The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Wildlife rehabbers return birds to the sky in Chattanooga

Written by

0615181554 1

Restoring wings to rise above the Earth again

I think the most amazing and rewarding thing about raptor rehab is taking a bird that's literally at death's door to a full recovery and then releasing her back to her wild home." Alix Parks, Wildlife rehabilitator

Alix Parks became a certified wildlife rehabilitator 25 years ago. Her new career was sparked by a class in wildlife rehabilitation at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga taught by Debbie Lipsey.

Parks also counts Lynne McCoy and Katie Cottrell of the Clinch River Raptor Center as early mentors. At first, she prepared food for the animals and worked with any animal brought to her. She is now a certified rehabilitator and has specialized in birds of prey for 16 years.

Wildlife rehabilitation requires lifelong learning. Parks has attended symposia at Raptors on the River in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as symposia sponsored by the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association and the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council.

Her story reflects the missions of these organizations. It is a local story, but one with national and international implications.

Six years ago, she partnered with Jeff and Sherry Teas and Zeno and Katherine Beaty to create Happinest Wildlife Rehabilitation and Rescue. Teas rehabilitates songbirds and wildlife. She leaves the raptors to Parks. Zeno Beaty works with any any type of wild animal and helps with raptors. Zeno is developing a raptor education program, but Covid-19 has slowed that process because of limits on the size of public gatherings.

Happinest also works with other individuals and organizations, including the Chattanooga Zoo, which does intake and some immediate care of injured raptors. These birds are soon transferred to Happinest.

Happinest refers some calls to Jerry Harvey of Opie Acres Wildlife and Opossum Rehabilitation. He specializes in opossums and receives a lot of the animals of each year.

Kate Harrell, who also teaches at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, accepts squirrels, groundhogs, and rabbits at her Sugar Hill facility, also located on Signal Mountain.

According to Parks, the adult birds that come into her care are often emaciated due to West Nile Virus. Secondary poisoning from eating rats poisoned with rodenticides poses another major threat to adult birds of prey.

Young birds are inexperienced hunters. They sometimes have infected bite wounds from prey animals. These hamper their ability to hunt. They are also prone to vehicle strikes because they hang around highways to pick up roadkill and hunt mice and rats attracted to food scraps from littering.

Parks expects the number of animals admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centers to increase in the coming years due to development and habitat fragmentation.

Parks stated that wildlife rehabilitation is expensive, and very few veterinarians are willing to work with birds of prey. State and federal agencies regularly inspect wildlife facilities and have strict laws regarding their operation.

Since no fees are charged for the rehabilitation service, she relies on individual and corporate donations. She applies for grants whenever they are available.

Describing her daily operations, Parks said that every day is a new day. Raptors are good at finding new ways to get themselves injured. She sees 125 to 175 new birds each year, and some weeks she may see a new bird each day. Her facility includes two fifty-foot flight cages to exercise the birds and several mews to house the birds.

She occasionally goes into the field to retrieve birds, but more often, they are brought to her. She asks that people call her before bringing in birds. Some birds can ultimately be released right where they are found.

Speaking of young birds that have fallen from the nest, Parks said, “They can be renested, and the parents will accept them. If necessary, they can be placed in another nest, and the adult birds will foster them.” Wayne Roberson of Sacred Circle Tree Service is an experienced tree climber and does the renesting.

Young birds sit on branches beside the nest and are known as branchers. They can fall to the ground and need to be put back in the nest.

Some birds die before getting to Happinest. Some are too injured to save, but there are success stories. When asked if she could talk about one particularly memorable bird, she references a large female bald eagle struck by a vehicle on Amnicola Highway.

Parks provided immediate care for the eagle and transferred her to the University of Tennessee Veterinary School. The bird then spent time recovering at the American Eagle Foundation at Dollywood and returned to Chattanooga for release.

During the interview, Parks listed the animals currently in her care: Four young red-tailed hawks, two barred owls, five screech owls, one black vulture, and one broad-winged hawk. The broad-winged hawk will be overwintered and released. The others will be released as soon as they have recovered.

According to The National Wildlife Rehabilitators’ Association: ”Estimates indicate over 75 percent  of the animals cared for are affected in some manner by human activities. Nest tree destruction, vehicle collisions, unrestrained pets, illegal or legal wild “pet” trading, intentional or unintentional poisonings, including oil contamination, window collisions, and non-target shooting often causes  wildlife distress,” or injuries.

With increased residential, industrial, and extractive development, the number of human/wildlife interactions is likely to increase. This could well lead to a need for additional wildlife rehabilitation services. 

