Birds Readied for Long Trip Home
Raptor center raises 39 endangered terns
By Jessica Bock
Wausau Daily Herald
Thursday, August 29, 2002
Antigo Marge Gibson has been caring for 39 little ones for a few weeks now.
You can bet shes busy. Besides eating their weight in fish each day, they need to be fed every 90 minutes and watched closely for any changes that might indicate sickness so that they can be treated.
Gibsons babies are common terns, a bird thats really not common at all in Wisconsin. Only about 300 live in the state near Lake Superior, and Gibsons job is to make sure these chicks survive.
Gibson will raise the chicks, which hatched in Ashland, for a few more weeks until eventually they can make the trip with older birds in the population to their winter home near Guatemala.
Predators and human disturbance have contributed to the states decreasing population of common terns, which most people mistake for sea gulls, said Gibson, the executive director of Raptor Education Group Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to rehabilitating and researching endangered species and teaching people about them. Working with a small staff, volunteers and donations, REGI cares for more than 100 endangered birds in the state, including 26 bald eagles.
Its more than just feeding them, Gibson said. We try to have everything thats important to them, such as the vegetation and sounds of their natural home.
With only three days notice, Gibson and her staff had to prepare their facility, which normally houses larger birds, to accommodate the terns. The smallest bird weighed less than an ounce when it first arrived.
Despite being tiny, the 39 common terns combined eat about 6 pounds of fish a day.
Because of the added expense of caring for the common terns, REGI, which started in Antigo in 1990, is looking for more support. Gibson said it costs about $280 a day just to keep REGI open, and Gibson is always looking for more volunteers.
I always say that wildlife doesnt have health insurance, she said. They just have us to give them what they need.
Raising common terns to be released in the wild is a very unusual effort and hasnt been done before, said Fred Strand, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources in Superior.
Were confident that if anyone can do this successfully, it will be Marge, Strand said.
He said that because the nesting island in Ashland is deteriorating, the DNR has plans to have a safe and suitable nesting habitat ready when the birds return from South America in a few years.