HELP RUTH MELICHAR BIRD CENTER GET READY FOR SPRING BABIES! You can support our mission for Idaho’s injured/orphaned wild birds by Dropping into ‘Wild Birds Unlimited’ all day Saturday, March 14th, A big thank you to Julie, owner/operator of Wild Birds Unlimited, 10480 Overland Rd. Her absolutely adorable graphic and clever idea of having a ‘Baby Shower’ to help our avian facility, the Ruth Melichar Bird Center get a head start on its upcoming baby season is deeply appreciated.
We wish you all a wonderful Holiday Season and Peace for all sentient beings in 2020
AIDA aids 6 immigrant Opossums rescued in Idaho. The mother and 4 siblings were killed by a car, and the surviving infants were raised and released last fall in western Washington
On the first Earth Day, in 1970, a cartoon poster appeared at rallies in all 50 states. It showed a rueful (Pogo) opossum picking up papers, bottles, cans, wrappers—the detritus of modern life. Superimposed on the image were the words.
That poster has stayed in print for more than four decades and remains as pertinent now as on the day it was created by Walt Kelly. At his zenith, from about 1950 to 1970, Kelly was the most popular cartoonist in America.
For the second consecutive year, AIDA’s good friend, Leslie Jacobs, has
honored us with a post on Facebook requesting donations for her birthday
be made to Animals In Distress. This year we received her amazing gift
of $336.00. What wonderful friends she
must have gracing her with so much love.
Thank you once again, Leslie, for your generosity.
Animals In Distress Assn. and the Ruth Melichar Bird Center want to sincerely thank all of their supporters during our Idaho Gives Campaign as well as those friends who have given for so many years, some monthly and others occasionally. Without
the help of our financial supporters and those who help us physically by
volunteering at The Ruth Melichar Bird Center, caring for orphaned squirrels,
picking up and delivering injured birds and mammals, (and the list goes on and
on), we wouldn’t be able to continue caring for Idaho’s wildlife.
On the last day of 2018, AIDA lost long-time volunteer and friend, Paul Martin, who died December 31st at the young age of 74.
love and concern for Idaho’s wildlife was over and above the norm. He
was always there for us in capturing raccoons, beavers, badgers, deer
and snakes that were in need of our help. Those animals were his
favorites and he never failed to take the time and effort to look for,
capture and get help for them. In addition, he was kind enough to haul
large ‘anything’ for us on one of his huge flatbeds. He provided that
service numerable times and we don’t know what we would have done
without his help and equipment. His grumpiness was merely a façade, the
real Paul was a pussycat with a heart the size of Idaho. He was
forever concerned about the local wildlife visiting his beautiful yard
in SE Boise, wanting to be sure they had plenty of food when they
arrived on a daily basis to forage depending upon the season. His
plantings were all conducive to that end. Any flora that needed to be
removed was always done carefully and he always found it a new home.
He is and will be sorely missed by AIDA and the wildlife he cared for so deeply. We know he is in even a better place and hopefully is surrounded by all the wildlife he so dearly loved. Rest in peace Paul!
celebration of Paul’s life will be held at a later date, watch for
notification on our website and/or Ruth Melichar Bird Center facebook
page. His obituary may be viewed on the Cloverdale Cemetery website and
questions regarding his Celebration of Life can be directed to:
The Ruth Melichar Bird Center offers a second chance to Boise’s winged wildlife.
BY PATTI MURPHY
Inside the old red barn perched on a rise overlooking the sprawling
Quail Hollow Golf Course in Boise’s foothills, a small group of
dedicated bird lovers work year-round to rescue some of Idaho’s most
magnificent winged creatures.
Swallows, flickers, finches, robins, ducks, geese, and even the
tiniest of hummingbirds, all sick, injured or orphaned, are brought
here, to the Ruth Melichar Bird Center, to be patched up, rehabilitated
and released back into the wild. “I refer to it as the ‘Town bird
center’,” said its director Jennifer Rockwell. “Every bird you see in
town in the Treasure Valley is everything we get.”
