University of Delaware student Sierra Hanson likes to vary her interests each semester and now, having volunteered at and secured a summer internship with Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, that interest is birds.
Hanson, a junior majoring in wildlife conservation in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that while last spring she was interested in herpetology — doing a lot of hands-on work in her class with salamanders, snakes and turtles — she is now in full bird mode. “Birds are definitely right up there in my interests, it really just depends on what I’m doing at the moment,” said Hanson.
Volunteering for Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research since last fall, Hanson — who is also an Ag Ambassador, a Blue Hen Ambassador and a founding member of the Entomology Club at UD — said that she is at the Newark center most Saturdays and Sundays from 1-6 p.m. Hanson admits that while she hasn’t “been volunteering there for very long, I still feel like I know my way around because I’ve been there so frequently.”
While on the job, Hanson does a lot of husbandry work, cleaning up cages and scrubbing down equipment, but she also gets to do many activities directly with the birds.
Among the more memorable experiences for Hanson were when she got to handle a red-shouldered hawk, and when she traveled into Pennsylvania to rescue an owl that had lodged itself in the chimney of a house.
“I took all my gear out there and I caught their screech owl. They had made it seem like it was a great horned owl so I was really prepared for this giant monster, and then there’s just like this little tiny owl,” said Hanson. “There was nothing wrong with him but we took him back [to the organization’s center] and made sure he was all good because in a chimney he could have inhaled ash and his whole plumage could have been messed up. We gave him the once over, he was good and I brought him back to that neighborhood that week and released him.”
Hanson was also recently trained as a bird care assistant, so she is now able to tube feed the birds and administer medication to those in need.
Even when she is doing the husbandry work, Hanson said she likes it because she knows “even if I’m only mopping floors one week, I’ve indirectly helped that bird to get back on the wing.”
Her favorite part of the job is when she gets to help release a bird that has been in the rescue center. “We released an eagle in January and that was just really cool to put the eagle down in the field and then watch it fly away,” said Hanson. “It’s kind of bittersweet because you’re like, ‘Oh, I loved you, but now you’re better and you can go and fly and that’s great.’ But I think that’s the best part, just making a difference and making the birds able to go back out into the wild and live their full lives.”
Hanson is also learning her fair share about birds, specifically that old sayings and habits may not always be correct. For instance, Hanson said that the phrase “eats like a bird” is misleading as it implies that birds eat very little when “in reality, birds eat a ton. They have to expend a lot of energy when they’re flying.”
Hanson said that with hatching season right around the corner, usually lasting from late spring to late summer, she will get to see firsthand how much they eat as there will be baby birds who must be fed every 20 minutes.
She also has come to realize through her work that when she and her mother used to feed ducks at the local library, they may not having been helping the ducks as much as they thought. While feeding the ducks was fun she now understands one “should never feed ducks bread because it’s really unhealthy for them.”
The amount of care that goes into an animal rehabilitation center was also eye opening for Hanson. “You just don’t realize the wide variety of foods that the birds eat and then also the different types of care that you have to give them while they’re in human custody and are being rehabilitated.”
She said that it’s not just Tri-State but other rehabilitation centers that need all sorts of help and various donations to keep them going. “A lot of different work and different donations go into these places, so they really do need as much help as we can give them.”
For UD students interested in volunteering, Hanson said that she would recommend it. “I wish I had started when I was a freshman or a sophomore because I’m a junior now and I’m getting a lot of experience. I wish that I had started earlier just so I could be further into the process at this point,” said Hanson.
She noted that the center is only about four miles from the UD main campus, off Possum Park Road near the Paper Mill Road intersection, so students can reach it easily.
Article by Adam Thomas
Photos by Danielle Quigley
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