Amelia Mason of Skywatch Bird Rescue

Emu close-up

Romeo the Emu going in for a closeup

The chaotic chirping slowly started syncopating in time, like a band practice that was just starting to get into a rhythm. I was at Skywatch Bird Rescue and Conservation Center, and the resident birds certainly wanted me to know it. Skywatch Bird Rescue offers rehab and care for injured or orphaned wild birds to help them return to their natural environment, and provide safe sanctuary and permanent residency for domestic and exotic birds that might be in need of a good home. Here, Amelia Mason rules the roost.

Amelia has been helping birds professionally for 12 years, started Skywatch in 2010, and opened her current location in 2014. She started out as a volunteer in Raleigh, but when she moved to Eastern North Carolina, she stopped. Her new location was devoid of a sanctuary, and thus her guilt that she had the knowledge to help birds but wasn’t utilizing it got her into the business. She has since devoted her life to helping all kinds of birds, from waterfowl to songbirds, birds of prey to herons and egrets.

Shelter From The Storm

Amelia has more residents than she can count, sprawling over acres of beautiful farmland. While most of the birds are wild and are there for rehabilitation, there are those who come and go as they please. Owls and herons are of those that fly in and out, undoubtedly making good use of the Bird Rescue’s lush environment and the companionship. However, some of the birds are domestic, coming from terrible conditions of living with hoarders, forced into cockfighting, saved from factory farms, or more recently, rescued from Hurricane Florence.

During Florence, Amelia acted as Noah’s Ark, evacuating hundreds of birds, a goat, and a sick donkey that gave birth weeks before the process. The Skywatch team spent two days straight catching birds and loading them into crates, rescuing animals from several counties as well as her own, and hauling them hundreds of miles away. Amelia and her fleet of arks traveled north, only leaving a few donkeys, horses, and waterfowl that could survive the storm behind.

Unfortunately, Amelia and other benevolent bird-owners were the minority for Hurricane Florence, with millions of chickens left to die in factory farms in the area, however, Skywatch Bird Rescue and Carolina Waterfowl Rescue worked together to help as many birds as they could.

What To Do When You Find an Injured or Baby Bird

One of the biggest issues that Amelia sees is well-intentioned people trying to help a bird that didn’t need it in the first place, or trying to help in a manner that they think is good but actually might be killing the bird.

When you see a bird that you think might be sick or injured, make sure to follow the below steps so that you aren’t hurting a healthy bird or fledgling that doesn’t need help.

    Watch: Make sure it isn’t a fledgling bird that was grounded. Especially in summer, “branchers” like hawks and owls transition from being in the nest to on the edge to in the branch as they age, they eventually ground themselves, where they spend a little time on the ground next to their nest-tree. This is a normal process, and mom and dad will come to the ground to feed them as they usually do.

    Call: Don’t DIY. In fact, due to the interstate flight patterns of most migratory birds, an unqualified person trying to take a bird into their house is not only illegal, it is a federal offense. Don’t search online, but instead call a professional and make sure you are doing the right thing.

    Don’t Feed: Baby birds open up their mouths as an instinct, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are hungry. Amelia stresses that birds have very different anatomy than mammals, and dropping food and water into their mouths can actually cause them to aspirate or develop a bacterial infection in their lungs. Food and water is the last thing that should be provided, medication is the first. When medicine is administered, it is given intravenously or subcutaneously, and never though the mouth.

    Keep them warm, dark, and quiet: Don’t coo or try to talk to the bird, that is the last thing that they want. Since the bird thinks you are a predator, they don’t understand that you are trying to calm and comfort them.

    A general rule of thumb for any injured animals that you find is keeping them warm, dark, and quiet.

    I met with Amelia around March, and she mentioned that one thing that she was gearing up for was the Easter push. Unknown to me, people buy chickens and ducks for Easter, and when done, these flightless birds are then taken and dumped off in fields and ponds, stranded and unable to take care of themselves. This immoral and unethical practice happens every year, and oftentimes Amelia struggles to keep up with the recent influx.

But Easter is just the beginning. Each season brings a new set of issues, fall brings in birds with issues from fishing hooks and lines, in winter she mainly sees frostbite and malnutrition where heavier birds like great blue herons don’t have the energy to take off quickly and instead fly slow across roads and highways, only to get hit by a vehicle. Spring she sees more Canada geese, who can’t make the trip back north. Summer has fledgling songbirds that people assume are injured, and on busy summer days, Amelia gets a new bird every 15 minutes and will take calls and deliveries 24 hours a day. Because of the fledglings, this season is the most deceptive, but, Amelia is quite clear “outside of summertime, if you can catch an adult wild bird, there is something wrong.”

Millie, the severe macaw doesn’t know what to think of me.

Outside of summertime, if you can catch an adult wild bird, there is something wrong.

Amelia works long hours, and in many cases it’s a 24-hour job. While we talked, Amelia has a severe macaw on her shoulder, picking at her cheeks and pulling her hair. Millie has PTSD from being abandoned, where she lived in 23 homes in 10 years. pulling out her feathers to biting her feet, even when bandaged. Millie had to be on someone’s shoulders for her to break the habit, and it even got to the point where Amelia had to have Millie on her pillow at night.

How To Help Skywatch

There are many ways to help Skywatch Bird Rescue. Those local to the Southeastern North Carolina area can provide food, fish, or cleaning supplies to the shelter. In the busy summer months, Amelia needs “Birdy Ubers”, essentially local people who can help with the demand for picking up birds—a simple ride to Skywatch can save the lives of so birds many each year.

Sometimes, following the flock is enough, and the sanctuary is particularly active on Facebook, where you can see the thoughtful ways they feed the birds without scaring or imprinting them. Finally, those really moved are always encouraged to make a donation.

Interview With Amelia Mason of Skywatch Bird Rescue

*A bit of a fair warning, this is a bit of a louder episode, with Mille and other birds chiming in periodically as we stood in Amelia’s office.

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