From birds to bobcats, this non-profit rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife across SW Idaho

Posted at 8:01 AM, Apr 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-30 10:02:10-04

BOISE, Idaho — It’s springtime in the Treasure Valley, which means by now there’s a good chance you’ve spotted some ducklings or another kind of baby animal. That signals the start of the busy season for the Animals in Distress Association and the Ruth Melichar Bird Center.

The non-profit organization has been rehabilitating animals in Southwest Idaho for the last 34 years.

“We get many orphaned ducklings and baby birds,” director Jennifer Rockwell said. “And it’s never-ending. Once you hang up the phone, you get another call.”

The center is nestled against the Boise foothills, serving as the rehabilitation center for countless species of injured or orphaned birds found across the valley. Rockwell has been at the center of the action for the last 20 years.

“I think a lot of us wildlife rehabbers probably connected very well with wildlife when we were children, and I did,” Rockwell said. “I was always saving, or trying to save, something or the other growing up.”

Jennifer Rockwell, Ruth Melichar Bird Center director

A longtime love of animals is familiar to Mady Rothchild, a founding member of AIDA.

“My mother was a founder of the Humane Society in 1938, so the animal thing has been a part of my life forever,” Rothchild said. “I’ve just always loved animals, any sort of them, like insects. Jennifer’s kind of weird like that, too. I really like insects.”

Insects aside, Rothchild runs the mammals side of the organization.

“I had 52 baby raccoons once!” Rothchild said. “We do badgers, they’re probably one of my favorites. We’ve done lots of bobcats, some cougar kittens.”

Recent rescues also include cottontail rabbits, a baby skunk, and a fox with mange roaming neighborhoods on the Boise Bench.

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Over the years, both women have noticed some major changes. As development continues to serve the human population across the Treasure Valley, it’s the wild animals paying the price.

“We used to get hundreds of foxes. Now we do maybe 20 a year, because of the growth,” Rothchild said. “Back 20 years ago, it was a problem with urban growth, and now, it’s just almost unspeakable. There’s nothing left for any of them. Just look around at Meridian, Kuna, Star.”

Rockwell also sees birds impacted by the growth, “being pushed out of their natural habitat and nesting in crazy places.”

The organization rehabs roughly 500 mammals a year and up to 3,000 birds - most crammed into the busy months of May through September.

While staff members are eager to assist animals in need of care, what’s best for the animals is if they stay away from humans entirely. So, if you ever come across a healthy critter or a nest, as exciting as it may be, it’s important to remember these animals are meant to live in the wild without human interference.

“Some people let their children or a classroom handle stuff, and it’s just the worst thing that could possibly happen,” Rothchild said.

“They think their intentions are well, but they’re actually doing more harm for the bird, and potentially that bird will not be released into the wild because of the human imprinting they’re doing onto that bird,” Rockwell said.

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The organization’s goal is to rehabilitate these animals and release them back into the wild. Rockwell says their release rate is around 65%, which is “pretty darn good.”

A lot of the organization is run by volunteers, but it takes a lot of work. Birds may be in the center’s care for a few weeks before release, while most mammals take months.

As a non-profit organization, they can only keep going as long as donations allow.

You can select the Animals in Distress Association as your charity of choice while shopping on Amazon Smile and 0.5% of your purchases will benefit the organization.

Got family coming into town? The upper floor of the Ruth Melichar Bird Center has been converted into an Airbnb rental with 100% of the proceeds going into costs for rehabilitation.

The Bird's Nest on AirBnB

AIDA is also participating in Idaho Gives. You can make a donation here.