Wildlife Hospital of Valley Park helps birds return to the skies

Friday, February 18, 2011 | 4:08 p.m. CST

VALLEY PARK — All the squawking about hospital treatment and food is taken more seriously by doctors when the patients have talons as well as a temper.

Volunteers, including veterinarians, regularly treat and help rehab injured birds of prey at the non-profit World Bird Sanctuary's Wildlife Hospital in Valley Park.

Funded entirely by private donations, it treats more than 300 birds each year. Because the harsh weather, the patient load was about three times the normal size this January.

Here's a look at one hour in a treatment room as noisy as a middle school cafeteria on a recent Thursday morning.

9:08 a.m.

A barred owl is treated for head trauma and bruises by 14-year volunteer veterinarian Stacey Schaeffer, of Fenton. She finds permanent damage to an eye, making the animal blind on that side. "Still, owls can get by with one eye," said Schaeffer.

"There won't be any more treatment. It'll be moved outside for cage rest and to start rehab."

9:13 a.m.

Schaeffer looks over a great horned owl found in St. Charles.

"The injuries were from a territorial dispute this one had with another owl," said WBS Director of Facilities Roger Holloway. "The people who rescued him saw him fly into the side of a building during the fight, trying to get away from the confrontation."

Schaeffer finds and treats a possible fractured coracoid bone in the shoulder.

9:17 a.m.

Next up on the examining table is a juvenile red-tailed hawk with a puncture wound in the chest.

"It's possibly from a vehicle collision because he was found standing on the side of a road in St. Charles," said Joe Hoffmann, sanctuary manager.

Schaeffer applies an antibacterial ointment and Tegaderm film dressing, which is "effectively like fake skin that acts as a clear bandage."

9:23 a.m.

A juvenile red-shouldered hawk, also with a fractured coracoid, is bandaged and the break immobilized.

9:28 a.m.

A juvenile red-shouldered hawk has been having a really bad day.

"He was shot first and then run over by a car in Hillsboro," Holloway said, as Schaeffer picks out some road cinders from the wound.

9:32 a.m.

During a brief break in the action, Holloway explains that many of the 37 admissions over the last month, including lots of red-shouldered hawks and red-tailed hawks, are due to this winter's extra ice and snow that forced the birds out of their normal river bottoms and swamp woodlands.

"They're more in harm's way when they seek food in neighborhoods and on busy roads," he said.

Schaeffer explains that her husband, veterinarian Erik Siebel-Spath, is a WBS volunteer and does most of the surgeries.

9:35 a.m.

Schaeffer works on a juvenile red-tailed hawk found on Highway 50 in Beaufort. It was possibly hit by a car. She finds a possible broken coracoid and bandages part of the wing to minimize movement.

"That bone supports the muscles for flight and if it's injured the bird loses full range of motion," Holloway said.

Hoffmann shows how the bird's reflexes are checked by volunteer Kasey Anderson, of South County, who lifts the bird up and down to encourage it to flap its wings. Schaeffer says the bird must go to her south St. Louis office for an X-ray.

9:40 a.m.

Schaeffer is about done with her rounds.

"I come here at least once a week to see patients and handle emergencies and they bring birds to my office," she said. "As a human race, we do a lot to damage to the earth, which has a direct effect on wildlife, and volunteering is my way of trying to make restitution."

9:44 a.m.

It's feeding time, featuring a meal of cut-up rat meat, hand-fed by Anderson for a "miracle bird," recovering in a nearby cage.

"This juvenile red-tailed hawk, found on the shoulder of I-64 in Okawville, Ill., was a long shot to make it," Holloway said.

The bird has a fractured left wing, fractured lower leg bone, and, when he came in, his eye was swollen and infected.

"But his eye is almost back to normal, though there's a little cloudiness in the cornea, and the wing has healed well," he said. "As soon as his leg heals, we'll start wing physical therapy."

9:48 a.m.

Hoffmann is working on plans for the release of eight or nine healed red-shouldered hawks, possibly in the next week when the weather starts to warm up.

9:54 a.m.

Volunteer Lois Donaldson, of Ballwin, is cleaning and refilling water bowls for various public education birds, like a wild turkey, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, golden eagle, tawny owl and others, which are kept permanently at the Wildlife Hospital area.

"I love animals, and I'm fascinated with wildlife, in awe of their abilities," she said. "Here, I wanted to learn about raptors, and it's been a wonderful experience, to see them rehabbed and able to get back to the wild, back to their home."

Nearby, Anderson volunteers at Stray Rescue and said she hopes to work with animals as a career.

"I've always liked birds and wanted to be an ornithologist as a kid," Anderson said. "They're so beautiful and majestic."

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