Beth McMaster has lived on her 14-acre farm property in Middlesex Township since she was 6 years old.
She, her husband, David, and her daughter, Melissa McMaster-Brown, have devoted countless volunteer hours to taking care of rescued and injured birds at the rehabilitation center they built around their home: Stormy Oaks Nature Conservancy, home of Wildbird Recovery.
“This is a Butler County resource that nobody really knows about,” Beth McMaster said. “It started from just rehabbing birds, and it grew from there.”
Wildbird Recovery was founded in 2000, and has a number of bird enclosures on-site. It is the only wildlife rehabilitation center in Butler County that offers bird rehabilitation care.
The pandemic removed many funding sources, and COVID-19 concerns made it impossible to hold in-person education events with the public. Now, Wildbird Recovery is raising funds to expand its facilities.
“Most of us don't get paid,” McMaster said. “We are all volunteers here.”
The conservancy is in the process of building a new enclosure, and is aiming to reach $6,000 in fundraising to pay for it. McMaster-Brown called it a chance to “partner with individuals and local businesses within the community.”
She said, “In essence what it does is, for the wild birds that are being given licensed care through Wildbird, those wild birds need to be acclimated to the weather, self-feeding, being wary of humans. We want them to be almost afraid of humans when we go to release them. So, they spend two to three weeks in the enclosure before being released.”
The other part of the enclosure is a new home for education turkey vulture Artemis, or “Arty,” who is among several bird “ambassadors” to the public who live at the center. Part of the enclosure has already been constructed, but it's not yet complete.
Reaching out to public
People who donate $10 or more will have the chance to attend an open house event Sept. 4 at the conservancy. That date also happens to be International Turkey Vulture Day.
“It's raising awareness to the community about what we do, and enabling us to have the funds for this prerelease enclosure,” McMaster-Brown said. “Then, two weeks later, we will be having our 10th annual Fall Migration Festival.”
In past years, the Fall Migration Festival has brought people to the site to hear from experts in animal rehabilitation and care. This year, the event is from noon to 5 p.m. Sept. 19, and David Yeany of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy will be one of the speakers. Other speakers will share information and research, along with hands-on exhibits about bugs, birds, bats and other wildlife, all available for the $25 ticket price.
“That has been our primary event to raise funds — that's our main event that I feel that the surrounding community knows us for, so it's a nice lead-in to that,” McMaster-Brown said.
Flock of duties
Running Wildbird Recovery takes a lot of effort, and the need has not slowed down.
“There's a lot of rehab centers out East, but out in Western Pennsylvania we only have about 10 licensed wildlife rehabilitators, and only eight of them do birds,” McMaster said. “We get absolutely inundated, and the public wants us, but they don't want to support the efforts of wildlife rehabilitators.”
The family has seen that the public tends to expect wildlife rehabilitators to exist and be available, but may not understand the time, money and hard work that goes into the process.
“Imagine working from 9 a.m. to 1 in the morning, from May to September, feeding depending on the need every half hour, and not getting paid,” McMaster-Brown said. “It's that transparency of the public understanding: there's frustrations when we aren't able to pick up birds.”
“We all have limited resources,” McMaster said. “Sometimes it's space, sometimes it's money, sometimes it's health.”
Most funding comes from donations, but none comes from state, local or federal funding.
“We're hoping that with the education, there will be more available grants, but there aren't many grants for wildlife rehabilitation,” McMaster said.
The center has been increasing its public outreach and education programming over the course of the past year. It held a nature camp for youths earlier this year in a newly renovated classroom in a converted garage, which involved children exploring the outdoors and checking out bugs, birds and other wildlife.
Another round of the Nature Camp will be conducted Aug. 9 to 12.
“It's about how do you allow this legacy to continue to be here?” McMaster-Brown said. “So we had to think about the educational piece. It's the first year we've attempted to give back to the community (with the summer camp).”
Wildbird Recovery also hosts teachers' workshops, beginning birding programs and education sessions about specific species, such as chimney swifts and raptors, for both adults and children.
Teaching the public more about wildlife doesn't just help fund the center's rehabilitation of animals. It also makes animals less likely to be hurt in the first place by educating on how to coexist with them.
In the future, McMaster-Brown hopes to carry on her parents' legacy. Nearer on the horizon, she hopes to be able to raise enough funds to pay their current volunteers.
“It's unrealistic to not be working toward that goal of paid staff someday,” she said. “I'm not sure who would want to do what my mom has done with no pay.”