OGDEN — A small robin, sits in a cage suspended underneath a shady tree, at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of northern Utah.
The cage door is opened, but the bird doesn't fly away immediately. He looks around, bewildered perhaps.
Finally, it leaps, and up into the tree it goes, and lands on a branch. Freedom!
This is the happy ending to a story that began July.
A Centerville woman discovered two baby robins on the lawn, flopping around, as if trying to fly. The birds were connected by a wing. At first, it was thought they had been born conjoined. It turns out that somehow a piece of twine, used in the construction of the nest, became wrapped around the right wing of one bird and the left wing of its sibling. As they grew, the twine became embedded.
Flight was impossible. The birds flapped their wings and could only drag themselves along the ground.
After a doctor at Parrish Creek Veterinary Clinic in Centerville separated the two birds, the robins were taken to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, located near the mouth of Ogden Canyon.
"It was pretty frightening. The one was in pretty critical condition," said Dalyn Erickson, Executive Director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. "She had to have a wing amputation because the twine had been bound up around the wings. The other little guy had some damage to the tendons in his wing and required extensive antibiotics and physical therapy to give him a chance to go back to the wild."
Each day, staff and volunteers at the rehab center worked to make the robin stronger. Erickson said physical therapy for birds is not unlike that for humans. "Just full range of motion, keeping that wing moving, making sure the tendons didn't bind up and (so that) the wing will work properly."
This wasn't an unusual case for the rehabilitation center, a place which takes in about 1,400 birds and small mammals each year. Whether it's a tiny hummingbird, a Peregrine falcon, or a variety of chipmunks, rabbits and squirrels, the workers provide tender loving care.
"We go to great lengths to avoid any kind of habituation or imprinting," Erickson said. "We want to keep them as wild as we can. So the goal of our program is to release everything we possibly can back to the wild. The success rate is good with approximately 68 percent eventually released.
"The majority of the injuries seen here are the result of some sort of human impact. Birds are often hurt trying to build nests in uncovered fireplace and dryer vents. Other animals are shot, or are hurt in collisions with vehicles."
Erickson says if anyone finds an injured bird or small animal, don't try to feed it yourself in an attempt to save it. You'll probably do more harm than good. Let the experts handle it.
The robin that had its wing partially amputated will never fly, but is now otherwise healthy. It's in a cage in the lobby and will probably become the rehab center's mascot.
Though they care for the birds and animals for weeks and months while they're hurt, the staff at the rehabilitation center is never sad to see them go. Seeing the animals return to the wild is a celebration.
"It's amazing," Erickson said. "You have the opportunity to take something that wouldn't have survived and be able to turn that around and give it a second chance and kind of right a wrong. They belong outside, where they're happy. And to be able to put them back where it makes them happy is … awesome."