Nurture of nature

first_imgWOODLAND HILLS – For Brenda Varvarigos, hardly a day goes by without a peep. As spring breeds new wildlife across Los Angeles, she and other urban wild-animal rescuers are up to their ears in the twittering of fallen nestlings. “I’m getting busy now, baby birds coming in every day,” said Varvarigos of Camarillo Wildlife Rehabilitation, hand-feeding five fledglings with upraised beaks in an incubator at her home. “It’s basically an underground railroad for urban wildlife. Everything gets released back into the wild.” Each year, a handful of wildlife rehabilitation centers care for thousands of newborn or injured animals scooped up by residents or animal control officers in backyards, roadways and local parks. And each year, man sends arrows through opossums, fires guns at birds of prey, cuts the tails off raccoons and snares ducks with fish hooks. For the most part, experts say, wildlife should simply be left alone. “We’re getting a few calls for Mama Duck and her ducklings by your swimming pool and we ask people to please leave them alone,” said Capt. Wendell Bowers of the East Valley Animal Shelter, wildlife coordinator for the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services. “In a couple weeks, they’ll be able to fly and Mama will take them someplace (else) where there’s water.” In the past year, Animal Services took in 3,649 wild animals, including a confused fawn found this week wandering inside the Hollywood Bowl. The menagerie contained nearly 1,100 birds, including 140 ducks, 50 hawks and 30 owls. Shelters also took in 538 red slider turtles, 495 opossums, 94 iguanas, 90 raccoons, 28 skunks, 15 boa constrictors, one African serval cat and one American alligator. Such wildlife was once euthanized. Today, the city sends its wild animals to one of several licensed rehabs. In the San Fernando Valley, chances are most wild shelter animals end up in the hands of Varvarigos, who last year took in 2,100 castoffs for Camarillo Wildlife facilities in Camarillo and Woodland Hills. “It’s OK, baby, there you go,” she said, consoling a great horned owl as she opened its massive beak before pushing a feeding tube into its stomach. The sick female bird, found by rangers at Griffith Park, is now being tested for West Nile virus. It was seven years ago that the former El Camino Real High School cheerleader was driving down the street and spotted a baby black crow struggling in a gutter. Now 33 and a mother of three young boys, the licensed rehabber rules a roost that recently numbered more than three dozen birds – many of which need feeding every two hours. She triages them. Treats them. Feeds them in cages. Fends off their talons. Finds them surgeries, if necessary. Arranges flying lessons in a 100-foot run. And releases each hawk or quail or raccoon back into nature. “She’s really a good resource for us,” Bowers said. “If she can’t handle (an animal), she knows who does.” Varvarigos once nursed nearly 30 ducks sickened by algae at Reseda Park and was the only known person to rehabilitate a raven suffering from West Nile virus. One baby barn owl, knocked out of a palm tree during trimming, broke its leg during the fall. Now recovering from surgery with a steel rod in its leg, it is slated to be released this summer. “Why do I do it? The love of animals,” said the blond-haired rescuer with a taste for turkey buzzards and rock ‘n’ roll. “When I can help one like this, release it in the wild, it makes everything I do worthwhile.” [email protected] (818) 713-3730 Call of the wild If you find a wild animal, do not water or feed it, experts say. Instead, leave it alone, or place birds back in their nests. For more information or help in rescuing an injured animal, here are some places to contact: California Wildlife Center, Malibu, (818) 591-WILD, Camarillo Wildlife Rehabilitation, Camarillo and Woodland Hills, (805) 482-7617, (818) 346-8247, International Bird Rescue Research Center, San Pedro, (310) 514-2573, Los Angeles Department of Animal Services, (888) 452-7381, State Department of Fish and Game, (818) 889-9407, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (310) 328-1516, WildRescue, Malibu, (818) 222-WILD, Wildlife Care of Ventura County (includes Los Angeles), Simi Valley, (805) 498-2794, local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! But spring can be especially hazardous to wildlife as nestlings fall from trees and the city takes its toll on new families of ducks, squirrels and other urban critters. And that doesn’t include the record number of coastal birds and marine mammals now suffering from a bloom of toxic algae. “There’s a lot of springtime activity,” said Rebecca Dmytryk, founder of WildRescue in Malibu, whose rescues rose to six a day last week. “People aren’t educated on how to deal with it.” Tree trimmers knock down birds’ nests. House cats pounce. Windows knock birds cold. Rat poison kills vermin, which then poison the raptors that feast upon them. last_img