BELOIT — Whether you love birds or can’t stand them, it is important to know the benefits of having them around.
“Protecting and helping birds is not only the right thing to do, it is also good for the economy and the future of our environment,” said George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy, in a statement. “Birds are invaluable as controllers of insect pests and as pollinators of crops, and also generate tremendous economic revenues through the pastimes of bird feeding and bird watching.”
There are some great places just outside Beloit dedicated to protecting the birds in our area and teaching the public why they should care and how they can help. Hoo Haven in Durand, Illinois, and Sand Bluff Bird Observatory in Shirland, Illinois, are two of these places.
Hoo Haven is a wildlife rehabilitation and education center and its goal is to rehabilitate and release sick, injured or orphaned North American wildlife. Hoo Haven also aims to educate individuals on the animals being taken care of at the center and on the importance of conservation. While Hoo Haven does care for other animals, birds are helped most often.
Karen Herdklotz, co-founder and director of Hoo Haven, is a nurse. She said people were always asking her for help with their animals, so she decided to get certified in wildlife rehabilitation in 1996. Hoo Haven officially became incorporated in 2000.
In 2004, it became the United States Fish and Wildlife Eagle Recovery Center for the Northern Illinois, Southern Wisconsin and Eastern Iowa areas.
Hoo Haven released over 500 animals this year and, as of November, had 71 eagle recoveries since becoming a designated eagle recovery center.
While the goal of Hoo Haven is to release the birds and other animals back into the wild, that is not always possible. Due to injuries, some would not be able to survive on their own in the wild. If this happens, Hoo Haven takes the bird in and cares for them for life, like with snowy owl, Houdini.
Because of a wing injury, Houdini cannot fly much more than a foot or two off the ground. If he were in the wild, he would not be able to survive. So, instead, he lives at Hoo Haven and is one of the birds of prey that goes on trips to schools and other organizations to help educate the audience.
“I’m an RN and I love helping people and animals. We never help an animal without helping a person,” Herdklotz said.
She expanded by saying when people bring in an animal and know they were able to either help save its life or even lessen its suffering, it is very rewarding. Sometimes people get either angry or upset when an animal can’t be saved, but Herdklotz said the organization knows how to handle the situation.
“They have to remember we have rules and regulations and we can’t save them all,” Herdklotz said.
Hoo Haven also works with those doing community service or that are on probation and with other groups to help them complete their hours or just stay out of trouble.
“People can’t always connect with people, so sometimes working with animals can be the best thing for them,” Herdklotz said.
Hoo Haven is run by only volunteers and through donations. It is always looking for people to come help out, even if it is just for a few hours a week. Interested people should contact Karen either by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 815-629-2212.
Sand Bluff Bird Observatory is another organization that has a goal to preserve and protect both birds and their habitat. Sand Bluff is one of the largest small bird banding operations in the country that is also open to the public.
At Sand Bluff, volunteers aid in the study of population trends in birds by banding 4,000-6,000 warblers, vireos, orioles, sparrows, thrushes and finches each year. The data collected at Sand Bluff is used to help scientists understand the current status of these birds both nationally and internationally.
“We generally have 40 nets open,” said volunteer Deb Eickman.
The nets are strung up on poles and are 40 feet long and 8 feet tall. They are made of a soft material so when the birds fly into the nets they are not injured and are gently caught in a little pocket at the bottom of the net. Volunteers then band them before releasing them.
“Bird safety is our number one consideration,” said Megan Biehl, another volunteer, as she explained the nets are only open on the weekends when the volunteers are there. They check the nets frequently so no bird is trapped for too long.
After the bird is in the net, it is then taken to be banded. The bands range in size and are very small, so the birds eventually forget they are even wearing them.
The bands are how information is gathered and tracked. When people at other banding centers catch a bird that already has a band, they update the information on that bird such as where it is, how big it is and how much time has passed since it was last seen.
“The oldest bird that we banded was a red-tailed hawk and someone found it about 20 years later,” Biehl said, excitement still in her voice. She explained a lot of birds don’t make it past their first year, so it was incredible to know the hawk was still alive and well.
Sand Bluff is closed for the winter but hopes to open the first weekend in March. The observatory is open only on the weekends aside from special weekday events that are planned in advance for organizations.
“We want people to take away a sense of amazement of the world around them,” Biehl said. “When you’re here with the birds you get a connection to the rest of the planet. These birds travel to other countries and continents and what happens to them in those places affects how they behave here and if they even come here.”
“We want to provide the opportunity to see something rare and fleeting,” added Biehl’s husband, Bryan.
The volunteers at Sand Bluff explained just the presence or absence of the birds can show climate change. What time they return to a place can indicate global warming, which is part of the reason the information they gather is used by scientists and government officials.
Like Hoo Haven, Sand Bluff is completely self-funded and run by volunteers. There is always a need for more help. The training is done at the observatory and volunteers will be taught a range of things from how to open and close the nets to which birds are more aggressive or more fragile. Interested people can contact the observatory at 815-629-2671.
Volunteers also added that if you can’t volunteer, there are small things you can do at home to help preserve the birds’ habitats. Keeping cats indoors, only using certain cleaning products on windows, and even keeping in mind what coffee you drink can help the birds thrive.
“One of the main threats to birds is outside cats,” Eickman said.
Glass treatments to help prevent birds from hitting your windows, eliminating pesticides from your yard, creating a bird habitat in your yard and reducing your carbon footprint by simply using low energy light bulbs are all ways you can help.