June 11, 2013

Wildlife rehabilitator offers experiences, tips


---- — COOPERSVILLE — Bear cubs, fawns, owls, hawks ... Donna Fletcher has cared for more than 1,000 animals. 

A licensed wildlife rehabilitator, she knows what to do — and knows that, often, the best thing is to leave the animal alone.

Fletcher explained that people sometimes think an animal is in danger when it is really not. 

“Most wild animals and birds do not need rescuing,” she said.

Human interference can create danger for the animal.

For example, a fawn has a scent that can be detected only by its mother. So even if it is left alone, it is usually quite safe from predators, unless they happen to stumble over it. 

On the other hand, if a human approaches the fawn — drawn to the sight of a cute baby animal — a dog or coyote might later follow the scent of the person, doing so simply out of curiosity. 

Thus, the person would have inadvertently led the predator to the fawn.


Fletcher also noted that if ducklings are left in the wild, those that have lost their mother are often “adopted” and cared for by other adults of the same species. 

Many rehabilitators therefore recommend removing ducklings from immediate danger of cars or pets and placing them in the nearest habitat close to water, thereby maximizing chances for adoption.

“I have witnessed such an adoption with Canada geese,” Fletcher said. “The two adoptive parents surrounded the young goslings and moved them to the river.” 

She enjoyed watching the new family set off together, calling it “a rewarding sight.”

Most importantly, Fletcher says, call a professional who has the training and experience to determine whether an animal really needs rescuing and what should be done if it does.


As a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator, she has to responded to such calls — leading her to many adventures. 

“I had a pair of non-releasable kestrels that I used for foster parents,” allowing them to raise orphaned kestrel chicks, she said.

The chicks themselves were successfully released after they had grown to maturity.

Some of the raptors and owls that Fletcher cared for had injuries — broken wings, head trauma and the like — that they recovered from, but not to the extent that they could be released back into their natural habitat.

She used them for educational programs in local schools and other places.

Some guests have been a bit larger.

“We’ve had black bear cubs several times,” she said. “We had big round logs and den areas that we created for them. They ate very well — they could really pack it down.”


The cubs were transferred to a rehabilitator in the Buffalo area who specializes in bears. 

“She’s got a place built with huge caging, divided by boards and pulleys, so that she can feed the cubs without them seeing her. 

“That way, they don’t imprint.” 

The process smooths the way for the bears’ eventual release back to the wild.

Once, a red-throated loon landed on a road near Fletcher’s home in Coopersville and was unable to take off. 

That variety of loon is smaller and lighter than the “common loon” familiar in the Adirondacks. 

In addition, they are distinguished by their mating plumage, including a light-grey head and the rust-colored throat that gives them their name.

Fletcher speculated that the bird was blown down by a storm — and since loons need water in order to take off, it was then stranded. 

“We took it in and fed it on fish, and then we took it to water to release it.”


Springtime especially is busy for rehabilitators, for that’s when well-meaning people come upon what they think are orphaned wild young and, often, take them home before consulting the experts.

Fletcher and other rehabilitators spend much time telling people that robins and other birds feed their fledglings on the ground as the little ones find their wings, that younger baby birds can be returned to the nest or hoisted in a basket into the tree, for it isn’t true that birds won’t feed babies touched by human hands.

And the doe feeds away from the fawn so her own scent won’t attract predators, she explains. 

More rehabilitators are always needed.

“The test is a lot easier than it was when I took it,” Fletcher said of the state licensing exam through the Department of Environmental Conservation. “They want volunteers.”

Through her years of adventure as a wildlife rehabilitator, she has been driven by a sense of responsibility.

“I guess it’s a feeling that man takes so much from his environment that he needs to be willing to put something back.”



Licensed wildlife rehabilitators who care for injured or orphaned wildlife include, in Clinton County, Rosemary Maglienti, 563-8725; and in Essex County, Wendy Hall, 946-2428.

Visit for a complete list of rehabilitators and what animals each is licensed to care for. For additional tips, visit