Wild Animal Rescuer
Linda Gonzalez feeds birds and Bambi at the SPCA shelter.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
It’s loud and smelly in the SPCA’s Wildlife Center. Baby birds squeak and timers beep constantly, signaling that it’s time to feed a hungry beak. Birdcages sit on tables and shelves that line the walls. Outside, flight cages—a house-sized one for two barn owls and a six-foot-tall one for a Grosbeak—hold pelicans, crows, raptors and geese.
“All the birds are on different timers according to how often they eat,” explains Linda Gonzalez, a volunteer at the wildlife center.
“These guys are on one-and-a-half hour timers,” Gonzalez says, squeezing a dropper filled with an avian version of a protein shake into a baby house finch’s open beak. He’s young, with fuzzy brown, molting feathers covering his head.
A timer buzzes. Gonzalez rushes to figure out who needs feeding next.
During baby bird season, between March and September, the SPCA relies on dozens of volunteers to feed the tiny critters seven days a week. This season, there are about 100 hungry mouths to feed. Elsewhere on the compound, there is a fawn, as well as baby raccoons and possums. Each year, the center provides services for more than 2,000 wild animals.
Gonzalez began volunteering in 1983, after responding to an ad for baby bird season. She had majored in environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz, and studied wildlife management.
“I just pursued this as a hobby,” Gonzalez says, “a way to be close to wildlife without making a career of it. We had a baby and a house payment.”
After baby bird season ended, Gonzalez stayed.
“It’s not for everybody,” she says, standing in the wildlife center’s kitchen, pouring ferret food into a blender. A box of frozen rats—raptor food—sits on the opposite counter.
“The smell isn’t always good,” Gonzalez continues, adding baby food, yogurt and dried egg whites. “There’s some unpleasantness. But for me, it’s such a break from my usual life. Here, I submerge.”
Gonzalez pushes the button and the blender grinds the mixture into a brown shake, called “basic nesting diet.” The birds dig it. Another timer buzzes.
Three years after she started volunteering, Gonzalez took an extended break from the wildlife center. In 1986, she and husband Scott opened Peppers Mexicali Café in Pacific Grove. “After 10 years I decided, ‘I need to get a life.’”
Gonzalez returned to the SPCA in 1996. She’s been working with the birds ever since.
During her first three years volunteering, the Wildlife Center cared for two bald eagles from Alaska that had been shot. The SPCA rehabilitated the eagles and released them in Alaska.
“There are mundane things—like doing laundry—to the first time you look in the face of a barn owl—pretty amazing. Or the day when they say, ‘Will you release them?’ Especially with birds, you watch them fly away and that’s pretty dramatic.”
More recently, Gonzalez rescued a fawn that was wandering the streets of Pacific Grove. Residents called the SPCA when they saw the fawn sleeping in their front yard. They didn’t know what to do.
“We said do nothing,” Gonzalez says. “Especially with young wildlife, the mom is usually somewhere near.” Gonzalez drove to the neighborhood to keep an eye on the fawn until its mom showed up. By the time she arrived, however, the fawn was walking from yard to yard, crossing the street, and crying for it’s mom.
“I was really torn,” Gonzalez says. “What do you do? You hate to take the baby away because mom’s probably around. At the same time, kids are walking home from school. Cars are crossing the busy street.”
Gonzlez called the wildlife center, and the director told her to bring the fawn in.
“I scooped up the fawn—it’s just too much. It’s like holding Bambi. It was a really moving moment.”