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

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

by Suzie Gilbert


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Suzie Gilbert discovered her true calling when she began working at a local animal hospital. Eventually, she started bringing abused and unwanted parrots home, and volunteering at a local raptor rehabilitation center. From there it was a short flight to her ultimate commitment: Flyaway, Inc., the nonprofit wild bird rehabilitation center she ran out of her own home.

With heart and delightful wit, Gilbert chronicles daily life in her household-cum-bird-hospital, and recounts the resulting chaos as she, her husband, and their two young children struggled to live in a home where parrots shrieked Motown songs and recuperating herons took over the spare bathroom. Flyaway is a remarkable story of compassion for and dedication to beautiful creatures-and the importance of pursuing even the most unlikely of dreams.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061563133
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/16/2010
Pages: 340
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

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."

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.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Part 1

1 A Second Chance 3

2 The Serpentine Road 7

3 Problems and Solutions 15

4 Genesis 21

5 The One Exception 27

6 Quandaries 35

7 The Other Exceptions 41

8 Cooperation, and Lack Thereof 49

9 Predators, Guardians, and Grubs 55

10 Tweezers 63

11 Backing Toward the Cliff 71

12 Daycare 79

13 Momentum 89

14 Inclusion 97

15 Claws 103

16 Songs of Joy 109

17 Graduation Day 117

18 Why We Do the Things We Do 123

19 Songs of Inspiration 129

20 Summer's End 137

Part 2

21 Branching Out 151

22 Diving In 159

23 Looking Up 169

24 Solidarity 177

25 The Thanksgiving Guest 183

26 Strange Alliances 191

27 Peyton (Pigeon) Place 201

28 Traveling Feet 209

29 Signs of Spring 219

30 Torrent 227

31 That Strange Chirping Sound 233

32 The Lucky Ones 241

33 Songs of Grief 249

34 Understanding 257

35 Turning Leaves 267

36 The Quiet Season 275

Part 3

37 Unraveling 285

38 Hope 297

39 Dusk 303

40 Shades of Gray 311

41 Break of Day 321

42 Songs of Redemption 329

Epilogue 335

Acknowledgments 339

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.”

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Flyaway: How a Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
zibilee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of Suzie Gilbert and her astounding love for wild birds. From childhood, Suzie has loved and cared for many wild creatures but has been attracted mainly to wild birds. After working as a volunteer at an animal hospital near her home, Suzie begins to come home with abused and unwanted birds that she happily adopts into her family. Deciding that this is not enough, she makes a decision to run a wild bird rehabilitation center from her house. Building space for the birds and setting up shop on the slope of her large yard are only the early steps, and for Suzie, the easiest. Soon she is receiving wounded birds from all over the area and her phone is ringing non-stop. The idyllic job she envisioned is soon wearing thin and she spends a good deal her time agonizing over the fates of even the smallest of her patients and the worries that the birds are eating most of the attention that should be going to her young children. As she relates miraculous stories of survival and terrible stories of loss, Suzie not only bonds with the birds that she has decided to give her life to, but bonds as well with a large network of animal rehabbers all over the world. But after five long years, the losses begin to outweigh the saves and Suzie is headed toward an emotionally harrowing cliff. She must decide if giving up the bird rescue will save her fragile emotional health, and that of her family, or if she should continue doing the work she loves. As she lovingly demonstrates in her attention to the sick and injured birds she deals with daily, sometimes you just have to "bring them back and let them go," a fate that she must also painfully adhere to. Both amazingly tender and heart-rendingly sad, the story of Suzie and her avian companions will bring its readers both joyous smiles and sorrowful tears.I love reading real-life stories about animals and their caregivers. I usually learn a great deal about what it takes for these animals to survive and the impact they have on their human handler's lives. This story was no exception. By peeking into the life and psyche of Suzie Gilbert, I discovered an amazing plethora of bird facts and myths and was fully able to see the sacrifices that Suzie made in her life in order to help save these wondrous creatures.This book was unique among the animal tales that I have read for several reasons. One of the first differences that I noticed was the strident attitude that Suzie had about the careless and negligent humans who put these beautiful animals at risk every day. As she explains, about 99 percent of the accidents that befall wild birds can be directly attributed to humans. From your basic garden variety cruelty to the attempts of developers to clear inhabited land for building projects to negligent cat owners who let their animals roam freely outdoors, Suzie explains it all. Far from being beseeching, her anger at these people and situations comes shooting off the page in her vitriolic sentiments. And as I was to discover while I was reading, her anger is completely justified. The birds that make their way into her refuge are scared, confused and sometimes gravely injured. Suzie does the best she can to provide care for the birds but often there is nothing she can do for them but let them die with dignity. Each death seems to take a piece of her soul.The second way that this book was different than most was the very candid way that Suzie related her mental frailties and fears concerning the birds. When she first begins to have thoughts of running a bird rehab from her home, her heart is light and she harbors dreams and visions of a fulfilling and successful operation in which she will finally be able to do the work she was born to do. But as the rehab becomes a reality, Suzie becomes ever more nervous about the birds that she will be caring for. Is she giving them the right care? Has she made a mistake in taking all types and species of birds instead of specializing? Is she a horrible mothe
WildMaggie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Flyaway is an entertaining read that hurtles you into the hectic, nearly overwhelming, daily world of wildlife rehabilitation. Gilbert lays bare her demons so readers can understand the unique rehabber view of the world. And it is a unique worldview that values and feels compelled to save and safeguard every creature; regardless of how feasible or foolhardy that may be in each case. Knowing many rehabbers from the outside doesn't match hearing one explain the compulsion from the inside.
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