The Melichar Center is the avian arm of Animals in Distress
Association (AIDA) and was named for the late Ruth Melichar, a
well-known Boise artist who for decades rescued injured and sick birds
and cared for them in her home, earning her the moniker, “The Bird Lady
of the Treasure Valley.”
Built in 1910, and acquired by AIDA in 2000, the barn has been
transformed into an all-in-one emergency room, intensive care, and
rehabilitation facility that takes in about 3,000 wild birds each year,
of which 400 to 500 are ducklings. Open every day of the year, including
holidays, the center bumps its hours of operation up to 12 hours a day
during the busy season from May to mid-September when hundreds of baby
birds are brought through the doors.
Birds in the Hand
The incoming helpless squawking baby birds begin their journey to
rehabilitation in the baby bird room where, just like in nature with
their bird parents, each one will be fed every 15 or 20 minutes for 12
hours a day. Rockwell said that throughout the summer months, there will
be a minimum of 100 to 200 baby birds being cared for at all times.
As the babies thrive and become more active, they graduate into the
juvenile room next door, where they learn to feed themselves. Down the
hallway, a medical room shelters sick and injured birds while they are
being treated and monitored. From broken wings, and blow darts through
the neck and head, to babies separated from their nests and injuries
from cats and cars, Rockwell sees it all.
Although she isn’t a veterinarian, Rockwell is trained to perform a
wide range of treatments such as administering medication, splinting
broken bones and dealing with traumas. When needed, she works with local
Rockwell first got involved with the Melichar center in 2001 when she
brought in an injured bird. “I became a volunteer the next day,” she
said with a smile. “I was a bird lover to begin with, so I just
continued to educate myself, taking courses through the International
Wildlife Rehabilitation Council and other rehab programs, and wound up
becoming the director here about five years ago.”
She’s also a state and federally licensed and permitted bird of prey
rehabilitator, but noted the center does not have the proper caging to
keep raptors for the long-term. “When a hawk or an eagle comes in, we
accept them temporarily so we can examine them and get them stabilized,
but then transfer them to another licensed bird of prey rehabber in the
community who has the right facilities. We are not a bird of prey rehab
facility, but we won’t turn any bird away that needs help,” she said.
The center has a separate outside enclosure known as Duckville, a
heated facility for baby ducklings and other waterfowl. During the busy
season in 2017, after the unusually harsh Boise winter, the center
received an unprecedented 700 ducklings, with 350 of those arriving
within a two-week period. “The weather had sort of pushed the ducks more
inland off the river and out of their normal nesting territory,” said
Rockwell, noting every year the patient population can change depending
on winter, the arrival of spring, and weather patterns during migration.
Next to Duckville are the aviaries and flight cages, where healthy
birds are moved as part of the final step in their rehabilitation
process before they are released back into the wild.
“We give them a week or two of flight cage time so they can build up
their flight muscles and get acclimated to the outside temperature and
environment,” said Rockwell. “We watch their flight patterns to see if
they’re flying well and capable of migrating. When they’re ready, we
take them to a release site. Being able to release these birds is so
gratifying and emotionally rewarding.”
The center’s release success rate is about 75 percent, “Which is very
high,” Rockwell noted. As a rule, they try to release birds back into
their original territory, working with other community birders in that
“When we do a release I always say, ‘On a wing and a prayer,’ like
good luck guys, because now it’s up to them. Mother Nature is very, very
harsh; she’s got her own agenda, and if those birds aren’t in 250
percent tip-top shape, well, they have a lot of challenges ahead. They
may make it, or may not.
“As rehabbers, we have to be very responsible making sure when we do a
release it’s a bird in great condition or we’re not doing that bird a
service. They have a lot to contend with out there.”
