Feathered friends

Caroga Historical Museum welcomes three special birds and their keepers

Allister

CAROGA –Diane and John Hime’s lives as animal caretakers began about a decade ago with a thud.

One night while watching TV, the couple heard a loud thump against one of their windows. There outside was a barred owl who had not realized the barrier that stood between it and the Hime’s pet conure birds– the owl thought would make a tasty snack.

After calling a former school mate who works for the state Department of Environmental Conservation and calling dispatch, the couple were put in touch with the not-for-profit North Country Wild Care and made arraignments to drop off the animal off with one of their rehabilitators.

Diane Hime continued to check in on the creature. From there, her interest in caring for injured wildlife took off.

Becoming a rehabilitator

Hootin Annie

Diane Hime got a state license to care for injured wildlife and specializes in fawns, foxes and porcupines. She later received a federal license for migratory birds — including birds of prey such as hawks, eagles, owls and vultures — five years ago.

She now serves as vice president of North Country Wild Care as well. John Hime is a board member for the group

North Country Wild Care started off with four wildlife carers in the early ’80s and has grown from there Diane Hime said. The group now covers nine counties; Schenectady, Warren, Washington, Saratoga, Albany, Rensselaer, Montgomery, Fulton and Essex.

North Country Wild Care take in sick, injured or “known” orphaned wildlife.

Volunteers include rehabilitators and transporters.

Maggie

“It’s a nice network of rehabilitators and people who are like minded, who just love animals,” Diane Hime said.

The goal of their work is always to release the creatures back into the wild in the location they originally came from.

A few however, have become long-term residents. With some injuries or medical issues, the creatures can never successfully go back to the wild. A select few get to become licensed educational ambassadors.

The couple brought three ambassadors birds with them to Caroga. Allister, a roughly four-year-old red tailed hawk, suffered a partial wing amputation when he was hit by a car.

Maggie, a barred owl, was afflicted with permanent muscle and tendon damage to one wing that means she cannot fly for long enough periods to successfully hunt. She originally came to in as a rehab animal with a 50/50 chance of being released into the wild.

Diane Hime lets Maggie the barred owl perch on her gloved hand as Allister the red-tailed hawk looks on. (The Leader-Herald/Kerry Minor)

“After the wing healed, I put her in my flight cage. For two weeks she was doing wonderful, flying back and forth,” Diane said. “One day I went in, and the wing was hanging. I took her back to the vet and the vet said there is no way she can be released.”

The loud and proud Hootin Annie greeted guests from her cage and had her say during the presentation with hoots. The couple have had Annie, as they call her, since she was a juvenile. The couple got her from a website in Oregon at about three months old. The site has educational animals for those who are properly licensed. John Hime said Annie was a day away from being euthanized when the couple called to inquire about her.

“The doctor was so happy that we called. She shipped Annie U.S. Air from Oregon across the United States to Albany International Airport,” he said.

Annie was found by a hiker emaciated and dehydrated with bruises to her head and legs at around 10 to 12 days old.

“She was near death,” John Hime said. “They nursed her back to health and put her with a Great Horned mother and another baby that fell out of a nest.”

Maggie, the barred owl, sits on her perch after getting a spritz bath. (The Leader-Herald/Kerry Minor)

Annie is blind in one eye likely from hitting her head and has a small cataract in the other that makes it impossible for her to be in the wild.

Diane Hime stressed that they are these animal’s care takers and not owners. The couple had to get a permit to have them for educational purposes.

“They do not make good pets. They have come from the wild,” Diane Hime said.

Diane Hime said she had to work Allister and Maggie to instill a trust in the birds and to “glove train” them, having them perch on her arm while she wears a thick leather glove.

“We have permits. We don’t own them, we have permits to have them. That’s not a bad thing because if anybody did [educational] birds injustice, they can be taken away from you,” she said.

The couple also takes the trio with them to Florida in the winters where they work with Punta Gorda establishments for educational presentations.

A busy life

Caroga Historical Museum President Doug Purcell said the rehabilitators came to help out a museum trustee last fall after they came across an injured owl.

“Their dog kind of got very interested in a spot and they found a hawk that was injured and in poor shape,” Purcell said.

Diane Hime said that hawk, a broad-winged, had a parasitic infection.

“A lot of the hawks, their parents have these parasites and once the birds fledge, they have this parasite. And I don’t know why, but at a certain age they get very sick and very down,” she said. “We were losing a lot of them. We were getting them in, and we knew the exact symptoms, because you can tell just by looking at them that they had this.”

She said she was getting a number of hawks in at this time, with that particular bird being the only success story.

“We were able to get this broad-wing back,” she said.

Currently, the Hime’s are caring for a screech owl and snowy owl, five foxes, including a new one who needs to be treated for manage; seven fawns including two very wild older ones; and three porcupines, one of who is being treated for puncture wounds following an attack by a predator.

“Porcupines are very, very docile and very smart. It’s just that they release the quills when they are threatened,” she said.

Protecting wildlife

According to John Hime, the use of poisons for killing household pest such as rats and mice can have a serious impact on other wildlife. He said often a mouse or rat will eat the poison pellets and go outside to get a drink and die. An owl, hawk or eagle may be in the area looking for dinner and spot the now dead mouse or rat and consume it. When they eat it however, they also ingest the poison.

“They eat that mouse, then they die. Sometimes we can save them,” John Hime said.

Diane Hime said snap traps are better method for ridding a house of unwanted pests.

“Snap traps is the way to go. It’s an instant death and we don’t have to worry about killing our wildlife also,” she said.

John Hime said lead poisoning is also an issue for birds such as eagles. He said hunters who field dress a kill such as a deer may leave behind the innards. If an eagle or other bird eats the innards with fragments of the lead from the bullet still in it, the bird can get sick and possibly die.

“We’ve had four eagles come in the last year [with lead poisoning] and I think we lost two,” John Hime said.

John Hime said hunters can switch over to copper bullets to help prevent this from happening.

Educating the public

Diane Hime said she never could have imagined when she was younger being able to stand in front of a room full of people and talking for an hour or more. But since getting involved in rehabilitation and finding her passion for animals, it has become something she looks forward too.

“When you’re doing something as passionate as this, it’s easy breezy,” she said.

Diane Hime said the couple has dedicated their post-retirement lives to helping animals.

“We feel honored and privileged to be able to do this, because we love bringing our birds out,” she said.

For more information North Country Wild Care, including how to become a transporter or help a wild animal in need go to: www.northcountrywildcare.org.

To get help for injured or in need wildlife call (518)964-6740.

Some guests speak with Diane and John Hime as other wait their turn to get their pictures taken with the birds. (The Leader-Herald/Kerry Minor)

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