A bird's best friend

March 2020

Animals are Jenn Salo’s lifeline.
Ever since she can remember, Jenn Salo has been captivated by everything to do with animals. When she was nine, Salo lived and breathed horses, hoping that some day she would be able to get her very own. When her parents rented a pony for her birthday, it was the best – and the worst – day of her life. She was ecstatic to spend her special day with the pony, but devasted to have to say good-bye when the pony had to return home. She cried her heart out and determined that the only thing to do was to get a horse of her own.
After a couple years of riding lessons and learning how to care for horses, Salo finally got her first pony. Over the years she became an accomplished rider and trainer, learning both English and Western disciplines from jumping to gymkhana and everything in between.
“All of my horses have taught me so much: perseverance, patience, and how to sometimes compromise,” Salo says. “Qualities that have helped me with my other love: birds.”
Salo’s father was an avid outdoorsman, giving her plenty of opportunities as a child to hunt, fish, and camp in the Boreal forests of Northwestern Ontario. It was when she turned sixteen, and was able to get her outdoors card, that she first learned about Falconry. She called up the Thunder Bay office and discovered the closest person who could take her for the two-year apprentice program was a six-hour drive from here. Her dreams of training a bird of prey to hunt with her had to be put on hold.
In the meantime, another passion grew: helping injured wildlife. One afternoon, while walking along a set of railroad tracks in the country, Salo found three young Canada Geese wandering around, dazed and confused. Their mother, father, and siblings had been killed by a passing train and Salo knew it was only a matter of time before they would get hit by another train or car. She gathered them up and took them home.
Although her parents always supported Salo’s love for animals, they knew they couldn’t keep the geese at their place. They contacted Bill and Patty Farmer at the Dell and made a deal. Salo could keep her geese there and she could work in exchange for the geese’s room and board. It was a perfect match.
“It was my first rescue, and my first success in helping birds,” Salo says. She learned how to care for the geese and how to let go. Bailey and Boomer fared well, but Tiny Tim, the runt of the litter, didn’t. She was devastated when he died but learned to focus on the good fortune of Bailey and Boomer as they enjoyed the fields and ponds at the farm. When fall arrived, Salo was concerned that the brothers wouldn’t know how to fly south and would be stuck here for the winter.
There was no need to worry.
When September arrived, a flock of Canada geese stopped at the pond to nestle down for the night. The conversation between Bailey and Boomer and these new arrivals must have been very interesting: “You live here? Really?” … “You’re flying where? Why would you do that?” and “You’re welcome to join us if you like. It’s much warmer down south.”
The next day, Bailey left with the gang and a week later, Boomer left with another flock.
When spring came, Salo was relieved and very happy to see Boomer and Bailey return, along with their new mates. They settled at the pond at the Dell and raised their young there, for many years. “I remember thinking to myself that my birds were so smart. They didn’t need a plane to show them how to fly like in that movie, Fly Away Home. They knew how to fly south and come back home. It was funny to me.”
Shortly after rescuing the geese, Salo found an injured raven perched on a low branch on a tree. She brought it home and discovered it had a broken wing full of maggots. She did the only humane thing possible: she put the bird down to end its suffering.
“I learned a lot during those first two rescues,” Salo says. “Not every animal can be saved, but they can be spared suffering.” She then adds, “I understand the ways of nature, but so often nature isn’t the cause of these animals’ plight. It’s man. Whether it’s a vehicle or a train or the glare from a window, none of these things are a part of nature and I feel responsible to help as many animals as I can.”
Sadly, Salo reports, 90% of her bird casualties are due to man, and of these, half need to be euthanized.

“People can do a lot to protect birds. A decal of a hawk on a window can keep birds from flying into the glass,” Salo says. All birds, including birds of prey, can fracture their skulls when they hit the glass, and need anti-inflammatories. She points out that if anyone finds a bird that has hit a window to contact her if the bird hasn’t flown away after three hours. Even if the bird appears fine it most likely has injuries that will need immediate attention.

Because Salo is the only person in Thunder Bay qualified to take in and care for injured birds, her home is always filled with birds in various stages of recovery. At this point, however, she is not legally allowed to keep unreleasable animals and hopes to have a fully functionable wildlife sanctuary where these birds can live out their lives and the public can learn and develop a deeper respect for wildlife.

“It would be my dream,” Salo says. “Can you imagine how wonderful it would be for people to see these birds and connect with nature? It would be a place of discovery and healing and nature-based education.”

And there is more. Salo also wants to bring Lac La Croix Indian Ponies, also known as Ojibwe ponies, to Thunder Bay and bring this durable breed back from the threat of extinction. “It would be a great way to help people reconnect with their rich Native culture and instill conservation and environmental values at the same time.”

And there is no doubt that Salo will see this happen. She has learned patience and perseverance, and carries a high regard for nature and all it’s creatures, feathered or furred.

If you need to contact Jenn you can visit her on her facebook page: ThunderBird Wildlife Rescue. Jenn is always in need of towels and blankets and since all of her work is voluntary, monetary donations to purchase feed is always appreciated.

Donna White is an accomplished author and Jubilee Medal winner for her volunteer work with World Vision. Visit her website at www.DonnaWhiteBooks.com

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