Free-spirited animal lover shares the ups and downs of five years spent rehabilitating injured birds from her Hudson Valley home.
Gilbert (Hawk Hill, 1996) admits she was always a misanthropic rebel—bouncing among schools and jobs and resenting authority, but enthralled by the dignity of animals. She worked at an animal hospital and volunteered at a raptor center for several years before becoming a home-based rehabber. Gilbert had a flight cage built, passed her federal permit exam and agreed to accept only recovering songbirds. The need for committed, qualified wildlife rehabilitators is so great, however, that she found herself taking on more birds than she could handle, largely out of guilt for the wrongs visited by “perverse” humans on the innocent avian population. She comically describes her house becoming a veritable circus of wild birds, with a great blue heron in the shower, grackles in the flight cage, a duckling in the living room and waxwings perched wherever there was room. (Westlake’s illustrations vividly convey the scene.) While Gilbert’s jealous pets, a yellow-collared macaw and an African grey parrot, waged war on the invading species, her patient family got used to seeing defrosted rats on top of the dryer or mealworms in the fridge. The author’s two children in particular add purpose and exuberance to her story. Readers will acquire education aplenty from Gilbert’s discussions of the creatures she encounters and the challenges rehabbers face in a world where more than 90 percent of wildlife injuries are the direct result of human activity. She excoriates ignorant owners who let domestic cats hunt birds for play, decries her perennial lack of funds and labor and describes working with vets to decide whether euthanasia or captivity is more humane. Gilbert is abrasive and funny, a crusader with little patience for those who do not share her concerns. She scants opportunities to transcend her topic and connect with readers on more relatable struggles like family balance, accepting limits and managing suffering.
Best for like-minded bird enthusiasts.