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Helping eagles fly

For more than three decades the people at the heart of the Stanislaus Wildlife Care Center have been taking care of the wounded, orphaned or sick birds, reptiles and mammals in the region with zeal. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has impacted the center by putting a limitation on the number of volunteers who can serve at the site, and as such created an increased work demand on the small staff. But their commitment to rehabilitating the animals and returning them to their natural habitats has not wavered.

The Stanislaus Wildlife Care Center was founded in 1984 by six people who had $300, no facilities to speak of, but plenty of gumption. The founding six members — Donna Burt, Phil McKay, Brian Feyler, Marsha Feyler, Diane Duncan and Jeremy Obers, with Turlock veterinarian, Dr. Douglas Marks providing veterinary services — have built up an organization that for 36 years has given respite and refuge to the area’s animals in need. They’ve built a home on two acres of land running along the Tuolumne River in Hughson and amassed a membership that tallies more than 1,000 individuals on the ranks, and is manned by a collection of dedicated volunteers.

From the humble starts in a garage, where they could only care for a few animals, the center has grown to a point where each year sees more than a thousand animals pass through the doors. Recently, the staff got to utilize their raptor aviary for a female golden eagle sickened with West Nile Virus.

The eagle came to the Center in September 2019 after falling from its perch off a two-story building in Westley. It was apparent the eagle had something wrong neurologically, said Burt, the Center's Board of Directors Chairperson and assistant executive director.

"It acted like it had been hit by a car, but there was no sign of injury," Burt said. "It had no balance and could not fly."

A test revealed the eagle had contracted West Nile Virus. She was listless and underweight and had to be handfed by the caretakers. Little by little she began to regain some of her strength and recuperated. She was moved into the 100-foot aviary, but was still hesitant to fly. Staff kept encouraging her to stretch her wings and late this spring she finally appeared to be ready to take flight.

After seven months at the Center, the golden eagle was released back into the wild.

"We were kind of giddy with happiness," Burt said. "We hoped she would do more than just hop out of the cage and look at us and she did. She took off and made a big circle around us and did a figure eight and then flew off."

As a non-profit, the Stanislaus Wildlife Care Center is dependent on the generosity of donors and their fundraising events. The springtime and early summer are busy seasons for the Center with lots of baby animals and birds being born. Typically, the Center would celebrate these births with their annual wildlife baby shower, which had an added bonus of boosting their supplies needed to care for the animals. This year they had to host the event online and are still accepting donations of supplies and money. 

For donation opportunities, visit