BY EVA MAYS
A world without birds wouldn’t be a very pleasant one. A 2018 study found that the world’s insectivorous birds consume around 500 million tons of insects every year.
Keeping the bug population in check helps prevent crop loss and the spread of disease. Some species of birds feast on the rodents that humans consider pests, and others have clean-up duty after wild creatures die.
“Birds are an important part of a healthy ecosystem,” said Katie Fallon, executive director of the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia.
The ACCA, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is licensed through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rehabilitate migratory birds that are native to the area. It rescues birds from over 60 different species every year.
Fallon said May through August is typically a very busy season for the organization, as wild birds are nesting during these months and community members sometimes find baby birds that have been separated from a parent or otherwise in distress.
Finding a young bird on the ground does not necessarily mean it requires assistance. Fallon said it is normal for fledglings to leave the nest before they are adept fliers. Though they are hopping on the ground, usually their parents are still providing for them.
“If you find a fledgling, the best thing to do is to leave it alone and trust that its parents are nearby taking care of it,” said Fallon, “because humans just can’t do as good of a job.”
If the baby bird is so young it does not have most of its feathers yet, “that’s a bird that needs help,” Fallon said.
Finding an adult bird on the ground is not necessarily indicative of a problem either. Fallon recommended watching a grounded bird for several minutes to see if it will fly away. If it doesn’t, then it is time to act.
To get the best help for a sick or injured bird of any age, community members can call the ACCAWV’s injured bird hotline at 304-906-5438. A volunteer staff member will assist with further recommendations and next steps. If the situation requires it, the bird can be brought to the organization’s location at 286 Fairchance Road, on the same property as the Cheat Lake Animal Hospital.
Grace Williams, of New Martinsville, has had several opportunities to use the ACCA’s services over the years. In March 2021, she found a house finch with an eye infection that was impairing its ability to fly.
“He was successfully rehabbed and released. The ACCA graciously sent me updates on his condition. I am very thankful we have such a wonderful place to help our feathered friends,” she said.
Last year, the ACCAWV admitted 650 wild birds, which kept the mostly volunteer staff busy.
The ACCA also provides a permanent home for unreleasable birds. These “avian ambassadors” are featured during educational sessions presented at schools, libraries and other venues. These ambassadors include Crystal the Eastern Screech Owl who lost vision in one eye, and Lew the Turkey Vulture who suffered permanent damage after being struck by a vehicle. Educational sessions are usually about an hour long and feature up to three avian ambassadors.
Keith Richardson, an organizer for the New River Birding and Nature Festival that is held in Fayette County every year, said the ACCA has given educational sessions at the event for more than a decade.
“A frequent question we get when folks register is, ‘are we going to see the birds again?’ A lot of people will ask for the birds by name, that’s how well known they are,” Richardson said. Organizations or groups that would like to host a program can email email@example.com.
Richardson also said the ACCA is one of the best resources in the state for information on birds and bird conservation, including what is being done and what the community can do to help.
In a joint project with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the AACAWV is working to recruit landowners who are willing to host a nesting box made to house American Kestrels, which are in decline.
Kestrels favor grasslands, which make farms or schools with large, open fields ideal for this project.
The ACCA is a 501(c)(3) organization and relies on donations to fulfill its mission of conserving the region’s wild birds. Donations can be made through their website, https://www.accawv.org/, through their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ACCAWV, or by sending a donation to firstname.lastname@example.org via PayPal.
The organization’s website also includes other ways to offer support, such as purchasing items through their wishlist available at the Wild Birds Unlimited store at the Suncrest Towne Centre in Morgantown.
One of those items: live mealworms, which are fed to the recovering birds.
“We go through tens of thousands of mealworms every month,” said Fallon. “We always need them.”