“This is my obsession,” said Pat Fisher, on what drives her to spend eight hours a day, seven days a week rehabbing and caring for injured birds.
It’s an obsession that began when Fisher went to an open house of a wildlife organization in Shiocton and saw someone holding a red-tailed hawk. This prompted Fisher to become a volunteer at the organization, which eventually led her to apply for her own permits in 1991 to start her own bird rehab facility -The Feather.
In all, Fishers said between the state of Wisconsin and the federal government, she had to apply for eight or nine permits.
The Feather, located just outside of New London, takes in injured birds and rehabs them with the goal of releasing them back into their natural habitat. She said she relies on the public to bring the birds to the facility because they are the ones who find them.
“I don’t do pick-ups anymore because I’m getting too old,” Fisher said.
Once a bird is brought to the facility, its health is assessed to determine whether a visit to a veterinarian is necessary.
“We depend on Jim Ziegler at Wolf River Veterinary Clinic [in New London],” Fisher said. “He donates all his time. There are three doctors there and I have to have a permit for them too. Those doctors do it all for nothing. Otherwise we can’t rehab without a vet. One bird would probably cost you $300-$400.”
When asked why Ziegler provides his service at no charge, Fisher responded, “Because he cares. He’s a good animal person. All of his doctors are. His staff is really good.”
Once the health of a bird is assessed, it may need x-rays or medication.
“Everything starts out in hospital cages in the basement,” Fisher said. “Then when they get three or four weeks down there and are eating, then they go in the smaller cages outside.”
There is also an area of 120 feet of flying space for birds of prey at the facility.
Fisher said that this fall has been particularly busy with birds being brought to the facility.
“I don’t know what it was but I think in one month we got 12 birds and that’s a lot for a fall,” Fisher said.
According to Fisher, The Feather would not be possible without the donations of others and the many volunteers who are involved in the operation. She is quick to point out it is not a one person operation.
Back in 1988, Don Baumgartner and his family moved from Stevens Point to New London. He said he wanted to learn about bluebirds and was eventually told to see Fisher.
“I came over here and she had a red-tailed hawk in a cage and that did it. That piqued my interest and that’s where it started,” Baumgartner said.
Baumgartner, who lives only about a half a mile away, has been a volunteer ever since. He says his enjoyment comes from the educational aspect of rehabbing the birds.
“We don’t make a whole lot of difference out there by releasing one bird,” he said. “It’s educating the people that we have to care for their habitat and the environment.”
Fisher did admit that she has started limiting the types of birds that she takes in for rehabbing.
“I’m not doing anymore hunting species,” Fisher said. “I hate to get in a couple of geese with shot wings and put them out for somebody to shoot them again. I haven’t done ducks for probably four or five years. I’m pretty much into sandhill cranes, birds of prey and things that kids on the bus bring me, so I do some song birds.”
Fisher said sandhill cranes are her favorite species of birds.
“After you work with birds you find out what you connect with. That’s what I connect with right there,” Fisher said.
As stated, the ultimate goal of rehabbing the birds is to release them back into their natural habitat. Also, the most enjoyment she receives from helping injured birds is when they leave.
“We’re not going to make a difference to the population, but we are making a difference to that one being,” Fisher said. “Whether or not it makes it, and whether or not it dies, let it die out there, don’t let it die in a cage here.”
Baumgartner agreed, “Just that it’s back where it belongs. It’s that simple. It’s where it belongs. I’m a wilderness person and truly love wild things. That’s my part, getting them back to where they belong.”
Unfortunately, not all the injured birds brought to the facility are able to be rehabbed, as their injuries are too severe to overcome, so they have to be put down. That is one of the tough parts about the job, Fisher said.
There are around 11 birds at the facility, whose injuries are too much for them to survive in the wild, so they are used in educational programs provided by The Feather. Tours can be set up at the facility, or Fisher and other volunteers will bring the educational birds to schools and nursing homes, just to name a few. The cost for this is $125, which is used to generate money to keep the facility running.