Most people get involved with Wildlife Rescue Team because they love animals and because they have rescued one that they then want to care for. The most common animals that Wildlife Rescue Team cares for are rabbits, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, songbirds, and waterfowl. Animals that Wildlife Rescue Team doesn’t get as often but, are treasures when they do include beavers, badgers, mink, river otters, and songbirds like orioles and tanagers. Thanks to Vikki Henry, Secretary at Wildlife Rescue Team, for the below interview.
VIKKI: I have loved animals since I was little and used to rescue toads from the bully next door. I’d tuck them in our milk box to save them. Only the milkman and my mom knew that was where I kept them!
ALLISON: What are some of your most funniest or memorable moments?
VIKKI: Sometimes, one animal really makes an impact on you. Years ago, we rescued a Pelican that had hit a power line near Fremont. At first, I was scared of his bill, but we had to open it every time we fed him. He learned fast and I could then feed him a handful of minnows and he willingly ate. We named him “Nigel” after the pelican in Finding Nemo.
Last year, we picked up a baby woodchuck who was orphaned when his mother was hit by a car off Blondo Street in Omaha. He had been living with the feral cats in the area, so that right there showed us he was a fighter. We named him “Harold” after the owner of the bar that found him. Harold stayed with us for a few weeks and then went to live with another rehabber who had woodchucks on her property and could release him up there. She discovered Harold was really a Phyllis and she sent me a video of him eating watermelon and it’s funny to watch her in it.
One time, my boys and I rescued a mother duck who had made a nest at the water treatment plant in Omaha. The ducklings had all fallen into the chlorine pools the year before and died, so this year, the people who worked there asked if we could remove the ducklings once they had hatched and take them to a safer place. We were able to catch the Mallard hen and the ducklings and take them to a private pond so they could live happily ever after. The funny part is that I was holding the Momma duck and she defecated all over me! Literally, head to toe. So I stripped off my shirt and had to wrap a blanket around me as I drove home with my three boys in the car!
We care for a lot of songbirds too. I love being able to release the bird, who will usually continue to come to us for several days to get food, while living outside and learning how to exist as a bird.
VIKKI: The public is always welcome to contact Wildlife Rescue Team for questions or education about wildlife. We are able to care for most wildlife in Nebraska except raptors, skunks and deer. We can also always field questions about animals we don’t care for and/or have people contact the right group.
Many times, we try to work with the public to leave the animal alone. We’re all about educating people about bunny and squirrel behavior, whether or not the baby bird should be “rescued”, etc. We are NOT a removal service, so we do get calls about people wanting animals trapped and removed from their property. Sometimes just talking to the public helps them to understand the animal better and hopefully they can live in harmony with them instead of trying to remove them.
ALLISON: What are some things that the public doesn’t know about the team that they should? About wild animals that they should?
VIKKI: Our group is made up of volunteers who live across the state of Nebraska. Many times, people call us and think that this is our office and this is our job and we spend all day getting paid to rescue animals. That is not the way we work. We are in-home rehabbers, which means we do NOT have a facility or center to work out of, but work from our homes. We have animals in our homes, garages, barns, backyards in cages, etc. We do NOT get paid for our “work” so when people call about an animal, it helps us if they are able to bring the animal to us or meet us halfway. Many of us literally spend thousands of hours a year caring for the animals, which would include fielding phone calls, transporting animals, feeding & cleaning, releasing animals, etc. Sometimes, we don’t have a rehabber who lives in the same town as the person who found the animal and so again, it is nice to work with people to try to meet halfway or maybe they have a friend who is headed into the nearest town with a rehabber. The whole idea is to get the animal help as soon as possible, but if our rehabbers spend the whole day on the road, we can’t care for any animals we currently have.