Rockwell smiled as she recounted one of the thousands of successful
releases she has been a part of over the past 17 years. “A few years ago
we had a raven that was picked up at the prison. The people thought he
was injured, but it was raining and his feathers just got really
saturated, and he couldn’t fly. We took him in and put him in a flight
cage to see how he would do.”
After a few days, Rockwell took him back to the prison area for his
release. “Ravens are bonded with their family groups and since he was a
juvenile we knew there was a family out there somewhere for him to join
up with.” To her delight, the raven family was perched along a fence
post, as if waiting for his return, but soon flew away. Rockwell put the
rescued raven on the fence and he took off to a berm in the field where
two of his family members joined him.
“They circled over him and landed, and then started talking back and
forth, and the bird we were releasing started making food begging calls.
It was almost like the family member was saying, ‘Where the heck have
you been, dude?’ and he’s saying back, ‘I’ve been in prison, and I’m
really glad to see you!’ And then after maybe 20 minutes of chattering,
they all took off and joined the rest of the family across the field.
For me, that was something I’ll never forget.”
Backyard Bird Challenges
The center receives hundreds of backyard birds every year, some with
injuries and others that aren’t injured at all. “As our area has grown
it has become house after house of habitat being ripped away, so birds
are forced to nest in highly convoluted, populated areas and become
backyard birds that end up having more interactions with humans,” she
said. “Often humans get too involved and don’t leave them alone.”
One challenge she faces is people who see a bird on the ground and
immediately think it needs to be brought to the center. Often homeowners
see nests that have fallen from a tree, babies that have fallen out of a
nest, or fledglings that have left the nest but are being cared for on
the ground by their nearby parents. “In cases like that we try to get
people to keep the baby with its family group, not just react and grab
it and bring it to us,” she said, adding that the old tale of birds
rejecting their baby if it has been touched by a human is simply not
“There are times when people should act, like if a tree has been cut
down and the parents flew off, or if a bird is injured,” she said. “In
general we want the babies to be raised in the wild, not by people. But,
of course we are always here as a second option to help, when needed.”
Even in relatively dense urban areas, Boiseans get to experience the
occasional thrill of a hawk flying into their backyard. Rockwell said
that Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks are known to enter backyards to
hunt songbirds, and since humans feed songbirds, an urban backyard is a
great place to find a meal.
“The downside is they run the risk of hitting buildings and windows,
and they’re notorious for that because their hunting style is
aerodynamic and they catch birds on the fly,” Rockwell said. “When I get
a Cooper’s or a sharp-shinned hawk into rehab they are almost always a
juvenile. Their skill set isn’t as high as an adult, so they’re still
learning to maneuver and constantly running into sides of buildings.
There are a lot of buildings and development they have to contend with
in order to eat.”
Urban Sprawl Challenges
“The Treasure Valley is building up so fast and birds are finding it
more difficult to find nesting territories,” Rockwell noted. “Besides
the growth that displaces wildlife, there are also car accidents with
birds, which are all tied together. It’s becoming more of a concrete
world and that affects habitats not only for the birds but for their
prey as well,” she said.
She recalled that in 2017 there were reports of dozens and dozens of
owls dying next to the I-84 Interstate. “It could be that some birds are
nesting and hunting close to the freeway because their habitat is close
to there. Rodents that they hunt have been displaced by the concrete
and are nesting close by in the dirt, and the owls fly low in search of
prey and become victims when they end up getting hit by vehicles. One
day I counted 25 dead barn owls on the side of the freeway,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges wild birds face are attacks from
roaming outdoor cats, and the center receives hundreds of victims each
year. “Pasteurella Multocida is a bacterium that is prevalent in a cat’s
mouth and very toxic to the bird via attack wounds, so birds need to be
treated immediately with an antibacterial medication,” Rockwell said.
“People who don’t manage their cats accordingly is a problem, and
unfortunately the birds pay the price.”
In fact the American Bird Conservancy estimates that outdoor cats kill billions of birds each year in the U.S.
