Janet Miller has seen it
all. Raptors shot with pellets, some with arrows. Birds with broken wings after a run-in with a window. Bunnies orphaned and struggling to survive.
And she does whatever she can to save them.
Miller is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Her home in northwest Tucson is largely given over to ailing wildlife, primarily birds, that need some tender care before they can once again fend for themselves in the wild.
In addition to the sicker birds inside her home, there is a maze of Arizona Game and Fish-approved aviaries around her property for the birds that are closer to release, or are well but too damaged to be released (a broken wing can doom a bird in the wild). Barn and pygmy owls, vultures, hawks, finches — if it needs help, Miller, along with her 60-some volunteers, is ready to give it. And pay for it, often with the help of donations and volunteer vets.
But she’s 81. She can’t keep this up forever.
“I’m in my later years,” says Miller shortly after propping up an elegant blue heron with an injured wing on her kitchen counter and hand-feeding it. “I’m not young physically. Once I’m not able to do this …”
Miller doesn’t finish the sentence. It pains her to think that once she can’t do it, there won’t be others ready to step up to help.
Arizona Game and Fish has seven Tucson-area wildlife rehabilitators, including Miller, on its roster. That also includes Tucson Wildlife Center, which has an expansive facility on the far east side.
“Out here, we focus on larger predatory animals,” says Dee Kidd, director of Tucson Wildlife Center.
“There is a shortage of smaller animal rehabilitators.”
Miller is ready to do something about that.
She and fellow wildlife rehabber Noreen Geyer-Kordesky, who specializes in hummingbirds, are hosting a meeting Feb. 15 that will provide some straight talk on what’s involved in becoming a licensed wildlife rehabber.
They have a theory: If wildlife rehabbers commit to caring for a limited number of species, the work will be less demanding, and less expensive.
“They don’t have to feel they are doing everything,” says Geyer-Kordesky.
“We’re looking for someone who thinks they can handle one or two species,” says Miller. “That is more manageable and economically possible.”
A fancy center isn’t necessary — it only requires time and enough space at your home to care for the creatures. Geyer-Kordesky’s home in the Tucson Mountains has a sunny room set aside for the hummingbirds that need more attention. In her backyard patio overlooking her swimming pool, she has three structures, two smaller aviaries and a large one — the latter is the last stop for a bird before it is set free. It has a perch, plants that the bird feeds on and enough room for it to soar. Once the bird appears to be ready, Geyer-Kordesky sends it back into the wild.
But being a rehabber doesn’t always mean bringing the animal or bird home.
“My goal is to not take the bird,” says Geyer-Kordesky, who received 71 calls about hummingbirds that needed help last year. “I want to leave it or change the bird’s situation. But it takes time to monitor.”
Often she’ll get calls because a nest has blown over or is in an awkward spot. She can move the nest, and sometimes rebuild if it is necessary. Only when survival in the wild is doubtful does she take the bird home to nurse it back to health.
Becoming a wildlife rehabber is not an easy process. To be licensed with Arizona Game and Fish, one must fill out forms, pass tests, spend a minimum of six months volunteering with a licensed rehabber and build structures to exact specifications determined by the state.
But Miller has a wealth of information — she’s been doing this for more than 20 years. And she’s willing to lend her expertise to ease the process of getting licensed and caring for the birds and animals.
“We won’t cast people out there,” she says.
“We won’t dump them and say, ‘OK, you’re on your own.’ We’ll be as helpful as we can.”
“She wants to pass the light on to someone,” says Geyer-Kordesky of Miller. “We want to recruit the next generation of rehabbers to care for the next generation of animals.”