As record-breaking heat has continued to beat down upon the Valley of the Sun this summer, even the birds are feeling the effects.
“Right now, we have Gila woodpeckers, northern mockingbirds, western kingbirds. We have a white-throated swift, lesser night hawks, great-tailed grackles, Europeans starlings, sparrows, finches, goldfinches,” said Kathleen Scott, Orphan Care Coordinator at Liberty Wildlife.
It’s the busiest time of year for the orphan care center at this sprawling complex of an animal rehabilitation center in Phoenix.
Kathleen Scott cares for a rescued baby bird at Liberty Wildlife in Phoenix
“We have treated things as small as baby hummingbirds, baby kangaroo rats, all the way up to California condors and bobcats,” Scott said. “And also reptiles: tortoises, snakes. And then we also do passerines, quail, doves, pigeons — all sorts of anything that comes through our door that is Arizona wildlife, we try to treat.”
Scott recently gave me a tour of the center, which you might not realize is there — hidden along the riparian area of the Salt River bed in South Phoenix.
Unless, like me, you’ve found a baby bird injured in your backyard and wanted to help it. Then, you might have Googled and found Liberty Wildlife, where you can bring injured Arizona wildlife to be treated.
This time of year, they see a whole lot of baby birds like these. Tiny balls of feathers people bring in shoeboxes and wrapped in paper towels, including the smallest of the small — like one baby hooded oriole that Scott says weighs less than a Hershey’s Kiss.
In the orphan care facility, they complete the rescue and rehabilitate part of their “rescue, rehabilitate and release” mission. Here, there’s a hospital wing where there are signs on doors that read things like MAMMALS and BUNNY CARE with veterinary students on rotation.
Great horned owls at Liberty Wildlife in Phoenix
On the other side of the facility is an outdoor area full of birds of prey in cages, an education area where people can come and see and learn about the animals they keep there.
There, they keep the large birds of prey — and that means they have to do things a little differently when it comes to babies.
“With birds of prey, we as humans do not want to raise those babies. We want the birds of prey to raise those babies,” Scott said. “Baby birds of prey in general imprint on whatever raises them. So if you have a baby owl be raised by humans, It’s going to be confused. It’s going to imprint on human and associate humans with who feeds the, who are their kind. It doesn’t really understand how to be an owl.”
“Great horned owl parents are proven foster parents. They do not care it’s not their bio kid. They take in the baby, and they raise it as their own,” Scott said. “And then maybe a few days later, we get another orphaned great horned owl about the same size. We can add it to that enclosure.”
But if a baby owl is injured, human volunteers will wear camouflage and use an owl puppet to make sure the baby imprints correctly.
Liberty Wildlife’s intake window is open daily from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. For animals that are too dangerous for the public to handle, Liberty has an emergency line and volunteers who drive around and rescue those animals.
A rescued baby bird at Liberty Wildlife in Phoenix
Most baby birds who come to Liberty Wildlife end up in a small room packed full of cages, and loud with tiny chirps.
“Every year … I would say at least 1,000 baby birds come through the orphan care department, minimum,” Scott said.
During my visit, volunteer Bruce Donsker fed the baby birds cat food that had been soaked in water overnight. Scott said the cat food provides a well-rounded nutrition for birds that typically eat insects.
So what drives someone like Scott?
“It kind of speaks to this whole, ‘think global act local,’ where you can make a difference in your community,” Scott said. “It is so gratifying to see a baby come in who had the worst day ever, lost its family, would not have survived on its own. And to see it grow up and thrive and then also get released back into the wild so that the cycle can continue and it can go and have a family and know that’s going to continue to be part of our ecosystem …”
Scott also credits Liberty’s more than 300 volunteers: “That really keeps me going, is to see how many people care about these animals and really want to make a difference in our community.”