Rehab facility gives injured birds a second chance

When people get hurt, they can go to a hospital and receive treatment. But what happens when birds get hurt? There is a facility in southeastern Kentucky for that.

Mitch Whitaker holds one of the birds he is helping rehabilitate.

WHITESBURG, Ky. (WYMT) - When people get hurt, they can go to a hospital and receive treatment.

But what happens when birds get hurt? Is there anyone there to help get them healthy enough to return to the wild?

Turns out there is in southeastern Kentucky.

"I got interested in this when I was a young kid," said Mitch Whitaker, a master falconer who helped start the Letcher County Wildlife Rehab and Education Center. "I read a little book called My Side of the Mountain, where this young boy runs away from the city into the country and befriends a peregrine falcon."

"I just thought that was really cool how the bird and him could survive out in the wild."

Since starting the program in 2011, Whitaker has taken in nearly 50 injured birds and released 18 of them back into the wild.

Most of them are birds of prey, such as owls, hawks and falcons.

Sixteen birds currently reside at the facility. Three are scheduled for release back into the wild. But some with injuries that prevent them from flying are permanent residents.

Whitaker said his facility is the only one of its kind in Kentucky east of I-75.

"These animals don't require big fancy stalls," Whitaker said. "They don't have any heating or any cooling in them. They actually don't even have any lighting in them. They're just open stalls because that's the way they live out in the wild."

Whitaker receives calls almost every day to pick up injured birds.

"We've gone as far north to pick up birds as Ashland and as far south as Middlesboro," he said.

And, Whitaker said, he has never turned away a bird.

The Letcher County Wildlife Rehab and Education Center is funded by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

Whitaker said they accept donations and volunteers.

He said hunters who donate rabbits and squirrels are also a big help.

For more information, call the extension office at (606)-633-2362.

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