‘A life is a life, no matter how small’

Woman starts only bird rehab center in Oakland County

By: Andy Kozlowski | C&G Newspapers | Published June 6, 2015

HAZEL PARK — During her day job as a vet technician at the Animal Medical Center of Troy, in Rochester Hills, Marjorie Sapp finds time to feed baby birds she brought with her in an incubator. Baby birds need to be fed on a regular basis from dawn to dusk, so it’s a lot of work. Her co-workers will help out, nursing the frail little creatures that fell out of their nest or were abandoned.

At the end of the shift, the birds return with Sapp to her home in Hazel Park, out of which she runs Wild Wings, the only songbird rehabilitation center in Oakland County. She has a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a wildlife rehabber certificate from the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council. She is aiming for nonprofit status and is now accepting donations at www.gofundme.com/qz7gg4c.

She started as a “sub-permittee” under another licensed rehabber, handling squirrels in addition to baby birds. When that individual stopped rehabbing, the baby birds continued to come in. That’s why she started Wild Wings in January.

She said she got into rehabbing because she can’t stand to see things suffer and die.

“A life is a life, no matter how small,” Sapp said.

This belief has kept her going — and the going can be tough. Being a rehabber is a full-time commitment that requires a dramatic lifestyle change. She has an aviary in her yard, complete with a watertight area and a removable tarp to keep out the rain. One room in her house is a nursery with abundant natural lighting so the baby birds can adjust their feeding cycle to the time of day. When they’re awake, Sapp rarely gets a moment of rest.

Sapp said she only takes sparrows, robins, crows, jays, cardinals and the like — what she broadly calls “songbirds.” From April to the end of June, she only takes baby birds, due to the immense demand. But from July to the end of March, she also accepts injured birds.

She gets everything from babies that are still yolk-covered to young adults. The tiny babies that are unfeathered or sparsely feathered go in the incubator, getting fed on an hourly basis. The diet is species-appropriate. Once the babies are old enough to perch, they get moved to a cage with natural perches and are still fed, but the feeding time is slowly lengthened to every two or three hours. There is also a dish of food in the cage to get them interested in feeding themselves.

Once they’re seen pecking at the food and trying to fly, they get moved to the aviary, where they have food plates and get a few feeds a day to wean them off needing someone to feed them. When Sapp sees a bird flying and eating on its own, she does a soft release where food is put in several locations around the yard. Most birds hang out around the aviary for three to 10 days.

“I try to tell people, if they find a bird that’s feathered and hopping around the yard, to leave it alone and watch it for a few hours to see if Mom and Dad come back. Those are often teenagers, and bird-napping them won’t do them any favors,” Sapp said. “Naked, downy, fluffy, unfeathered birds, on the other hand, are the ones that really need the help.”

Since May, she has had 50 birds in her care. At press time, she was caring for 21 birds. It takes anywhere from 24 hours to four weeks to release a bird, depending on the species and their age when they arrive at Wild Wings. A 2-day-old crow, for example, could take even longer.

“Crows are incredibly smart, but they like to take their time,” Sapp said with a laugh. “I have nine birds right now that are in an in-between stage — starting to learn to perch, and they’re fully feathered, but they’re not interested in eating on their own yet. It’ll be two weeks for most of them to go out to the aviary.”

She praised Bradford Theodoroff, her boss at Animal Medical Center of Troy, for helping to accommodate the baby birds in the workplace. In an email, Theodoroff said it’s been a wonderful experience for him and the staff.

“Some of those birds we really get attached to,” Theodoroff stated. “The entire staff at Animal Medical Center of Troy will help out to feed them or marvel as they learn to fly. Watching them demand their feedings is a sight to see. The clinic is full of chirping, and our cat patients seem happier for their health visits.”

Sapp said that seeing a bird make a full recovery is especially rewarding.

“One of the babies I have now was doing death-rate breathing, so it’s awesome to take them from that and then see them fly away,” Sapp said. “The majority of them I let out and never see them again, but some do come back for feeding and then go back on their merry way, which is fine and what I want them to do. It’s just a really cool feeling to see them take that first flight into the treetop. They’re out there and doing fine. You gave them a chance at life.”

Those who want to donate to Wild Wings can do so at www.gofundme.com/qz7gg4c. Wild Wings also has an Amazon wish list of needed supplies at http://amazon.com/w/KEBBDR50TURU.

For more information about Wild Wings, call Marjorie Sapp at (248) 701-2523 or email her at WWbirdrehab@comcast.net.