Donna Shand lends a hand to helpless birds
This summer, Donna Shand has her hands full - full of birds. Since 1994, this clothing catalog owner has volunteered for five hours every week at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Newark, Del. "I've dealt with everything from pigeons to bald eagles," she reports.
Tri-State is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting healthy populations of native wildlife. Each year, staff and volunteers provide rehabilitative care for thousands of birds at Tri-State's Wild Bird Clinic. During the winter, the clinic shelters approximately 40 birds, but the bird population soars to over 600 in the summer due to an influx of helpless nestlings (newly hatched birds) and fledglings (babies who have left the nest).
The Wild Bird Clinic is where Shand can be found on Wednesday afternoons. "I feed the birds everything - from fruit and seeds to the songbirds to dead rats to the raptors." Shand also administers oral and topical medications, and says, "I've been trained to capture, contain and hold all types of birds." When needed, she also prepares a special Diverse Species Diet for the sickest birds, which, if you have a recipe card handy, consists of beef liver, baby food, baby cereal, applesauce, egg yolks, and various vitamins and minerals. Says Shand, "You plop all that in the blender and blend it for a loooooong time."
Shand attributes her long tenure (five years and counting) with Tri-State to the organization's exceptional treatment of volunteers. "The staff is always grateful to and recognizes the volunteers," she says. Shand adds with a laugh, "The staff will do the things you can't handle doing - like cutting up rodents with scissors - with no questions asked."
She also finds it rewarding to release birds back into nature, though her satisfaction is bittersweet. "You do get attached to the birds, though it's probably a one-sided relationship. You want them to remember that humans are predators, so you can't be really cozy with them. Still, it's kind of like your pet leaving."
At times, though, the relationship seems to go both ways. Shand recalls a peregrine falcon she worked with that had been at Tri-State for two years. "He had injuries to his feet and couldn't grab onto his food with his talons." Although he wouldn't come near most people, "He would fly down and eat while I was there. I felt a bond with that bird."
When she's not at Tri-State, Shand labors over the launch of her company, Plus Active Wear, collects wildlife stamps and gardens. She and her life partner of 18 years, Barbara, are involved in their local Unitarian Universalist Society and enjoy vacationing in New England.
But come next Wednesday, Shand will be at Tri-State once again. "I feel it's a privilege for me to work there because I get to be with the wild birds. Even though they're not grizzlies or bighorn sheep, being in a flight cage with a wild bald eagle or peregrine falcon is to touch nature."