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Where Manhattan Goes to Heal Broken Wings

Imagine that it’s early in the morning, cocks are crowing…

TAPE Peterson_INTRO_E4_WildBird_Mixdown_lufs.wav (0:09)

And it’s a restful, peaceful morning on the…upper west side? This week, Pia Peterson takes a look at the hidden life of hurt birds, and their saviours, in Manhattan .

PETERSON 1: The Wild Bird Fund takes up two storefronts at 565 Columbus Avenue between 87th and 88th streets. It’s the only rehabilitation center for wild animals in all of New York City.


Christina Chrisenti (Chri-CEN-ti) and Pamela Dervishi (der-VEE-shee) drove in  from Astoria this morning to bring in an injured pigeon they spotted on the side of the road.

CHRISENTI1: We found a bird basically lying on the street, and he was really hurt, and I was so upset. We basically got gloves and a box, and brought him here, and we hope that he’s OK.

PETERSON 2: The pigeon is in a small cardboard box with the top folded closed. There’s no movement coming from inside as they hand the bird over.

CHRISENTI2: Aw…thank you. Se we’re good? As far as any updates… (fades under)

PETERSON 3: This pigeon is one of thousands of birds treated here each year. Soon enough, the door opens up again.

HUDSON: Hey, my wife just called about…(fade sunder)

PETERSON 4: Nick Hudson is bringing in a baby chick that was found wandering around a parking lot in Bay Ridge,, probably abandoned sometime after Easter. Rita McMahon is ready to swoop in.

MCMAHON: Hi sweetie, going to put you in the carrier (chick sounds) Yes yes yes, you’re going to be a big bird.

PETERSON 5: Rita helps get the chick out of the t-shirt he’s wrapped in. Soon, he’s and ready to be checked in.

Ambi – I’m going to get you to sign some paperwork,

PETERSON 6: Rita McMahon is the founder of the Wild Bird Fund. She got her start sixteen years ago, when she found herself in a similar situation.

MCMAHON: I was driving back to the city and I saw a Canada goose on the side of 684 which is a major 6-lane highway. Stopped, put it in the back seat of my car, came back down to New York and got on the phone. Three days, I called everywhere, and there was no place in New York where you could bring injured wildlife. I ultimately just took it to the animal medical center, put my credit card down, said it was my pet.

PETERSON 7: They gave it back to her the next day, saying hey lady, don’t worry, it’ll be fine. After all those phone calls though, she knew the goose would have a better chance outside of the city   

MCMAHON: So I drove it two hours north! To a waterfowl rehabilitation center, a little one. And the next day, I got a call from the center saying that it died.

PETERSON 8: The whole experience left Rita wanting something better. She began opening her Upper West Side apartment to injured birds. When she got up to about 60 birds, she opened the storefront on Columbus Avenue, and hired some staff. Soon, people were able to search for their services on the internet,

McMahon: And then it exploded. So where I started at 300 birds a year, it was just about 5,000 last year.  

PETERSON 9: Right now, there are over 200 patients in residence.

ARIEL1: This is the downstairs area where most of our patients are held.

PETERSON 10: There are baby birds in incubators, a wall of mostly pigeons in recovery, and a room with branches and birdfeeders where migratory birds can stretch their wings behind a mesh door. Ariel Cordova-Rojas is a young animal care manager and licensed wildlife rehabilitator

ARIEL 2: Every morning straightaway we have to give medications, and following medications comes feedings.

PETERSON 11: With rubber gloves, she lays out tiny syringes of medicine according to a chart.

(AMBI) birds

PETERSON 12: It sounds wild in here…but Ariel says,  

ARIEL 3: This is relatively quiet. At one point we had fourteen fighting cocks with us? And that was fun.

PETERSON 13: And there’s also something I have never before seen in New York City – baby pigeons.

[[ ARIEL 4: Yes so this guy is still yellow, pigeons when they’re born have these soft yellow down feathers. This guy, ou can tell that he’s probably about a week old because he has what we call pin feathers, which are his adult feathers growing in. So this guy is transitioning. ]]

PETERSON 14: She points at his head, saying he probably fell out of his nest,

ARIEL 5: Um so he has a wound on the top of his head, probably from hitting it, and some feathers missing, probably from some nutritional deficit.

PETERSON 15: Now that he’s stable and in the incubator, he’s got a good chance of eventually being released. But there’s more going on here than just rehabilitating birds. Researchers have studied these birds to better understand how we – pigeons and humans  live in the city.

PETERSON 16: The WBF has treated well over a hundred different species of birds, but more than half of the birds it sees are pigeons. Rita McMahon says by treating birds, one can learn a lot about our environment.

MCMAHON: Up to 15% of our patients have lead poisoning. They didn’t get it by eating lead, they got it from the soil, and from the water, from the dust in the air.

PETERSON 17: Joanna Burger is eco-toxicologist and distinguished professor at Rutgers.  

BURGER 2: Pigeons and other birds are quite common and can be used a sentinel of exposure of people both in terms of heavy metals or other contaminants as well, so they can be early indicators.  

PETERSON 18: She says birds are often better than mammals in terms of assessing environmental impact on humans….

BURGER 1: birds are more similar to people in that both humans and birds use primarily visual and vocal means of communication.

PETERSON 19: And in places like cities, they’re the animals that are spending tons of time in the exact same habitats we are. Elevated lead levels in pigeons directly correlates to elevated lead levels in children in a neighborhood.


PETERSON 20: And like us, they don’t like being in the hospital. On a Monday afternoon, a group gathers at the Wild Bird Fund for a discharge – a clapper rail, a shorebird with long legs and a long beak. The bird is waiting patiently in a small carrier, covered with a towel to muffle the sound.

MCMAHON: He came in yesterday, he was fine, he probably just banged into a building, but he really is fine. He was aggressive, bit everyone, even ate some goldfish, so we were happy for that.

PETERSON 21: He’s recovered, and ready to be released.

[[MCMAHON: And we’ll be in the park in just a minute. In the park, we’ll enter at 90th street, and we’ll be heading north to the north woods. ]]

PETERSON 22: There’s a few birders and photographers when we get to the park, a quiet, marshy area by a waterfall

MCMAHON: I’m just going to give him a little nudge…

PETERSON 23: And with that, the bird is off. Pia Peterson, Columbia Radio News


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