FREEDOM – Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center was founded in February 1999; its mission is to take in injured and orphaned wild birds, heal their injuries or raise them to adulthood, and return them to the wild.
Our annual caseload has grown from about 300 in our first year to about 1,200 birds in 2007, making us now the largest avian practice in the state, if not New England.
We see patients from about 100 different species, ranging in size from hummingbirds to eagles; state and federal wildlife agencies entrust us with endangered species as well as more common ones.
Because Maine has about three-quarters of the bald eagle population in the Northeast, we probably rehabilitate more bald eagles (10-12 per year) by far than any other facility in this part of the country.
Avian Haven has won several awards, not only from rehabilitation associations but also from other groups with conservation interests, such as Unity College and the Maine Chapter of The Wildlife Society.
The flight cages where we condition our birds prior to release have innovative features such as circular designs offering exercise potential that cannot be achieved with traditional layouts. Grant support for these structures has come from several foundations, as well as the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund.
Our location in Freedom offers us proximity to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife hubs in Augusta and Bangor. We admit birds from all over the state, though predominantly from five counties: Androscoggin, Kennebec, Knox, Penobscot and Waldo.
Avian Haven is a hospital, not a zoo; we are open for the public, though not to the public. More information about us and our facility, along with stories of some of the birds whose lives we have saved, can be found on our Web site, avianhaven.org.
Avian Haven is located approximately one mile from the proposed wind turbine site in Freedom. Our concerns about proximity are mostly about birds, but there are human considerations as well.
In locations all over the country, people living within about a mile of industrial turbines have reported being disturbed by noise, as well as symptoms that include headache, nausea, dizziness, ringing in the ears, problems concentrating, and sleep disruption.
Here in Maine, the folks at Mars Hill attest to the reality of these problems. Some recent recommendations we have seen are to site industrial turbines at least 1.5 miles from homes, schools, hospitals, etc., in order to protect people from adverse health effects.
It’s hard to describe what our summer days are like to people who have not spent time here in busy season – but for a rough idea of the pace, imagine an emergency room at a small-town hospital.
Each day, we might admit 20-some injured or orphaned birds and take 50 or more phone calls. Most days involve some fairly stressful situations on top of the ongoing demands of hourly feedings for the 100 or so baby birds we are likely to have here at any given time.
“Keeping it together” can be a challenge, even with four or five people on duty. Even at one mile from the project site, symptoms of what one New York physician calls “wind turbine syndrome” may affect us. But we can’t imagine being able to function adequately with even mild symptoms, or with any less sleep than we are already able to get.
These concerns reflect effects experienced by humans, with the impact on birds unknown. Many kinds of birds have more sensitive hearing than people do – what would turbine noise sound like to them, and how would it affect them? There are no obvious answers.
Areas around wind turbines are vacated by some species (an effect called habitat displacement), especially during breeding season, though the reasons are unclear. But if turbine noise bothered birds in our outdoor cages, they wouldn’t be able to fly away and find another territory. They would have to live with that noise when their human caregivers might be able to escape it by going inside, closing all doors and windows, and turning on fans to mask turbine sound.
The other major concern for Avian Haven is the danger of turbines for birds in the wild. No one argues with the basic fact that turbines kill birds; the only issue is how many are killed, and whether those numbers impact species populations.
The wind industry claims the number of birds killed by turbines is fewer than those killed by more familiar factors such as cat predation, window strikes and car hits.
How does the industry estimate bird kills? Someone assigned to monitor a turbine site goes out periodically and counts remains that can be found on the ground around the towers.
But these remains may not be easy to find, given that the blunt force trauma inflicted by turbine blades includes decapitation and dismemberment. Similar to what happens when a bug hits the windshield of a moving car, there may not be enough left of small birds that strike turbine blades to comprise something identifiable as a part of a bird.
Small body parts may be particularly difficult to find amid ground vegetation. Furthermore, remains are likely to be carried off by scavengers between the time they fall to the ground and the time the site is checked.
In sum, according to studies published recently in the Journal of Wildlife Management, current reports of avian mortality are inaccurate, with actual mortality levels most likely being higher than claimed.
Regardless of whether the number of birds killed by turbines is sufficient to adversely impact worldwide populations, wild bird rehabilitation is all about local individuals.
At Avian Haven, we raise several hundred orphaned songbirds each summer. Our part of Freedom is blessed with a surrounding habitat diverse enough to support a variety of species; after they’ve matured, most of these “teenagers” are released on site, in the environment they’ve been looking at and listening to while building up their flight muscles in our outdoor cages.
After release, we continue to provide food they’re used to eating for as long as it takes them to make the transition to foraging on their own. But if there were wind turbines in close proximity, we would not feel comfortable releasing those juveniles here, with a major hazard only a mile away.
Unfortunately, releasing them elsewhere would also reduce their chances of survival; they’d suddenly find themselves in an unfamiliar environment without the back-up support we provide in lieu of that normally provided by parents.
This change in protocol would seriously compromise the ultimate success of our work. And of course the numerous raptors we’ve released on Beaver Hill and Ayer Ridge would also have to be taken farther away.
As we have considered all factors and projected a cumulative impact of the turbines on our practice, we’ve reluctantly and sadly come to the conclusion that Avian Haven could not coexist with them without sacrificing our high standard of care.
In numerous discussions with our board members, agreement on that point has been unanimous, and we have talked at great length about the harsh reality of a move that we hope we will not have to make.
Our 12 outdoor flight buildings comprise a total of more than 7,000 square feet. Unfortunately, because most of them were built on slopes, we couldn’t take them with us intact, or even dismantle and rebuild them elsewhere. To rebuild and relocate Avian Haven in another town would be a financial challenge, to say the least.
We do not blame anyone for having different priorities, but we want to be clear about the impact that nearby industrial wind turbines would have on Avian Haven.
With last year’s repeal of the Commercial Development Review Ordinance, Freedom currently has no means of protecting us from the effects of any irresponsible industrial development. Having to abide by a reinstated ordinance could be a disincentive for any company that would prefer no restrictions or regulations.
If Freedom residents hope, as we do, that Avian Haven can remain at its home on the North Palermo Road, please join us in voting yes on June 10.
By Diane Winn
Marc Payne and Diane Winn are co-founders and co-directors of Avian Haven. Before coming to Maine, Marc was clinic manager at The Raptor Trust in Millington, N.J.; Diane is a retired Colby College professor.
Waldo County Citizen
28 May 2008