Free as a bird

Lindsay couple, Minden sanctuary, save injured sparrow

By William McGinn

This bird got a new lease on life, thanks to the efforts of the Patterson's and the sanctuary. Photos submitted.

It’s a bit of a drive to get to Minden from Lindsay. In fact, it can take a good hour (less as the crow flies, of course).

But for Anne Patterson and her husband John, the trip to the Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary in Minden was worth it to try and save the life of a feathered friend from their backyard.

Late in 2021 the Pattersons each saw a sparrow in their backyard at separate times during the day, once, while taking their compost out and again when John was on a tractor. It didn’t seem to move away from them either time.

Taking a closer look, they found the bird’s claws were injured, seemingly burnt black, and curled, making it flop around and leaving it unable to stand properly. It didn’t seem to be able to fly, either. The Pattersons looked up local agencies that might be able to help, and found the Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary.

“We phoned them,” said Anne Patterson, “and they said a lot of young birds are starving because they get a virus where they don’t want to eat.” They were asked to bring the bird there to be checked over.

“My husband made a ventilated cardboard box, I donned my work gloves, and I approached it from behind, which was difficult in a basement window well, but I got the guy in the box, and away we drove,” said Anne.

The owner of the sanctuary, Monika Melichar, told the Advocate the sparrow was indeed starved, and its claws were in such bad shape they could even fall off if they weren’t treated.  

Operating for 13 years with no government funding, the sanctuary relies on donations and volunteer workers, but finds itself growing each year. It specializes in rescuing and nursing injured wild animals while also preventing them from being habituated to human care so they will be ready again for the wild if and when discharged.

The sanctuary nurses not only birds but owls, opossums, coyotes and various other animals. While it might sound difficult to gain a wild animal’s trust, Melichar said when an animal comes in and it’s severely compromised in some way, “they’re actually grateful to be in rehab.”

In fact, she described the wildlife centre as a spa, because, she said, the animals know they are safe and are being looked after.  

Taken in by the sanctuary for three weeks, the sparrow was given calendula cream for its claws, which were bandaged. It was kept in an incubator to keep warm. “Once I got the news the sparrow had been on antibiotics and was bandaged,” Patterson said she immediately felt the need to donate something to the sanctuary for all its work.

“When you think about the different kinds of creatures they have and running with volunteers and being non-profit, I’m sure every dollar is a treasure to what they’re up against,” said Patterson.

Melichar described Patterson as very generous both for her donation and willingness to drive to Minden.

The sanctuary releases wildlife no more than a kilometre away from where the animals were originally found. Patterson eventually brought the sparrow back to her yard. Even before the box was fully open, “He flew to the top of the cedar hedge and stayed there for several moments, regarding us, and then he just disappeared.”

Since opening in 2008, the Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary has saved more 700 wild animals, and Melichar estimated that number will be 800 by the end of 2021.

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