Something Wild recently visited Maria Colby, director of Wings of the Dawn Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Henniker.
“Wings is a non-profit and we are all volunteers,” Maria said. “We try to provide the best possible care for each and every animal that comes into Wings.”
Maria and her team of volunteers care for around 500 birds and 300 mammals per year! Upon our visit, Maria was housing 7 bats, 6 barred owls, and a red tail hawk, among many others.
The red tail was brought to Wings after being hit by a car, one of the most common reasons an animal will end up at the facility. Roadsides are ecological traps, offering an opportunity for food that comes with a danger birds such as hawks, owls, and ravens are not acclimated to.
Maria started working for Wings of the Dawn about 28 years ago as a volunteer when she was a student at New England College. With a background in emergency medicine, she thought she could use her skills for wildlife rehabilitation.
The goal is to release these animals back into the wild; Maria sees it as giving them a second chance. She said about 60% of the animals she takes in will eventually be released. However, once released there is often no way to monitor its success in the wild. This peregrine falcon is one of the exceptions. It was banded and treated at Wings in 2006 and it wasn't until 2012 that it was spotted again in Berlin.
By law, animals whose injuries leave it unfit to be returned to the wild must be euthanized. It is a decision that weighs heavily with Maria. Ultimately, she must consider what is best for the animal.
“They’ve lived as an adult, free. You put them in captivity… they’re not suited to be in captivity.”
Calls may come at any time - day or night, and in the summer Maria may receive as many as 150 calls per day.
“It's 24/7. If somebody calls me at 1 in the morning then the animal is in need of assistance.”
That's a lot of calls and a lot of animals for an all volunteer non-profit. Thankfully, Maria has help. In addition to volunteers, she has a network of organizations she can turn to for assistance such as Weare Animal Hospital and VCA Caves in Concord. She is also connected to other rehabbers and regularly attends conferences.
Even with that help, the work is extraordinarily demanding, and taking time off is difficult to coordinate.
“I did take a vacation a couple of years ago for a week and a half. It was extremely hard.”
This dedication started at an early age.
“As a young girl growing up in the city of Boston… I can remember trying to take care of these animals that were injured.”
Maria Colby has been giving her life to animals ever since.
A look inside the owl barn: