ROANOKE, Va. – Spring begins Saturday and while many of us are ready to get out and about, animals are feeling spring fever too, especially those who have wintered indoors while recovering at the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center.
The center is at the start of what Executive Director Sabrina Garvin calls their ‘baby season,’ the center’s busiest time of year.
“We will soon have baby squirrels, rabbits, opossums, it will go into groundhogs, flying squirrels and chipmunks then the birds start coming in,” Garvin said.
Those babies are just one of Mother Nature’s signals of springtime. Some, come earlier than expected. Tuesday the center received a four-week-old squirrel, most likely separated from its mother too soon. A once-over by a center staff member gave it a clean bill of health. It’s only the tip of the baby squirrel iceberg. The center receives dozens and dozens each season.
The seasonal euphoria of spring spreads quickly at the wildlife center. Just as the babies start getting checked in, others are ready to check out. The animals know it’s time, as their instinctive internal clocks start ticking. Kept warm indoors over winter, a number of recovered turtles are anxiously awaiting their release to find a mate That same eagerness is bouncing around in the bird room.
“A lot of these birds migrate to South America, so when they lose their tail feathers, they can’t migrate. So here they stay,” Garvin said. Many like a gray-billed cuckoo patient weren’t able to recover in time to fly south for winter. As soon as they molt, they’ll be released. It’s a bittersweet moment for those that cared for them all winter. There’s some that get you right down here and stay with you forever,” Garvin said while pointing to her chest. “Because there are ones that you work with longer and they are going to be releasable, and then there’s that magic moment when you are able to release them. You’re thinking ‘My work paid off.’”
That hard work paid off last week for a hawk rescued in Salem. After being treated, Garvin was able to release it near the site where it was found in Salem. Although care for each animal can last months, their release back into the wild only takes moments.
It’s that magic moment Garvin describes that keeps center volunteers and staff passionate about the work they do.
“It’s important,” Garvin said. “It keeps us going.”
That motivation is crucial because wildlife rescue is cyclical. With every animal returned to the wild, it seems another is waiting to be rescued.