A bird's best friend
When I arrived at BEAKS (Bird Emergency and Kare Society) in the community of Blueberry, the first thing I noticed was that from a half-block away, I could hear birds singing.
The songs weren't just coming from inside the bird rescue centre but from the many trees surrounding the property. Somehow, even healthy birds just seem to know this is a safe place.
A self-professed "crazy bird lady," president Carol Pettigrew greeted me warmly as she and her staff were busy with yet another arrival. East Trail resident Nancy Prime had brought in a Pine Siskin, a member of the finch family, which her cat had unceremoniously brought home.
Mohawk, a European Starling, is the bird who greeted me when I stepped into a small room off the entrance.
"In the wild, these birds dig in the dirt for bugs," said Pettigrew. "So Mohawk is the one who — when people come in — looks up their sleeves and in their hair for bugs. Everyone loves Mohawk, he's quite a bird."
"I've been doing this since I was five years old," said Pettigrew. "But in B.C. only since 1971."
Pettigrew's passion for helping injured birds turned her into a licensed federal rehabilitator. The facility she now coordinates requires considerable upkeep and organization, something not possible without the help of dedicated local volunteers and sponsoring organizations.
Space in the rescue centre, which is also Pettigrew's home, is at a premium and she said a new facility to operate from would be wonderful but it all comes down to funding.
"It's tight in here — we do the same amount of birds as other rescue centres but it's all squished in here," she said.
Between 60 and 70 birds have been in the BEAK's rehab centre for most of this winter but they normally have only about 30.
Pettigrew said the additional birds have been a considerable drain on resources.
"We have an endangered swallow here that eats $4.00 per day in mealworms and that's just one bird," she said. "We see a lot of migratory birds here — not just seed eaters — and they are all expensive."
The endangered swallow, by the way, has been given the name Joey. He will be released sometime in April when others of his kind start to return to the area.
The only paid staff member is Lenette Doskoch, who has taken some courses involving care of animals and birds and has been with the organization for the past nine months. When asked why she wanted the job, she simply said, "I love animals."
Evelyn Beaudet, a volunteer who also handles many of the marketing needs of the society, wanted to express how grateful they are to everyone who can make a donation or offer their time. She and Pettigrew said the facility is currently operating on a week-to-week basis though the generosity of donors.
Teck Cominco recently provided BEAKS with a monetary gift to help the facility partially fund operations for the summer but more help from volunteers is needed.
Pettigrew said she is also very grateful for the help from Total Pet in Castlegar. She said manager Kris Koop and the staff have been wonderful to them for some time.
"We wouldn't have our wings without Total Pet," she said.
Total Pet accepts donations of cans and bottles for BEAKS from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., Monday to Saturday and Sundays from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. BEAKS will also arrange to pick up cans and bottles; just give them a call at 250-365-3701, or "LIKE" their page and send them a message through their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BirdEmergencyAndKareSociety.
There are a number of beautiful photos of birds on the BEAKS Facebook page to check out, too, which better shows the caring work they do for our feathered friends.
"We've had 169 different species over the last 12 years but that is as long as we've been keeping records," she said. "We have some unique birds, too. Every year it seems the weather is changing, the climate is changing and there are different birds coming in. We have a Snow Bunting here right now and also a long-eared owl, which will be sent to the coast and released there, because we're not big enough."
Pettigrew said Pacific Coastal Airlines flies the birds for free; something they do for a lot of rehab facilities.
"Dogs, cats, birds… they really are good. Because the birds are small, they are right up where the passengers are so their chances of arriving safely are really good."
"No rehab really runs like we do," said Pettigrew. "Most keep all their birds in cages but we don't. They're free flying and in with different species, flying from trees and small perches. Our release rate is 70 to 80 per cent and basically, we don't lose any birds to stress."
She added that when an injured bird arrives she often will stay up with them through the first 24 to 48 hours. Crazy?
Perhaps. But it's a good thing for the bird populations of the Kootenays that Pettigrew has such dedication. If you can help the society with time, a donation or anything else, they would love to hear from you at 250-365-3701 or through their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/BirdEmergencyAndKareSociety