At once terrifying, empowering, overwhelming, and encouraging, my internship at Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society was one that I will not soon forget. I applied because I was seeking firsthand experience to help me in my pursuit of a Biology degree; I left with more experience than I know what to do with! From the first day to the last, I was constantly learning, whether how to properly balance the diet of an emaciated raptor, how to administer injections, or how to bandage a broken wing. The sheer number of tasks to be done was often gobsmacking, leaving us working until long past the centre was meant to be closed, but at the end of it all, the experience was life changing.
After all, how often is it that one gets the opportunity to wrangle ducks, hand feed a fawn or aid in a wing surgery for an eagle? This internship offered the chance to not only observe, but participate in all aspects of rehabilitation, at the same time learning veterinary techniques, avian biology, and about the Comox Valley ecosystem. Above all, however, these six weeks gave me a glimpse of the complexity of natural biological systems. It was not enough to simply address an animal’s injuries or immediate needs; one also has to be certain that its diet is close enough to the wild to promote health, but also varied enough that upon release the animal knows how to feed itself with the resources available. Nests have to be the right depth, the right size, and of the right materials. Enclosures have to be large enough to allow movement, but with the proper assortment of perches and hiding spots for the patient to be comfortable. And, of course, alongside all of this, you have to ensure the animal is recovering with as little human intervention and exposure as possible.
All this took place under the guidance of fantastic staffers, volunteers, and other interns. Maj and Reg were fantastic mentors, always ready to lend a hand if it was needed and throw in some teaching at the same time. I really have to thank Judiete for all her help over my six weeks at MARS. She was the most patient of teachers! As the Intern Supervisor, she honestly had the most trying job at MARS. For the first week, I’m fairly certain I asked her a question every five minutes. Of course, as time progressed, I found myself shocked at my growing independence. It quickly became instinctive what to do when a new patient came in, when to administer what medication, how often to feed birds of a certain age. By the end of my six weeks, my confidence had grown to the point where I knew that I could handle almost any situation at MARS.
Despite the emotional weariness one inevitably will experience at a rehabilitation centre, great joy can be found in such a place. Not only in the releases, but in the day-to-day recoveries and the tiny improvements you see in your patients as time progresses. Sometimes all you can hope for is the small daily successes. One of my favourite cases was a downy woodpecker that came into us after running into a window. He came in missing feathers, blind, and with an infection in one eye, his neck so twisted his head faced backwards. Assumed a hopeless case, we gave him two weeks to begin showing improvement. Despite his injuries, he was still remarkably chipper, often breaking the silence of the ICU with one of his great calls and consuming his mealworms and berries with vigour. As the days progressed, the impossible happened. His head naturally realigned itself, rotating nearly 180° in a matter of a week. At the same time, he regained the ability to see in both of his eyes and regrew his feathers. I was later given the pleasure of releasing him back to the wilderness, healthy, strong, and wild again.
Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society is no place for the weak at heart. That being said, for those who choose this internship, it will be an unforgettable experience; directly caring for the birds and mammals that make up the local ecosystem, and seeing them re-released thanks to your efforts. So long as the ultimate goal is kept in mind, rehabilitation has infinite rewards. It would be a lie to say that it wasn’t at times disheartening, frustrating, or confusing, but with perspective, it became a beautiful experience, one that provided the most hands-on and involved experience of rehabilitation I could ever hope for. Who knows? You may discover that you had some unnoticed talents, waiting to reveal themselves at MARS. I, for one, discovered my abilities in duck whispering.