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Flyaway: How a Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings
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Flyaway: How a Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings

4.5 2
by Suzie Gilbert, Laura Westlake (Illustrator)
 

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In this captivating memoir, Suzie Gilbert tells the rollicking story of how she turned her family life upside down to pursue her unusual passion for rehabilitating wild birds.

Through adolescence and into adulthood, Suzie Gilbert struggled to find her calling. But when she took a job working at the animal hospital near her home in New York's Hudson Valley

Overview

In this captivating memoir, Suzie Gilbert tells the rollicking story of how she turned her family life upside down to pursue her unusual passion for rehabilitating wild birds.

Through adolescence and into adulthood, Suzie Gilbert struggled to find her calling. But when she took a job working at the animal hospital near her home in New York's Hudson Valley, her passion was born. She began bringing abused and unwanted parrots home and volunteering at a local raptor rehabilitation center, activities she continued for the next eleven years, even as she started a family. Then came the ultimate commitment to her cause: turning her home into Flyaway, Inc., a nonprofit wild bird rehabilitation center.

Gilbert chronicles the years of her chaotic household-cum-bird-hospital with delightful wit, recounting the confusion that ensued as her husband and two young children struggled to live in a house where parrots shrieked Motown songs, nestling robins required food every twenty minutes, and recuperating herons took over the spare bathroom. Gradually, however, the birds came to represent the value of compassion and the importance of pursuing even the most unlikely of dreams.

Often funny, sometimes painful, Gilbert's encounters with these beautiful creatures reveal profound truths not only about animals but also about our own lives—lessons of birth and death, suffering and empathy, holding on and letting go.

Original, lyrical, and highly entertaining, Flyaway will forever change the way you see this amazing member of the animal kingdom.

Editorial Reviews

For years, Suzie Gilbert searched for a purpose in life; she found it in birds. Her work with injured raptors at a local rehabilitation facility gave her such a deep peace that she eventually opened her own bird rehab center in her Hudson Valley, New York home. Flyaway describes not only the story of her winged obsession but also explains how she balances (not always successfully) the claims of her two young children, her skeptical husband, and her ever-changing menagerie of birds of prey. Infectiously endearing.
Library Journal

Gilbert, a licensed wild bird rehabilitator and author of the well-received children's book Hawk Hill, recounts her trials and triumphs, as someone dedicated to the unremunerative, exacting, and time-consuming profession of helping injured birds. Crows, geese, jays, sparrows, owls, hawks, and many other species all receive her expert care. Starting as a volunteer for such work, she tells of how it took over her life and the resulting effects on her family. Gilbert's prose reads easily, ushered along by her clear, knowledgeable explanations of biology, medicine, natural history, nutrition, and animal behavior as well as anecdotes of her interactions with the varied people who call her pleading for her help and advice. Networking with other rehabilitators is an important aspect of her life, too. The epilog lists related web sites and other sources of contact. Strongly recommended for natural history and birding collections.
—Henry T. Armistead

Kirkus Reviews
Free-spirited animal lover shares the ups and downs of five years spent rehabilitating injured birds from her Hudson Valley home. Gilbert (Hawk Hill, 1996) admits she was always a misanthropic rebel-bouncing among schools and jobs and resenting authority, but enthralled by the dignity of animals. She worked at an animal hospital and volunteered at a raptor center for several years before becoming a home-based rehabber. Gilbert had a flight cage built, passed her federal permit exam and agreed to accept only recovering songbirds. The need for committed, qualified wildlife rehabilitators is so great, however, that she found herself taking on more birds than she could handle, largely out of guilt for the wrongs visited by "perverse" humans on the innocent avian population. She comically describes her house becoming a veritable circus of wild birds, with a great blue heron in the shower, grackles in the flight cage, a duckling in the living room and waxwings perched wherever there was room. (Westlake's illustrations vividly convey the scene.) While Gilbert's jealous pets, a yellow-collared macaw and an African grey parrot, waged war on the invading species, her patient family got used to seeing defrosted rats on top of the dryer or mealworms in the fridge. The author's two children in particular add purpose and exuberance to her story. Readers will acquire education aplenty from Gilbert's discussions of the creatures she encounters and the challenges rehabbers face in a world where more than 90 percent of wildlife injuries are the direct result of human activity. She excoriates ignorant owners who let domestic cats hunt birds for play, decries her perennial lack of funds and labor anddescribes working with vets to decide whether euthanasia or captivity is more humane. Gilbert is abrasive and funny, a crusader with little patience for those who do not share her concerns. She scants opportunities to transcend her topic and connect with readers on more relatable struggles like family balance, accepting limits and managing suffering. Best for like-minded bird enthusiasts. Agent: Russell Galen/Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency
Joanna Burger
“Charms, delights, and educates while providing a fascinating tale of love and devotion to the feathered creatures that share our increasingly crowded world.”
Lyanda Lynn Haupt
“Unique and engaging . . . [Gilbert] shows reveals in elegant prose how every creature has value, and how a voice for one is voice for all.”
Stacey O'Brien
“Fascinating . . . . A testament to the challenges we all face when we love another being.”
Henry T. Armistead
“Gilbert’s prose reads easily, ushered along by her clear, knowledgeable explanations of biology, medicine, natural history, nutrition, and animal behavior. . . . Strongly recommended.”
Carl Zimmer
“Funny and insightful. . . . Most of us see birds through binoculars and windows. Suzie Gilbert has entered their lives.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061563126
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
03/03/2009
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Flyaway
How a Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings

Chapter One

A Second Chance

The morning sun shone across the Hudson Highlands as I climbed a small wooded hill, dressed in faded jeans and an old shirt and carrying what appeared to be an enormous butterfly net. I carefully scanned the bushes, and within moments found what I was looking for: a large dark bird, one wing hanging haphazardly, huddled next to an old iron fence.

The bird stiffened and eyed me suspiciously. My best chance was to lunge forward and drop the net over his head before he had a chance to run, but before I could do so a small and angry voice cut through the springtime air.

"What are you doing?" it demanded. "What are you going to do to that . . . that animal? Do you have a license?"

I turned to find a diminutive elderly lady standing behind me, her clenched hands on her hips. She was quivering with indignation, and her blue eyes bored into mine.

"I do have a license," I told her, lowering my voice so as not to alarm the bird still further. "I take care of injured wild birds. One of your neighbors called and told me there was one here with a broken wing. I'm going to catch him and take him to the vet and see if we can fix him up."

Undecided, she continued to glare at me; in return, I gave her a genuine smile. I love -people like this. Ninety pounds of outrage, she was ready to go to the mat for an injured creature, even though she wasn't exactly sure what it was.

"He's a black vulture,"I continued. "He's a cousin to those big turkey vultures, the ones you always see circling above town.Vultures are great birds-I'm happy to take care of him while he recuperates."

She stared at me doubtfully, making up her mind. "Well," she said finally, "just don't hurt him. Remember-I'll be watching you."

As it turned out she wasn't the only one; by this time four neighbors had gathered behind us. I started toward the vulture, hoping he was tired and hungry and would stay crouched in the leaves so I could net him quickly and efficiently. But according to Murphy's Law of Wildlife Rescue, this only happens when no one is around to admire your skill. Whenever there's a crowd, whatever bird you're after will spring to life and lead you on a chase designed to make you look like an incompetent fool. Naturally, that was what happened here.

Most -people don't think of vultures as being particularly nimble; but in reality they can run like jackrabbits. Trailing his broken wing he sped around the fence, only to come face to face with an impenetrable tangle of barberry. "Excuse me!" I called to the four neighbors. "If he comes toward you, block his path!"

I lunged toward my quarry and brought the net down, but the vulture was no longer there. Having feinted right, he ducked left and raced toward the neighbors, who scattered like confetti in the wind. Triumphantly, the vulture slipped by and hightailed it down the road. I let out a whine of dismay and glanced at the elderly lady, who scowled at me disapprovingly. Clutching my net, I ran after the bird's retreating form.

I spent the next half hour running through what seemed like every backyard in the small river town. Had the circumstances been different I might have enjoyed seeing its variety: the small 1950s houses and the stately restored Victorians, the perfectly tended gardens and the areas of cheerful chaos. I kept careening around corners, gasping for air, just in time to see the disappearing edge of a black tail feather. At one point the vulture tore through an alleyway and I took a swipe at him with the net; beak open, one long black wing fully extended, he leaped upward and landed on a stairway railing just as the lady of the house opened the door. Letting out an ear-shattering scream, she threw herself back inside; something breakable crashed to the floor, and I staggered on.

