by Elisa Hawkes
Coastal Journal staff
THOMASTON — On the Rush of Wings, a nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation facility based in Friendship, will hold its first annual fundraiser at The Thomaston Café on Sunday, July 22, from 4 to 7 p.m. The theme is “Happy Feet,” referencing the importance of healthy feet in seabirds.
A $20 donation will be collected at the door. The Thomaston Café is providing the venue for the benefit, which will include finger foods, desserts, and beverages provided by Peter Ott’s Steakhouse of Camden. There will be a silent auction with paintings, photographs, and other art donated by noted local artists. Proceeds from the evening’s events will be used to cover operating expenses at the rehabilitation center.
On the Rush of Wings (ORW) is geared towards rehabilitation of coastal seabirds and pelagic birds. Pelagic birds live on the open sea, usually without venturing onto land except to mate. Coastal seabirds live in waters near land, and include gulls, terns, and cormorants, which spend some time on the open sea.
Beth Settlemyer and Cindy Mackie, both experts in their fields, operate ORW. Setttlemyer is a wildlife rehabilitator with an undergraduate degree in animal Biology and a master’s degree in wildlife diseases. Her doctoral research was conducted on the icebergs of the North Atlantic, studying the microbiology of grey seals.
Mackie is manager and president of the Center. She comes to the center with extensive experience in business, having worked as director of production in trade show management, and estate planning and implementation. Mackie is working towards securing her rehabilitation license.
Dr. Christine Welch is a veterinarian who graduated from Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, and has practiced in Damariscotta for over 30 years. She became a licensed wildlife rehabilitator working with birds prior to attending veterinary school, said Settlemyer.
Bill Goodwill, Maine Audubon board member and Friends of the Maine Seabird Islands board member, is a consultant for the center. Settlemyer said they work with four or five regular volunteers who help with capturing and caring for birds, and more.
Settlemyer said the clinic is now in its second season. The theme “Happy Feet” for the fundraiser was chosen because she and Mackie are hoping it will stay in peoples’ minds. The name is a reference to the movie by the same name about a penguin that is finds out he is a wonderful dancer. Settlemyer said it also emphasizes the happy, gala atmosphere of the event.
Settlemyer and Mackie started the clinic after both retired from their previous careers. However, their work at the clinic is a full-time job.
Settlemyer said, “It’s a great partnership. Cindy provided the land, I provide the knowledge, and we provided combined savings.” Settlemyer said an additional investor donated the endowment for the clinic.
According to Settlemyer, foot health is one of the three leading factors determining the survival of a given seabird, along with waterproofing of the body and malnutrition. Feet are important to survival because seabirds are anatomically designed to be powerful swimmers and divers, said Settlemyer. The feet also have to be powerful to navigate the rocky islands upon which they mate. When seabirds paddle through oil or other pollutants, their webbing is often destroyed, diminishing movement and fishing potential.
Seattlemyer said seabirds have extensive waterproofing systems to ward off hypothermia. When the system is damaged due to abrasions, hypothermia sets in and death quickly follows.
Malnutrition is caused by a number of factors, according to Settlemyer. One such factor has to do with swallowing hooks and sinkers, which become lodged in the throat, making it difficult or impossible for the bird to eat.
Many man-made as well as natural hazards can cause harm to wildlife. ORW advises people finding injured or orphaned birds to adhere to the following suggestions when performing a rescue:
1. When rescuing a bird, be patient. Wild birds are extremely frightened by humans. Don’t risk additional harm to the bird by aggressively trying to capture it. Call the center if necessary, but stay with the bird until help arrives.
2. Some birds do not need to be rescued. Fledglings, for example, will sometimes stay on the ground until a parent helps them back to the nest.
3. If a nest is on the ground, put it back into the tree, attaching it with wire or plastic ties. Make sure to tape the ends of the wire to avoid injury to the birds. Birds have a poorly developed sense of smell, and will not abandon their young. They do have a very strong protective instinct, however, so leave the area as quickly as possible.
4. Remember: Raptors have extremely strong talons and beaks. Birds like herons, loons, cormorants, and gannets possess sharp, spear-like beaks. Call the center or a game warden if you are not comfortable rescuing a raptor.
5. Have a game plan before you try to rescue a bird.
6. Have a cardboard box or other container ready for the bird. It should be big enough for the bird to turn around, but not big enough for the bird to flap its wings and do more damage. There must be air holes, which should be punched prior to placing the bird in the box.
7. Put a soft, 100-percent cotton towel in the bottom. Any nylon could entangle the bird.
8. Approach the bird very slowly, and gently drop a towel over the top of it. The darkness will calm the bird.
9. Pick up the bird in a bundle, avoiding talons and beaks with raptors, and place it in the box.
10. Gently remove the towel and close the box.
11. If it is a baby bird, carefully bunch the towel around the bird forming a nest. For a very young bird, fill two plastic bottles with warm water and place them under the blanket on either side of the baby.
12. DO NOT attempt to feed or perform first aid on the bird.
Settlemyer emphasized that anyone who rescues a bird is welcome to attend the release of the bird back into the wild. She said it is the most rewarding part of a rescue.
Donations can be made in the form of check or credit card. Checks may be mailed to On the Rush of Wings Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, 15 Rawstron Dr., Friendship ME, 04547. For more information, or to donate by credit card, visit www.ontherushofwings.org, or call 832-5044.