Birch, Mary Jane (Maj)

October 6, 1949 – November 18, 2015

“A life that touches others goes on forever”

An exceptional life came to an end on November 18th, 2015 when Maj died peacefully surrounded by the love of family and friends.   Twenty years earlier, in 1995, Maj founded Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS).  She devoted the rest of her life to rescue and rehabilitation of injured and sick wildlife as well as education about common causes of injury to wild animals and birds and the need to conserve their habitat.

Recognizing that human encroachment is the most common cause of injury to wildlife, Maj dedicated much of her time to education saying: “If we are successful in our education program we will work ourselves out of a job.”  It was not just a “job” for Maj, but a mission and she worked days, evenings and weekends to achieve her goals.

As a result of her efforts, almost 9,000 injured, sick or abandoned animals on the northern half of Vancouver Island have received care.  This caseload includes birds (from the smallest baby Hummingbirds to Tundra Swans with a six foot wingtip spread) and mammals (fawns, bats, squirrels, mink, beaver, etc.).   A generation of school children has explored, discovered and increased their awareness and appreciation for wildlife and habitat through the education programs Maj established.

During the early years, it was common for Maj to receive calls at all hours of the day and night about an injured bird or animal.  She would drive miles and trudge through mud and water, often in remote areas, to secure the patient and then transport it back to the rehabilitation centre for a thorough examination and subsequent treatment. These rescues can be very difficult and sometimes dangerous.

Maj overcame many difficult challenges to build an organization of dedicated volunteers who give ‘hands on’ care to injured wildlife, make presentations to school children and community groups and raise the necessary funds to transport and treat wildlife.  Maj patiently built capacity in the people around her.  She worked with other environmental organizations to protect and restore ecosystems and inspired MARS’ volunteers and student interns (who come from all over the world) to learn about care of wildlife at the MARS rehabilitation centre.

Maj’s work and dedication has contributed greatly to environmental and species protection and stewardship in British Columbia.   She was a gift to nature and her presence will continue to be felt by future generations.  Members of MARS cherish Maj’s memory and are committed to carrying on her work and legacy.