The Desert Sun – Palm Springs, Calif.


Down a dirt road from a weather-worn wooden sign is a little-known sanctuary for horned owls, American kestrels, red-tail hawks, quail and myriad other wild birds.

Visitors at the Coachella Valley Wild Bird Center are greeted by the resident white barn owl, Corazon, perching on a bookshelf or winging her way across the office.

The nonprofit center, founded in 1986 by Linda York as a raptor rescue, provides a temporary home for these birds until they’re rehabilitated and can be released.

“People don’t even know we have owls in the desert. It cracks me up,” York said. “They come out at night and people don’t look up.”

York, a longtime Indio resident and 2008 “Animal Planet” Hero of the Year nominee, first started as a docent at the Living Desert and soon moved to working out of her house with rescued raptors.

But when the number of birds reached 250, she moved them into the current building on Van Buren Street in Indio.

The center rescued more than 1,000 birds last year and is already on track to break that number.

York attributes some of the increase to nearby road construction.

So far this year, 781 birds have been rescued, including two baby mockingbirds brought in Thursday by Coachella Valley resident John Reynoso.

“My son found them,” he said. “The parents were buzzing us.”

Along with the rescued animals, there are 18 permanent resident birds, called “imprints,” who first bonded with humans directly after birth and who think they’re humans too, York said.

A baby bird imprints, or bonds with its parents, in a matter of hours.

This is why York recommends bird rescuers bring their birds to the center as quickly as possible.

If this is not practical, at least put a mirror in with it, to give them another bird to look at.

“Babies of everything are terminally cute, but these are wild critters, and we want to keep them wild,” she said. “If we can get them back out there soon enough, the adults will accept them.”

But most of the time, birds brought into the center didn’t need to be rescued, she said.

“Take the kids, dogs and cats inside, and the adults will take care of them,” York said.

If a baby bird has full feathers, then it’s probably only days away from flight and the parents are capable of caring for it, provided there are no cats around, York said.

On the other hand, if a bird is very downy or almost “naked,” it needs to be brought in.

If not bringing in birds, visitors can still come to see rescued birds, plus hike through the bordering 15-acre wetlands, created by the Valley Sanitary District.

During the hot summer, birdwatchers wishing to hike through the wetlands early, before normal business hours, should call a day beforehand.

Guests who visit the bird sanctuary from October to May can take an organized bird walk starting at 8 a.m. the first Saturday of every month.

The center receives most of its funding from donations. Admission is free, but a membership is available for $15 per year. A $5 donation is requested from anyone turning in a rescued bird.

Glance: If you go

What: Coachella Valley Wild Bird Center

Where: 46-500 Van Buren St., Indio

When: 8 a.m. to noon every day, including weekends

Cost: Free

More information: (760) 347-2647

Weekend Wanderer

This is part of an occasional series featuring places and activities that are unique to the Coachella Valley but that even longtime residents may have never experienced, figuring there will always be time next weekend.

ID_Code: J1201110106190319




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