The end of the line came in a surprisingly large, almost empty backyard. By this time the two of us must have looked like the fox and the hound in the old cartoon, where the chase continues even though both are so exhausted they're walking instead of running. As the vulture made a final sprint across the lawn I dashed after him, extended my net, tripped, and fell forward through the air. Hitting the ground with a thud, I looked up to see the bird safely, miraculously, enclosed in my net. We both lay on the grass, our sides heaving, listening to the crows screaming above us.

Finally a man's voice made me look up. "Excuse me?" it said. "Do you need some help?"

I gazed at him for a moment, sorely tempted to say something ungrateful. "Thank you," I said instead. "I have a red Jeep parked down on Violet Street. There is a pile of towels in the back-could you bring me one?"

"Sure thing," he said, and jogged off.

The air was fragrant, the late spring sunshine warm. I sat up and regarded the vulture encased in my net. If the fracture was in the middle of the humerus, the large wing bone closest to the body, odds are it would heal well and he would eventually be released. A fracture close to the joint would be more difficult, the prognosis unclear. A fracture involving the joint usually means the bird will never fly again. But whatever the outcome, at least now he had a second chance.

I felt a creeping sense of well-being. I wasn't a conquering hero, but I had saved this bird from a sure death by either starvation or predation. I would return to my car, mission accomplished, and perhaps the assembled crowd-if they were still there-would feel a new appreciation for the wildlife around them. My helpful friend returned and, smiling, handed me a towel. I extricated the big, dark bird from the net and held him briefly, allowing the man to see the obvious bond between the avian world and me. The vulture looked me in the eye, opened his beak, and with a master's timing, regurgitated the contents of his stomach onto my lap. I looked up; the man was no longer smiling.

Vomiting as a defense mechanism makes perfect sense for a vulture. Vultures are nature's clean-up crew, and their insides are a marvel of engineering: they can actually eat a victim of hog cholera and not get sick. What goes down the hatch isn't normally all that appealing, and when marinated in those formidable gastric juices and hurled back out again it's even less so. The product doesn't actually have to touch you, either-just landing in your general vicinity is enough to make most normal creatures respect the vulture's wish to be left alone. There hadn't been all that much in this vulture's stomach, but what there was was especially aromatic.

"Jeeeeeesus!" the man burst out. "He sure loves you, don't he?"

I wrapped the bird in the towel like a large papoose and carried him back to the car, where a small crowd waited. As I approached their noses began to wrinkle; looks were exchanged. Standing to one side was the elderly lady, arms crossed. When I stopped in front of her she squinted at the vulture, her face twitching slightly; she took an almost imperceptible step backward.

"I got him," I said. "I'll take him to the vet and she'll set his wing, then I'll take care of him until he recovers. If he can be released I'll bring him right back here and let him go, okay?"

"Well," said the lady with a small smile. "Maybe not right back here."

Flyaway
How a Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings
. Copyright (c) by Suzie Gilbert . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Lyanda Lynn Haupt
“Unique and engaging . . . [Gilbert] shows reveals in elegant prose how every creature has value, and how a voice for one is voice for all.”
Henry T. Armistead
“Gilbert’s prose reads easily, ushered along by her clear, knowledgeable explanations of biology, medicine, natural history, nutrition, and animal behavior. . . . Strongly recommended.”
Carl Zimmer
“Funny and insightful. . . . Most of us see birds through binoculars and windows. Suzie Gilbert has entered their lives.”
Stacey O'Brien
“Fascinating . . . . A testament to the challenges we all face when we love another being.”
Joanna Burger
“Charms, delights, and educates while providing a fascinating tale of love and devotion to the feathered creatures that share our increasingly crowded world.”

Meet the Author

Suzie Gilbert lives in New York State's Hudson Valley, where she launched Flyaway, Inc., in 2002. She is also the author of the children's book Hawk Hill.

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Flyaway: How a Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating memoir of a woman who had no idea what she wanted out of life until Suzie Gilbert took a position at a animal hospital near her Hudson Valley home. Ms. Gilbert began her quest to save birds by bringing the wounded to the animal hospital. Soon she converted her home into Flyaway, Inc., a nonprofit wild bird rehabilitation center. Her bewildered spouse and their kids shared their home with squawking parrots who ruled supreme the roost and unknown species sharing the bathroom with the human intruders. The hardest thing for the author is to do is letting a healed guest go home to the wild. Encouraging people to pursue your dream regardless of the oddity or what others might think, Suzie Gilbert provides a tender passionate autobiography filled with humor, pathos and caring. Harriet Klausner