While it's not quite alligators in the sewers, New York City is home to far more wildlife than many realize.
And on June 2, the city's first wildlife rehabilitation and education center will open to the public, with a two-day open house at its Upper West Side location.
Since 1998, the Wild Bird Fund has been rescuing wild animals in the city; volunteers often cared for the injured critters in their homes. But now the group has raised enough money to open a two-story, 1,300-square-foot facility, which will include a pool for waterfowl, a surgery room, and space for more than 60 birds and other animals.
The group treats an estimated 1,500 animals a year, many of them birds, said Rita McMahon, director of the center, but other animals as well.
In 2008, for example, a police boat on a security patrol outside the United Nations noticed a beaver struggling in the water. The cops picked it up and brought it to the group. It turned out the animal had become disoriented and swam south in the East River when she should have swum north, said McMahon. Unfortunately, the animal had consumed too much saltwater and died.
An American Bittern was discovered in Queens last year, suffering from leg paralysis. Vets suspected it was paralyzed after ingesting a toxin and would require physical therapy, McMahon recalled. Volunteers held the bird out at arm's length -- while he tried to peck at their eyes with his sharp beak -- and others gently moved its legs back and forth. By October he had been fully nursed back to health and was released back into the wild.
Many of the birds they treat are sickened by human pollution, or hit by cars.
The wildlife center handles nearly all of the wildlife calls from 311, said McMahon, as well as those from regular New Yorkers.
Last year, actress Kate Winslet brought in two baby mourning doves that she found on her Manhattan terrace, being attacked by a hawk. Several homeless people bring in injured birds and volunteer to keep watch on them once they are returned to the wild, McMahon said.
"Here in New York, we have a greater diversity of wildlife than even Westchester County," said McMahon. "There are over 350 bird species in New York City alone. The richness of the land, all the bodies of water, all the parks, make it a very important place for migratory birds to stop and refuel."
How to donate
The center is funded solely on private donations, and they are still trying to raise money for an operating table, an anesthesia machine, an ICU and raptor cages. McMahon said she also wants the center to be open for educational tours, and plans to teach school kids how to recognize various bird species.
Give to the center through wildbirdfund.com/donate
Helping Mother Nature's own
1: This eastern wood duck was treated for a lacerated wing after being attacked by a dog. He was treated and released back into the wild in April.
2: Fledgling European starlings, their mouths open for a meal, were brought in because they were badly dehydrated.
3: A baby opossum was brought in with a fractured jaw. The Wild Bird Fund also got a call on Saturday about a litter of 13 baby opossums in need of food and water.
4: This American Bittern was brought in suffering from leg paralysis, and released in October.
5: This baby squirrel and flying squirrel both came out of their nests too early. Both had to be bottle-fed by volunteers.