Bone fractures provide another medical challenge at the center. “We
don’t at this time have easy access to a radiography machine, so that’s a
challenge, too,” Rockwell said.
When a bird comes in with a fracture, Rockwell has a lot to consider:
the bird’s species, the severity of the injury; can the bird stay calm
in captivity; is it eating well or losing weight; are secondary issues
occurring due to the initial injury?
“Sometimes we are able to repair the fracture, and the bird makes a
full recovery; but sometimes, in spite of all the work, time and medical
expenses, a fracture won’t heal correctly and we have to put the bird
How Do They Manage It All?
From feeding baby birds every quarter-hour to cleaning cages and enclosures, preparing food, washing dishes, sweeping floors and rehabbing and releasing birds, how does this nonprofit accomplish it all while still providing this free service to the community?
“We mostly operate with the help of our volunteers, and we couldn’t
do all the work without their help,” Rockwell said, noting that during
the summer she has between 20 and 40 volunteers. She also has a small
budget for some employees during the high season, since there needs to
be someone there 12 hours a day to feed the baby birds every 15 minutes.
Other than the rare grant, 98 percent of the center’s funding comes
from private donations, with no city, state or federal financial
support. The cost to operate seven days a week, 365 days a year is
enormous, with food costs, travel costs to rescue and release birds,
utilities and more. Baby birds and ducklings all require heat 24 hours a
day via heating pads or ceramic heat bulbs. Just the volume of water
needed to care for the waterfowl alone is staggering, with swim tanks
and enclosures needing to be hosed out and changed two or three times
every single day.
“I get a lot of people who bring a bird in and they’ll tell me, ‘Oh, I
am so glad you are here!’” said Rockwell. “The center offers a
tremendously helpful service to the community that is free of charge,
but the only reason we are able to be here is because of private
donations. Without those much needed donations, we’re simply not here.”
What to Do if You Find a Bird
If you find an injured baby bird or nestling that cannot be returned
to its nest, call the RMBC at 208-338-0897 for further instructions.
They advise placing the bird in a cardboard box with a towel shaped like
a nest to prevent the bird from flopping about or getting injured
during transport. Cover the box to keep the bird calm and immediately
take it to the bird center at 4650 N. 36th in Boise. Other important
reminders from the RMBC include: Do not give food or water to any
wildlife. If an animal is cold, dehydrated, injured, or ill, any food or
improper hydration could kill it. Never give a wild animal any cow’s
milk or human infant formula.
Who Was Ruth Melichar, Boise’s Bird Lady?
Born in 1906, Ruth Melichar was the inspiration and namesake for
Boise’s bird rescue center. She was not a veterinarian, but an artist
and a writer who was fascinated by wildlife and trained herself to
rehabilitate sick, injured and orphaned wild birds.
Melichar took in her first sick bird, a burrowing owl, in 1974. A
veterinarian told her if she’d like to keep it in her home he’d get her
the proper permits as long as she’d take in a few more birds. And she
did. By the time she died in 1997 at age 91, Melichar had treated and
released between 650 and 850 birds each year, according to memories
provided by her family.
She became known as “The Bird Lady” and her home was the place people brought the injured birds they found around town.
“She had so many birds and loved them individually; not one was less
than the other. She doted on them as if they were priceless,” said
Melichar’s granddaughter Tammy Burlile.
Burlile recalled that birds lived everywhere in her grandmother’s
house – living room, hallway counters, art room, bathroom, bedroom,
kitchen table. “Once I counted 87 birds and birds of prey inside her
home and more outside.
“She had a kestrel hawk named “Lizzie” who flew freely in the art
studio. But during mating season, visitors had to wear hats because
Lizzie had chosen my grandmother as her mate and flew around dive
bombing anyone who was not my grandmother. You were sure to get a talon
to the head if it wasn’t covered. After her flights, Lizzie would softly
land on my grandmother’s head and “nest.” Seeing a kestrel hawk on top
of a silver haired woman was quite the sight.”
