It’s a brutal fact of life, but a small owl can eat 84 mice in two weeks.
And that adds up, when the estimated $90 a month it costs to feed an injured bird of prey — at 60 cents a mouse — is coming out of the pockets of dedicated animal rescue volunteers.
Grass Valley-based Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release has seen an increase in need and an decrease in funding this past year, forcing the organization to rely on the dedication and pockets of volunteers.
The group cares for ill or injured animals that are either brought to the organization’s intake center in Grass Valley, or picked up by volunteers.
“A lot of the parents of babies seem to be missing, whether they’re killed, hurt, kidnapped, I don’t know,” said rehabilitator Beverly Myers.
The rescue group’s volunteers try to re-nest birds when possible. They also work to inform people that contrary to popular belief, animal mothers will accept their young even if the smell of humans is present.
“Birds can’t smell, so it doesn’t matter if you touch (them),” Myers said. “In the case of a lot of animals, parents will smell humans, but also smell their baby, so they will accept them back.”
The rescue organization used to receive funding through grants, which have expired or ceased to exist, Myers said.
The organization has also had to cover five more districts than before, as other groups have lost volunteers.
“We are now covering close to nine counties,” Myers said. “We are known to drive two hours to pick up an animal.”
One of the largest costs is food for the animals, some of which need to be fed every 15-20 minutes.
In the past, mice could be procured from laboratories or purchased for 35 cents each, but the laboratories have stopped offering them, and the cost has jumped to 75-80 cents each; frozen rats and quail are $3 each.
“A baby owl in the first year of life eats 2,500 rodents,” Myers said. “That’s a lot of money.”
The rescue also cares for raptors, or birds of prey, which eat three to five mice per day, said Karen Koskey, director at large of the organization’s board.
“We get some donations from meat from hunters for small animals, like coyotes and foxes, but it seems like this year, we just all of a sudden got a whole bunch in, and the budget is stretched,” she said.
Koskey works full time at a pediatrics office and says the volunteer work is nearly equivalent to a full-time job as well.
But it’s all worth it, she said.
“When you rehab a hawk and get to see it fly again … there’s no feeling like it,” Koskey said, “because that’s our main purpose. Of course, we only manage to save maybe a little more than half, but that’s more than would have been saved otherwise.”
The rescue has stayed afloat with donations and money out of volunteers’ pockets.
“A lot of us love animals so much that we pay for things ourselves,” Myers said.
The organization will host a rummage sale June 29, as well as other fundraisers throughout the year. People can also donate cleaning supplies like paper towels, tissues, dish soap and gently used towels.
“It’s very difficult,” Myers said. “Money is the most needed right now.”
The rescue will pick up animals at the intake center as well as accept injured animals, though it is advised that potentially dangerous animals not be transported by civilians, as the rescuers are trained.
The group also provides educational meetings to schools and community events with introductions of the great horned owl, barn owl, American kestrel, American crow and Western screech owl, all trained injured animals that cannot be safely released back into the wild.
A rough-legged and red-tailed hawk are also currently in training.
“You don’t see owls flying around during the day, so the kids get to see them, and that’s how they learn,” Myers said.
Myers has loved animals all her life, with a particular interest in birds, she said.
“I seem to have a knack with them,” Myers said. “There are so many different kinds. When you get to know them, you see they have personalities.”
The rescue also has a mentorship program with educational ambassadors.
The intake center hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; the center is at 799 Maltman Drive in Grass Valley. For information, visit www.cawildlife911.org/board/; donations can be sent to P.O. Box 868, Penn Valley, CA 95946-0868.
Most of the animals’ injuries are from human interactions, most commonly crashes with vehicles, and also cat injuries, which is part of the reason why the rescue believes it is humans’ responsibility to take care of them.
“This is their territory. They were here first,” Koskey said.
“There’s a whole ecosystem that relates to our health. There’s a saying ‘As the animals go, we go, too.’ I believe we should all care for living beings.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4230.
“When you rehab a hawk and get to see it fly again … there’s no feeling like it. --Karen Koskey, Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release