What is the number one cause of wildlife rehablilitator burnout? I mean, besides the killer hours, unending work, low or non-existent pay, heartache, and the fact that we’re almost always covered with something gross?

The public.

Luckily, the pendulum swings. We get a series of people who are so callous and downright stupid that we fear we will end up standing in front of a judge, fending off homicide charges. But then we get a few heroes who do everything right, who go far out of their way to help an injured wild creature, and who restore … well, maybe not our complete faith in humanity, but at least our confidence that we won’t end up in jail for the rest of our lives.

Here is an example of the former type.

Dimmy, whose name has been changed to protect the guilty, was driving down the Saw Mill Parkway, north of New York City, when she hit a large bird. She stopped the car, got out, looked at the front of her Hyundai SUV, and found a live Barred Owl stuck in the grill. She was afraid of it. So: did she call the police? Did she call a friend? Did she drive slowly to the next exit, and find a public place where she might get some help?

No. She left the stunned but struggling owl where it was, got back on the highway, and drove 40 minutes home.

I kid you not. It gets better.

Dimmy arrived home, checked the grill, and there was the owl, alive but certainly worse for wear. She was, as she later reported, still afraid of it. So: friend? Neighbor? Anyone? No. She went inside, had dinner, probably hit the moonshine, wormwood, meth, Drano, or whatever it is people ingest that eventually obliviates every single one of their brain cells, and then she went to sleep.

Leaving the injured owl in her car’s grill.

The next morning she woke up, looked out the window, and there was the owl, still struggling feebly to free itself. This time a tiny, flickering light bulb appeared over her otherwise functionless head, and she actually called the police. A sentient human being arrived on her doorstep, freed the owl, and carried it away in a box. He called Lisa Acton, of Animal Kingdom USA Wildlife Rescue, who took over.


The owl was stressed, dehydrated, had a concussion and massive bruising, but nothing was broken. After fluids, pain medicine, and eventually some good food, he started feeling better. Not even a week later, his attitude has returned with a vengeance. He’s young and resilient, but it’s still hard to believe that he could recover from this kind of trauma so quickly.

Since he’s a juvenile and hasn’t established a territory yet, Lisa will eventually release him in the northern Hudson Valley, in a rural area far from the tangle of highways that nearly did him in. Going against her natural inclination, Lisa is protecting the identity of the woman who hit him, as rehabbers in several states are gunning for her. “What?” cried a friend of Lisa’s, a woman who rescues and provides homes for all kinds of creatures, after she heard the story. “Tell me where she lives – I’m going to go and #@%* her up.”

“Me first!” said Lisa.

Written by Suzie
Suzie Gilbert is a wild bird rehabilitator whose shameful secret is that on more than one occasion she has received a female LBJ, or a fledgling whatever, and has been completely unable to ID it. Luckily she has birder friends who will rush to her aid, although she must then suffer their mockery. She is the author of her bird-rehabbing memoir Flyaway (HarperCollins) and the children's book Hawk Hill (Chronicle Books). Her recent suspenseful, bird-filled adventure novel Unflappable (Perch Press) was selected by Audubon Magazine as one of their Three Best Summer Reads of 2020. She lives in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley and is always up for a good hike.