holiday gift for the birds
Wausau daily herald opinion
Saturday, December 11, 2004
At this time of year, you're assaulted at almost every turn by requests for donations. Bell-ringers outside every store you enter, appeals to your charitable nature at your house of worship, adopt-a-needy-child and secret-Santa programs at work - you hear it everywhere.
But there's one group that is particularly helpless and can't ask for help.
The Raptor Education Group Inc. in Antigo already has helped a record number of birds this year, and the nonprofit organization has done it all without help from the state or federal government.
Those are the same governments that require endangered species and many other sick and injured birds to be taken to facilities such as REGI. And the patient list only is growing.
The birds don't have voices with which to ask for help, but they do have Marge Gibson.
"We've treated over 600 already this year, compared to 398 last year," said Gibson, who has been rehabbing birds for 35 years. "And many of them are the big birds -eagles and trumpeters and things. If they were all robins, it wouldn't be a problem. They don't eat much or take up much space." Gibson attributes the population explosion to two things. No. 1, more people are aware of her efforts than ever before, so more people bring injured animals to her. That's a good thing.
"But we're also seeing a lot more serious illnesses - more pesticide-related problems and things, and we've also got West Nile virus now. In fact, we have 27 eagles today, many with toxins. If it's a neurotoxin, they have to recover very much like a person recovers from a stroke. It may take a year or more, but as long as they're fighting, I'm willing to help." Big birds of prey - bald eagles, owls and hawks - get most of the publicity at REGI. But Gibson also helps a growing list of other large fowl, such as swans, geese and turkeys.
This year, with donations from the Antigo Rotary Club, REGI built an enclosure in which songbirds will be nursed back to health. Hummingbirds, grosbeaks, killdeer and other species already have benefited from the addition.
And birds don't eat like, well, birds. It costs hundreds of dollars to satisfy an owl's appetite for dead rats or to top off a turkey's crop. Worms for woodcock, seed for sandhills - Gibson spends tens of thousands of dollars on grub.
You can help pay the tab. Tax-deductible checks can be sent to REGI at P.O. Box 481, Antigo WI 54409. If you'd like to "adopt" a specific bird or species and pay, say, for a batch of trout for an osprey, Gibson will accommodate you. And if you'd like to make a donation in someone else's name, call Gibson at 715-623-4015 and she'll send a card to that person.
That's the same number to call if you can't afford to contribute but have skills REGI can use.
"We always need volunteer transporters, graphic artists who can come and help design our fliers or do other things like snow removal or construction - we're always building something," Gibson said. "If you have a talent, we can use it." Find a way to help. The birds won't say thanks, but Gibson and her volunteers sure will.
A year ago, Christmas the goose was the talk of central Wisconsin.
The yearling Canada goose was left behind by its flock when the other geese flew south for the winter. Suffering from a broken wing, Christmas likely would have been coyote food had a group of animal lovers near Marshfield not rescued it and taken it to Marge Gibson's Raptor Education Group near Antigo.
As Gibson initially feared, Christmas was too badly injured to be released. But she was a strong bird and Gibson put her to work this summer.
Christmas, Gibson is happy to report, served as a foster mom to several goslings that were found in the spring and recently released into the wild. She'll likely help raise other babies for the rest of her life at REGI.