October 16, 2021
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Bird Rescue serves community even during Covid-19

  • Pippin the screech owl was one of the six Bird Rescue Center of Sonoma County ambassadors who posed Saturday afternoon. All the birds were beautiful, but I had to pick just one to share and Pippin swayed me with those big yellow eyes! Photo by Robert Grant

By: Paul Matli
February 5, 2021

The Bird Rescue Center located off Chanate Road in Santa Rosa has served Sonoma County since 1971. In this time, the center has become the go-to place for people who find wounded, stray or somewhat impaired birds. Due to Covid the center hasn’t had many visitors, but the more than 120 volunteers and staff are still working hard to make sure birds are taken care of. Located off the beaten path in a remote location, the Bird Rescue Center might be difficult for some to find, but once they are found it’s an incredible scene. The center has open ground, a view of the surrounding Fountain Grove area and green grass. The center also has a place where they keep all the birds. The birds will be kept until it’s time for them to be shown, either to the public or to train future handlers.

Every volunteer who works at the Bird Rescue Center is someone who loves wildlife and all that comes with it. For wildlife and bird lovers, the Bird Rescue Center is the place to be. 

Executive Director Ashton Kluttz gave some background on how the Bird Rescue started and some of the resources the center has available.

“It started as a group of local individuals who wanted to help our native wild birds and focused in the beginning on hummingbirds and raptors,” Kluttz said. 

Over the past 40 years, the center has expanded to every type of bird you could think of. The program also has an ambassador program, rehabilitation center and education center for all the birds. Kluttz went on to say that the center has ambassador birds, these are the birds shown to the public up close.

“These are the types of birds you would probably never see,” Kluttz said. 

Regarding the rehab hospital, Kluttz says just this year-to-date there has already been 150 plus birds come through. This shows that even in the midst of Covid the public is still working with The Bird Rescue to make sure birds are taken care of.

Most of the birds found by the public have some sort of abnormality or disability. This could mean inability to fly, hunt, etc.  Most of the birds at the Bird Rescue are normal birds who have something wrong with them that makes it impossible for them to survive in the wild.

An example is the Resident Ambassador Raven, Poe, who is visually impaired. Poe was brought to the center in 2013 after being hit by a car in Healdsburg. Because Poe has impaired vision it’s more difficult to survive in the wild.

Maybe the most notable piece of news, is the Bird Rescue Center leaving its current location for a new one. This is quite a change considering the center has been in the same location for over 40 years.

“We are still working on moving our entire facility to a new location that will be off  Guerneville Road in Santa Rosa,” Kluttz said. “We will have over five acres to work with and it’s been exciting to really tailor make the organization and physical operation exactly for what we are currently doing and what we would like to do in the future.”

Kluttz said the main reason for expansion is so the center will have more room. Currently the center operates out of a World War II Kwanza Hut, which according to Kluttz causes some challenges. Moving to a new location will allow the center to function even smoother while giving the birds more room.

The center has over 120 volunteers, so it’s not uncommon to run into someone like Dave Laurice. Laurice is a biologist by trade, so he has a background working with different kind of wildlife. When he’s not teaching, he’s volunteering and working as a handler. Laurice’s journey to the center was very simple.

“I’m a biologist by training and a school teacher who wanted to hold an owl and this was the place to do it,” Laurice said. 

Since starting at the center, Laurice is one of the resident bird trainers. He says the training program on how to hold the birds takes about months and is pretty exhaustive.

“We focus on pretty repetitive tasks like holding the bird safely and comfortably,” Laurice said. “Once people have had enough repetitions, it becomes second nature to being able to handle them.”

As a teacher, Laurice says his classes before Covid would take field trips out the center, so the kids would have an opportunity to experience something like the Bird Rescue. Laurice said this was something built into his teaching.

Something else for visitors to keep an eye on relates to the bird’s attitude towards the handlers. Laurice says the birds don’t bond with the handlers, but they are accepting and put up with them. In this way, the birds are different from dogs or cats, who tend to bond with their owner. The birds are more independent and don’t necessarily act the same way. This was actually clear when examining the birds.

The Bird Rescue has been a staple of Sonoma County for 40 years and is showing no signs of stopping. In fact, with the center relocating, it’s clear they could be stronger now than before. Sonoma County is known for many things, but nature and wildlife might be the most underrated aspect. The center works together with all the other wildlife centers in the county to make sure birds and other animals are happy. If the birds are happy, then people are happy.