Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Sadness of Captive Birds

A couple of days ago I revisited the VINS rescue and rehab organization in Quechee, VT.  It was a cold blustery day. Walking along the roofed over semicircle from cage to cage with eyes following me, I found not much had changed from three years ago. The two Bald Eagles, disabled by injuries, who arrived in 2000 and 2002, were still there.

 Back then a couple of volunteers were crawling around on the ground cleaning the cage to the great annoyance and vocal complaints of one of the eagles.

Sounds like an upset chicken, right? Eagles are so imposing that  they probably had no need to evolve a voice to go with it, I guess. Maybe they just needed enough voice to comfort their offspring.

Also still here:
Golden Eagle (since sometime in the 90's)

Peregrine Falcon (since 1995)

Broad-winged Hawk (since 2007)

Snowy Owl (since 2006 - raised in captivity)

Common Raven
Common Raven couple preening (the male since 1997 and the female since 2001)
Common Ravens are smart, they are curious, they investigate their environment. But what if there is nothing to investigate? Nothing to stimulate their minds, just a bare cage with wooden perches? Their cage was, I guess, adequate in size, but how humane is it to keep birds, who cannot be released back into the wild,  in barred cages, as if they were automata, for years if not decades? I am not criticizing VINS - their means are limited. I am posing it as a more general question to which I have no answer.

I didn't want to leave this post on such a depressing note. The day before, a beautiful late fall day, I had walked with my dog Chance up to the top of Black Mountain.

Black Mountain Granite Dome

The  leaves on the huckleberry bushes shone like little red light

The Connecticut River Valley in the distance

The West River runs like a silvery ribbon through the valley. The cars on the road next to it are so small that from this height the world looks like a toy shop.

Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment.


  1. I visited a privately run avian rescue center this summer with long term birds there, and I was mostly disgusted. It seemed to operate closer to a private zoo (running on admissions and donations), more so than being a facility to rescue, rehabilitate and release birds back to the wild. Very sad to see eagles, owls, hawks and ravens permanently caged. Perhaps some injured birds should be left to cope in the wild come what may, rather than the indignity of living the rest of their lives confined to a flightless caged existence.

  2. Enjoyed the scenes. I don't know what to say about the birds in cages.

  3. Those were beautiful Fall photos. It is sad about the caged birds, I suppose after they have been kept that long, it would be nearly imposible for them to survive on their own now. Sometimes, we may be trying to help Mother Nature too much. But I have to agree with you about rehab and release as soon as possible. I'm happy to say that is what is done here at Sanibel's C.R.O.W.

  4. Great post about the rehab. center. I visitied one this summer, too and came away with very mixed feelings. Fortunately, the place I went to was beautifully maintained. I still think that there is a balance out there and that some things should just die, and they DO, which is okay. Our interventions don't always improve on things in the longer run. Great photo, Hilke.

  5. Hilke..
    It would be interesting to get a perspective from someone like Julie Zickefoose or Susan from

    Both have dealt with rehabbing birds..Also there the Bird Treatment and learning center in Alaska.
    .I am sure there are more...just cant think of them now.
    You should visit their blogs and show them your link and ask for their thoughts.

    Wonderful photos!

    I know how you feel..would be nice if there was something else for these birds to do rather than sit on a stick in an empty cage:(

  6. Thank you all for your comments. I just want to add that I am supporting VINS all the way in their efforts to rehabilitate injured birds and return them to the wild. They are doing a great job and deserve all the donations they are getting (including mine) I think they are facing an insoluble quandary when someone brings in a bird whose injury will keep it in protective custody for the remainder of its life. The public expects the bird to be taken care of and euthanasia at that point is not an option.

  7. Thanks, Dawn. I will follow through on your suggestions.

  8. Hilke, my son volunteered at a Mass Audubon nature center taking care of injured birds, and he was responsible for keeping the Raven occupied. They did things like hide his food, play ball with him, hide trinkets inside boxes for him to open, and even spent time just talking to him. It is sad when birds cannot be released into the wild, but responsible organizations are very good at meeting the needs of the birds they care for.

  9. It does seem kind of sad to have a bird locked in a cage but then again-some animals that are kept captive live longer than they do in the wild.You would think that they would die sooner if they were miserable being kept captive.

    Cats that are kept indoor as pets live on average about three times longer than one's who go outdoors.I've had several cats-the one we have now is the first one we've kept exclusively indoors.It is the happiest, healthiest cat we have had yet.-

    Wild birds seem like a different situation-they were meant to fly and be free.

  10. Good series and thoughts. The composure of your last photo is wonderful with the red, the dark frame, the light on the river (and road)

  11. Susan, it sounds like the place where your son was working did right by the ravens.

    Larry, cats are in different situation; they have been bred as pets. I think birds - I am excluding here those bred as pets - can vegetate in cages for years, and not die of misery, as long as they are fed and watered. But flying is what defines a bird - is the essence of being a bird and to take that away I think is inhumane.

    Thanks, Chris. It was beautiful up on Black Mountain. It's a truly unique landscape. The pitch pines remind me of the Sierra Nevada.

  12. Very interesting post, Hilke

    There is certainly no pat answer without funds to provide them with a stimulating environment.

    I once saw a caged Barn Owl that was being re-habbed and it spent it's time rocking from side to side, very haunting really.

  13. I agree. I just enjoy looking at things from different agles for the sake of discussion.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.