ANTIGO, Wis. (AP) - Bird rehabilitators Marge and Don Gibson love the feathered creatures so much they've put their retirement on hold to give injured and orphaned ones a second chance at life and used half of their retirement savings to do so.
The economy has decreased private funding over the last decade and shut down other organizations that cared for animals in Wisconsin, putting pressure on such operations as the Gibsons' Raptor Education Group Inc. in Antigo, which deals with 200 to 350 birds a day.
"We don't want to fail the birds," said Marge Gibson, who started the effort with husband Don in 1990. "When you look into their eyes I don't know how to say 'Sorry there's no place for you here.'"
The state Department of Natural Resources says 225 organizations or people cared for injured animals in Wisconsin in 2001, compared with 113 in 2012.
Mandy Cyr, the DNR's wildlife rehabilitation and captive wildlife liaison, said 59 licenses were issued specifically to bird rehabilitators in 2012, but she had no comparable number for 2001 because of a change in bookkeeping. She added that a 2006 change in permitting also could have kept some people or groups from renewing their efforts.
Marge Gibson said many bird rehabilitators have shut down due to the economy.
She and her husband currently have about 200 birds, including 29 bald eagles, after releasing many for migration. Their bird count usually peaks in the spring and summer when they have about 350. Gibson said depending on the severity of tornado season, they get a lot of young eagles knocked from their nests.
The birds come from Wisconsin and surrounding states including Michigan and Minnesota.
Gibson said the organization has taken more calls from the public with the DNR service cuts and less DNR staff. State officials don't have the time they once did to handle injured bird calls, so Gibson said her staff has had to respond to more injuries or rely on people who are not rehabilitators to bring the birds in.
All the changes have caused the organization to take in at least double the amount of birds it did a decade ago, Gibson said. Raptor Education Group also has doubled its costs, hired four more people and used more volunteers.
Gibson, 63, and her husband, a 79-year-old retired pathologist, have used about half of their retirement savings to keep up with their bird operation's $400,000 yearly budget.
They take all kinds of injured birds, not just raptors, despite the name of the organization.
Some of the birds they taken in have been hit by cars or fly into windows. Others have been shot, poisoned or injured by cats. Marge Gibson estimates 98 percent of the injured birds were hurt because of humans.
"It's our human responsibility to try to get them back in the wild where they belong," she said.
She added that the time, energy and money she and her husband spend saving the birds is well worth it, especially once they're all better and finally released.
"It lightens your heart in a lot of ways," she said.
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