The International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council has a broadened scope, including educational programs. ”We provide evidence-based education and resources on wildlife rehabilitation to move the field of wildlife rehabilitation forward; to promote wildlife conservation and welfare; and to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts worldwide, through a better understanding of wild animal ecology, behavior, and welfare.”

1104201134i HDR

Rate this item
(5 votes)
Published in News

Related items

  • Keep your butts out of the Tennessee River

    Cigarette butt recycling bin 4

    Dollywood joins Tennessee Aquarium effort to limit the introduction of cigarette butts to our shared waterways.

    “As all humans need access to clean water, it’s an incredibly important treasure to protect.” — Dr. Anna George, Tennessee Aquarium vice president of conservation science and education.

    Cigarette butts are everywhere, and are perhaps so familiar they go unnoticed by the millions of people who pass them on our streets and roads.

    Not only are they unsightly, they contaminate our water resources — the puddles after a sudden rainstorm, the streams that flow through our landscapes, and the stormwater drains that ultimately lead to the Tennessee River. The butts quickly break down, polluting water with “tiny plastic fibers and a devil’s cocktail of chemical compounds,” according to the Tennessee Aquarium.

    The Chattanooga aquarium has partnered with Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful, an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, to stem the rising tide of cigarette butts in our waterways.

    Dollywood has also embraced the effort, making it the first theme park in the world to recycle all properly disposed cigarette butts.

    “One cigarette filter can contain enough toxins to kill aquatic life within two gallons of surrounding water,” said Kathleen Gibi, executive director of Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful.

    The action fits the mission of Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful, which is to inspire the public to take action to protect and preserve the Tennessee River and its tributaries across a seven-state region encompassing Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky.

    Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful and the Tennessee Aquarium have partnered to install cigarette-butt recycling receptacles on the aquarium’s campus. They placed eight of these bins in heavily traveled locations.

    “Everybody contributes to the river, whether positively or negatively, so finding stakeholders and inspiring them to take action is what will make the biggest impact,” Gibi said. She also emphasized the importance of the Tennessee Aquarium’s educational programs in protecting water quality.

    The aquarium’s eight cigarette-butt bins are among more than 480 such bins that Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful has installed within the river’s watershed. The shared effort will install another 90 during the coming months.

    Dollywood is among the 73 sites that have installed bins, making it the first theme park in the world that recycles all the cigarette butts it collects, Gibi says.

    Partnering to remove cigarette filters from the river is only part of the aquarium’s ongoing mission to understand the impact on freshwater habitats from microplastics pollution.

    Dr. Anna George, the Aquarium’s vice president of conservation science and education, said, “It’s urgent to understand better ways to manufacture and dispose of plastics, so we reduce their impact on the environment.”

    The Tennessee Aquarium recently installed a new exhibit in the River Journey Building where visitors can discover the impact of microplastics on freshwater environments. The Tennessee Department of Transportation funded this exhibit as part of their Nobody Trashes Tennessee litter reduction campaign.

    In September 2020, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and the University of Georgia River Basin Center convened a digital gathering of 50 researchers conducting pioneering studies into the impact of microplastics on freshwater systems.

  • Zoo researchers raising hell(benders) in Chattanooga

    124505910 10157221252975764 8815228407492920926 oThe Chattanooga Zoo will soon open an exhibit to hellbenders, such as the one seen here in a tank at the zoo.  Courtesy Chattanooga Zoo

    New hellbender exhibit at Chattanooga Zoo will serve as a hub for cooperative research

    Thanks to grants from two generous organizations, some oft-elusive hellbenders have a new home at the Chattanooga Zoo. The Hiwassee Education and Research Facility is nearly complete, and it features hellbender exhibits and a classroom. The exhibit includes juvenile hellbenders hatched from eggs collected from the Duck River in central Tennessee in 2015.  

    The zoo is also fabricating a stream environment exhibit that will house nine larger sub-adult hellbenders, each about 10 years old and 14.5 inches long. Visitors can observe hellbenders feeding in the completed exhibit, but it will be open only during limited hours. After the project's completion, the zoo plans to partner with researchers who hope to learn more about hellbenders. 

    "The Chattanooga Zoo is thrilled at the introduction of its new Hiwassee Hellbender Research Facility," zoo officials said in a statement to Hellbender Press. 

    “We believe that this new facility will open rare opportunities for guests to be educated on this otherwise elusive native species, and that the project would lead to important strides made in hellbender research. 

    “From all of this, our hope is for more conservation efforts made in our local waterways, also known as the eastern hellbender’s home.”