Laura Lecker, is available to speak to schools, scouts, libraries and civic organizations, and other groups who wish to learn more about Avian Haven and how to help birds in Maine. To make arrangements for a program or presentation in your community, please email [email protected] or call 474-8323, ext. 3 and ask for Laura.

DOs and DON’Ts to help wild birds in Maine

1. DO Add Avian Haven 382-6761 to your cell phone contact list. Call them if you find an injured bird, or eggs or baby bird(s) outside of their nest, or an occupied nest that has fallen from its original location.

2. DO Visit the Avian Haven website, and ‘like’ and follow their Facebook page to learn more about how to help improve Maine birds’ chances of survival in the wild. It pays to be prepared in advance for emergency bird rescue.

3. DO keep a sturdy cardboard box, and an old T shirt or soft towel, and perhaps a pair of gloves, in your vehicle or other handy spot in case you happen upon a bird in need of rescue. Find complete instructions on the Avian Haven website.

4. DON’T expect to visit Avian Haven in person for a tour or photo opportunities— there are none. This is a working rehab facility, not a zoo or nature center, and as such it is not set up to accommodate visitors. The birds are generally out of sight, since the focus is on fostering their recovery by maintaining their natural habitat, not displaying them for the public to see. In addition, as the goal is potential release to the wild, it is required by their permit conditions that the birds at Avian Haven have minimal human contact.

5. DO browse Avian Haven’s extensive website and Facebook page to learn more about their work, and about birds in Maine. Avian Haven offers fascinating, informative and meticulously documented and beautifully photo-illustrated case archives, slide shows and annual reports. Sign up for their electronic mailing list to receive notices of newly-posted materials. Avian Haven also occasionally offers outreach programs and presentations of interest to the public in libraries and other community venues.

6. DO support Avian Haven, a 501(c) 3 organization, with your donation of any amount, a memorial or legacy gift, and/or check out their “wish list” of needed items online.

7. DO consider joining the 300+ individuals across Maine who have signed up to participate seasonally or year-round in Avian Haven’s volunteer transport network. You can check out the description of what this entails at avianhaven.org/volunteer_transports.pdf and contact Avian Haven if you would like to sign up and participate.

8. DON’T let your cat spend time outdoors. Cats typically account for about a third of all wild bird mishaps resulting in admission to Avian Haven. Felines, being natural predators, are often “unwitting game thieves,” Winn and Payne reason, “potentially preying on species with dependent young, and leaving wounded animals to starve. Your cat may not understand ethical hunting, but you do.”

If cats must be let outdoors, Winn suggests purchasing a “cat bib” (available at CatGoods.com) – an ingenious product that significantly hampers felines’ ability to harm birds.
9. DO make your home windows and sliding glass doors more bird-friendly, and reduce the chance of avian strikes, with tips and information from the American Bird Conservancy’s Bird-Smart Glass program, birdsmartglass.org

10. DO cut plastic six-pack rings before recycling or otherwise disposing of them, so that each circle is no longer intact. Taking a moment to snip the rings open eliminates the possibility of wildlife becoming dangerously entrapped.

11. DON’T use plastic bags if you can avoid them; durable, reusable bags are a much friendlier option for birds and other wildlife and for the environment in general. Make a practice of picking up and safely disposing of (or even better, recycling) plastic bags found discarded along the roadside whenever you can— this small, do-able action on your part could save wildlife.

12. DO obey Maine fishing and hunting laws. Always use non-toxic alternative ammunition and/or tackle, jigs and sinkers, to be sure you are not inadvertently inflicting the often-fatal misery of lead poisoning on Maine wildlife. Encourage others to be aware of this, and spread the word.
Maine lead law info: maine.gov/ifw/docs/LeadLaw.pdf

For information about the effects of lead ammunition or help in making the transition to lead-free: huntingwithnonlead.org
See also: fishleadfree.org/me/#why

For more information, or to reach Avian Haven: Call 382-6761, visit avianhaven.org or email [email protected].

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.