Birds are in the Army now. Sort of, anyway.
According to Barbara Doak, the Bird Treatment and Learning Center's rehabilitation director, the organization gets birds from a variety of sources and has a desire to help any bird in need of care and rehabilitation.
Injured or ill birds may require diagnostic measures to be taken at the Anchorage facility, Doak said. However, those in need of some time to recuperate, gain strength, and develop their flying skills before being reintroduced into the wild can stay for anywhere from two to six months at the Flight Center at Fort Richardson's Camp Carroll.
According to Doak, the Flight Center was established in 1988 from funds acquired as a result of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Exxon provided the materials for the building, while the actual construction was performed by Bird TLC employees and volunteers in an effort to create a safe environment to prepare birds for a reintroduction in the wild.
"Sometimes we can place birds that we don't know whether are going to be released again. They often decide for us whether they fly for us or we see that they can't get going," Doak said. "If it's a bird we know is half of a nesting pair, we will return it if at all possible to where we know it originated. But if it's a bird that came in because it tried to hunt in someone's chicken yard and they shot it, we try to put it somewhere else."
The Flight Center is overseeing the recuperation of several bald eagles, but has had occasion to care for snowy owls before returning them to their home on the North Slope, Doak said. Last summer, the facility oversaw the raising of three sandhill crane chicks in one of its large penned flight areas.
"Besides the actual treatment of injured birds, we also have a component of educating people," Doak added. "We have our educational birds that are all nonreleasable and live in various volunteers' homes or in big outside cages which are taken to school presentations or public walk-bys."
Although the educational aspect of the program at times offers a minimal amount of financial support to the nonprofit organization, Doak said, the bigger reward comes from the experiences gained through interaction with the birds.
"I guess the thing that impacts you the most is getting to know a bird and watching it," Doak said. "I remember one eagle that came with a kind of infection we'd never managed to cure and usually makes it so they can't fly. But she began to fly and just about the time we were going to release her, something happened and she broke her wing.
"So, we took her back to mend the wing, and again, much to our amazement, she flew. She'd been with us four years when I took her out to Portage and released her," she added. "Something like that you just never forget. Somehow or another, this was a miracle bird that had won against all the odds. She was a fighter and was determined, too. They too have to have the will to keep going."
Doak said that some of the damage repaired by Bird TLC occurs as a direct result of the impact humanity has on the creatures.
"Humans aren't necessarily very nice to their surroundings," she said. "Programs like this help repair some of the damage people might inadvertently or intentionally cause. Certainly the educational component helps to make it so people understand the value of their co-inhabitants on this world."
In the end, tough, Doak said she gains far more from the experience than the birds she helps care for.
"If you're a bird type of person I don't think there is any way to express what it means to rehab a bird and let it go," she said. "It's difficult to find the words to even describe the feeling. There's none like it." I found this article in the Alaska Star from July, 2003. It's a newspaper on Ft. Richardson, AK.