“Big Boy”, a great horned owl, had been hit by a car and was blind in
one eye. “He was the longest resident in her home,” said Burlile. “His
cage was always open about two inches and one night he decided to get
out and go visit her in her bedroom. She could hear the click, click of
his talons on the floor. Grandma got out of bed and, after loving on
him, put him back in his cage. To me this was not only about her love
for the birds, but also their love for her. Those that were with her
long term loved her and trusted her.”
When Melichar died in 1997, Animals In Distress Association created
the Ruth Melichar Bird Center to continue her humanitarian work of
rescuing and rehabilitating injured and orphaned wild birds.
Educating children about birds
By Tammy Burlile, granddaughter of Ruth Melichar
“For many years she and my grandfather Chuck would take birds to the
schools and educate children on not shooting at the birds, as many of
the owls that she had were all blind in one eye from BB guns. Owls eyes
are so big within their heads she wanted children to know that nine
times out of ten they would blind an owl if shot. Once my grandmother
got older she was no longer able to take the birds to the schools; thus
the field trips started to arrive at her home.”
“Robin” was a red breasted robin that my grandmother eventually
released after rehabilitation. The funniest thing about this bird was
that he would constantly strip the newspaper from the bottom of his cage
and dip it in his water bowl until he no longer had his red breast
because it was black from the printer’s ink. No matter how many times
you cleaned him up, he went straight back to his newspaper and water.”
“Goggles” was a great horned owl my grandmother had incubated and
hatched from an egg. As grandma got older, rehabilitation and release
became more difficult; thus Goggles was never released. As he matured,
he was put in an aviary cage outside where he could fly around. He loved
my grandmother. The cooing he would make when she’d bring him cut up
beef heart was one of love. He would gently bring his beak down, make a
cooing sound for her and reach for the beef heart. She would also stroke
his legs and he would gently lift his foot and give her what I would
call a hand shake.” ~ Tammy Burlile, granddaughter of Ruth Melichar
“Parakeets” she had a cage full of nine parakeets in her living room.
A group of children with disabilities had visited an aviary and spotted
these nine birds and were saddened to learn that the parakeets did not
have hip sockets and they would be put down. They begged the aviary to
give them the parakeets and immediately took the birds to my
grandmother. These parakeets’ legs went out straight to either side of
their body and they would hold on to the cage with one foot and rest
their breast on the wooden dowels. They were able to fly, just not stand
tall on their perch. My grandmother not only loved the parakeets, but
also the children seeking hope when they brought these disabled birds to
How You Can Help
The Ruth Melichar Bird Center, the avian branch of Animals in
Distress Association (AIDA), rescues and rehabilitates between 2,800 and
3,000 injured and orphaned birds each year. The center is open seven
days a week, 365 days a year, including holidays and operates entirely
on private donations and grants. They also gladly accept gift cards and
donations of birdseed and other supplies.
in our mission of getting wildlife back into
release mid-Oct. 2018
downtown Boise early September with shoulder wound, worn out and thin.
We hope 2019 brings peace and health to all sentient beings!
The Treasure Valley’s
tremendous growth continues to bring us more injured, orphaned and displaced
wildlife annually. We deeply appreciate
your continued assistance in our quest to get wildlife back where they belong
and safe from urban and rural sprawl.
Aside from rehab, AIDA spends thousands of hours each year educating the
public in how to have a peaceful co-existence with those whom we share this
beautiful planet. We couldn’t possibly
maintain our objective without the generosity of YOU, our supporters for the
past 31 years.
The wildlife thanks you as do
we…AIDA couldn’t exist without you. We
receive no city, county, state or federal funding. We operate solely on a few grants and
donations. We hope to continue for
another 31 years and beyond. A million
On behalf of Animals In Distress Association/Ruth Melichar Bird Center (AIDA), thank you for caring about Idaho’s wildlife.