the bird girl
By Jason Gaurkee
Antigo Area Shoppers Guide Boomers and Beyond
February 16, 2005
She is truly one of the gems of Northern Wisconsin. The bird girl, Marjorie Gibson, is the former president of International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC), and had initially held that position since 1997. A life-long conservationist, avid bird-watcher and lover of animals domestic and wild, Marge began her career as a wildlife rehabilitator at the tender age of eight. In the ensuing years, she has worked with many thousands of animals, created centers, been active with both IWRC and National Wildlife Rehabilitates Association (NWRA) and educated countless numbers of people about the necessities of conservation, preservation and the rehabilitation of wildlife.
After 30 years, Marge continues in her pursuit of rehabilitating wildlife. She began rehabbing back when raptors still had a bounty on them. She was a shy kid and not very forthcoming with opinion when she seized the opportunity to care for her first avian patient. Marge was eight years old and walking home from school one day when she saw some boys that were a year ahead of her in school. They were making a fuss over something. A windstorm had blown down a tree limb with a birds nest attached.
As Marge approached, she saw baby birds in their hands. They were pulling the legs off and laughing hysterically. She did something very uncharacteristic for her at that age. She ran up to the boys, told them off, grabbed the birds and raced the final two blocks to her home with the boys in hot pursuit. The chicks were very tiny and had just come out of the shell, in fact. Only one was uninjured.
In those days, not much was known about such things as nutrition and thermoregulation. The chick that survived was fed a high-protein diet of egg yolk and insects, which Marge caught with the determination of any female feeding her young.
The bird turned out to be a beautiful male Baltimore Oriole. Marge and her family (her mom had to help, although it was Marges responsibility) obviously did something right, because the bird not only lived to be released, but they also banded him with a colored wire and he returned for 10 years to her parents yard.
He reared young with his mate and the only thing different about him was a strange chirp in the middle of his song. He had been raised with Marges parakeet nearby and apparently took part of its chatter and incorporated it into his song. Researchers now would say that the song attracts the mate. Marge figured his mate was either very tolerant or he had such other wonderful aspects that it didnt matter to her that his song was a bit off!
From that point on, I became the bird girl, said Marge. Everybody brought birds to me to raise or help in some way. I was just a kid for much of the time.
My parents were more than tolerant as I used the house, basement and garage as nurseries for every species you can imagine. I remember that one summer I rehabbed more than one hundred birds! My father was a deputy warden for the State Conservation Department at the time, she continued. Even the conservation officers would bring birds to me.
They were always released, of course, and not kept as pets.
Marge got her first raptor at age 10. The raptor was a kestrel that was hit by a car. She was fascinated by him: thus began her love of raptors.
When Marge was 11, someone brought her a harrier (marsh hawk) that had been shot. She was horrified and took the bird to the conservation office, looking for help and support. The conservation officer looked at her with bird in hand and said, I cant give you the bounty unless the bird is dead! Marge walked out in shock. Here was someone she respected, an older, wiser person who dealt with the environment and he apparently had no idea that harriers were good. Those small feet are farmers friends, not a threat in any way to farmers financial well being.
Marge always read as much as she could about the birds she raised. Little information was available on raptors. They received little respect and consideration for their part in the food chain. Marge remembers the moment when, in her shock at the incident with the conservation officer, she thought Dont they know? Why dont they understand? and finally, Somebody should let them know. As quiet as Marge was, she knew she had to be that somebody.
That was in 1959, and Marge has worked with raptors ever since. She founded the Orange County Bird of Prey Center in Orange Country, California, in the mid 1970s. When she moved back to her home area of Antigo, Wisconsin, in l990, she developed the Raptor Education Group, Inc., where today they rehab birds of prey, including many Bald Eagles. But the focus has never strayed from educating the public about the birds and responsible conservation efforts on their behalf.
While the center is a raptor center, and is part of REGI (Raptor Education Group Inc.), Marge actually nurses almost as many passerines, ducks and other birds as she does raptors. Marge ends up getting the birds that are delicate, like the warblers, nighthawks, swallows and swifts. She gets the cases that are more difficult or challenging to keep alive.
Marge has been affiliated with the IWRC for quite some time, and in many capacities. In fact, she has been on the board since 1990 and was president for several years. She has been on the research committee, the nominating committee, the skills seminar committee and the journal committee. Aside from birds, writing is one of her passions. When she moved here from Southern California she wanted to write childrens books and someday she hopes to add that to her list of accomplishments. That list will increase, as Marges expertise and contributions to the world will better our futures not only for Boomers, but also for generations to come.
For more information on Marge and REGI please call (715)-623-4015 or www.raptoreducationgroup.org The Raptor Education Group in Antigo offers tours in the summer months. For tour information call (715) 623-2563.