Most animals just want to be left alone. So when it comes to living in harmony with them, give them space. One of our Bunny Team Leaders phrases it perfectly: “You have a house to go home to; they have the outside as their home. Let them leave in peace in their own home.” Wild animals typically are not going to hurt your cats, dogs or kids and aren’t going to attack unless provoked. They just want to live their lives and stay far away from us humans.
VIKKI: Since most of our members have at least part-time jobs, if not full-time jobs, we try to work with their schedules when it comes to caring for wildlife. Someone who works 9-5 in an office can’t be feeding baby birds every 1/2 – hour, but maybe someone who is retired or works from home can do that. Animals that are able to be fed at breakfast, lunch and dinner might be a good fit for people who can run home at lunch and check on their animals and then head back to work. Once you receive an animal, a typical day might be like this–say you have a squirrel. He is three weeks old. Eyes are still closed but he’s got his fur. He needs to be kept on a heating pad on low, so he’s nice and cozy but not too hot. Placing the heating pad under half the box/container allows him to move over if he gets too warm. You get up and eat your own breakfast and get ready for work. You feed the squirrel formula and tuck him back into his box. You come home at lunch and feed the squirrel and head back to work. You come home from work, and relax for a while, eat supper and feed your squirrel. You can feed a little more for a bedtime snack, have your own snack, and head to bed. As they get older, the feedings become less frequent, but the amount per feeding will increase. Obviously, the bedding needs to be changed periodically as the squirrel grows and eventually he will go into a cage so he can get used to the outside. Every animal is a little different, but the most important things are to get them warm, get them hydrated and then begin food. One thing that you have to realize is that this is a commitment; this isn’t going someplace to pet a raccoon for a couple of hours and then go home. Now, you can help other rehabbers care for animals, cleaning cages, etc. and go home but, if you want to rehab, you want to have that animal with you. The different species have different release ages, so bunnies are approximately four weeks old, squirrels four months old, and raccoons six months, for example. The Team Leader will help the rehabber learn about caring for the different animals and what to do with each species so they can eventually be released into the wild. These animals are not pets and should not be treated like pets.
ALLISON: What have you learned about animal care since joining Wildlife Rescue Team?
VIKKI: I have learned all animals need the basics, which seems like common sense, but it is so universal. Food, water, and a safe place to sleep. We get fur coats donated to us and there’s nothing like seeing a baby squirrel snuggle in an old fur coat or peeking out of the sleeve when you check on them in the morning in their outdoor cage!
ALLISON: How can people be good stewards to animals?
VIKKI: Being a good steward to animals would be to plant a pollinator garden in your yard. Did you know that not only butterflies and insects pollinate, but so do birds like hummingbirds and even bats?
Put birdhouse, insect houses, suet feeders, bird feeders and water containers in your yard. Animals like bunnies and squirrels may not be able to reach the birdbath, so shallow water containers like dishes or the bottoms of flower pots are great for this. Plant trees and shrubs so the animals have places to hide, nest, and hang out.
Be patient if you have a bird that builds a nest near your front door. They are only trying to raise their family and then they will leave. Think of all you will learn by watching them every day!
ALLISON: How can one become a volunteer?
VIKKI: In order to become a volunteer, there are membership dues required and paperwork that needs to be filled out including name, address, phone and animals people are interested in helping rehab. We have Bylaws and rules that we follow due to our permits being given to us by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and US Fish and Wildlife Service. Once a person is signed up, we get them involved with one of our Team Leaders. Since Lincoln and Omaha have the largest populations, we have more Team Leaders in those towns. The Team Leader works with the new member to discuss our care protocol for that animal – what to feed, when to feed, how often to feed, what medications they can have, etc. That Team Leader is the main contact for that person when it comes to that animal, so the care is appropriate for the animal. Wildlife Rescue Team tries to provide all that a person needs to care for the wildlife: syringes, nipples, formula, caging, food when they are bigger, etc. We do not expect members to spend money on items by themselves, and we order supplies in bulk so that we can share among our team.
If volunteering doesn’t interest you or won’t work for you, donations are welcome.