The heart of FLAP's work is the rescue of birds stunned or injured by collisions with buildings during spring and fall migration.
Volunteers comb the nooks and crannies, sidewalks and squares, ledges and flowerbeds of Toronto's Financial District in the wee hours of the morning – they're looking for night-migrating birds lured into this inhospitable place by lights shining from the towers. After daybreak, other rescuers search the grounds of mirrored office buildings throughout the Greater Toronto Area – they find birds who have been fooled into believing that the reflections of trees and sky in the shiny glass are the real thing.
Volunteers rush to rescue the survivors – birds contorted into unnatural positions by the pain of their ordeal or hunched quietly, feathers puffed out to keep their bruised bodies warm. Each bird is quickly examined for obvious injuries, then lowered gently into a brown paper bag. Each bag is fitted with a tissue or stick that the bird can grab with its sensitive claws, the way it would when perching on the branch of a tree.
Experienced FLAP wildlife rehabilitators arrive on scene to do a more detailed assessment of each bird's condition. Injured birds are treated using homeopathic remedies. Some birds recover within an hour or two and can be released in ravines, parks or wilderness areas further along their migration route – and far from buildings. Any birds that may have injuries such as head trauma, eye damage, and broken wings that require further medical care are transported to a wildlife rehabilitation centre in the hope that they will eventually recover to the point where they can survive in the wilderness.
The best part of the volunteer experience is the release of birds into the wild. Nothing compares with the thrill of watching a bird that you rescued from an almost-certain death fly up into a tree and start grooming itself or foraging for food. The jubilant volunteer knows that she or he has given this precious bird a second chance at life.
A FLAP Volunteer's Story
Can I possibly describe what's thrilling about the sorry task of collecting injured birds? It's about watching distant birds keel over onto their backs (did they just decide at that very moment to die?) and a minute later, safely tucked into their paper bags, change their minds, flutter and protest to be released. It's about going to pick up a Whip-poor-will and watching in wonder as my hands disappear into the downy feathers.
I remember the sapsucker sadly delivered to a wildlife centre, the upper part of its beak snapped off at the end. How could it feed itself ever again? Later, a call from the shelter told me the thrilling news. The lower beak had been gently filed to match the upper and the bird released to find its next meal, and summer in the wild.
At daybreak sometimes I could cry, but then I remember all the amazing moments that take my breath away...