Soon after we moved into our house, it became clear to my partner and I that several trees along our fence line were going to have to come down. These fragile, half-dead Lombardy poplars were ready to drop major limbs or fall down entirely, and were a risk to our kids and our neighbors, so we called an arborist.
While it was clear these trees were a hazard, we still hated to see them come down. Dead snags are great habitat for lots of wildlife, and we’d already christened one of of them the Mushroom Tree, for the abundant flushes of edible oyster mushrooms it provided. The arborist worked with us, though, and while all the smaller poplars would come down entirely, we were able to safely leave the fifteen-foot stump of the largest of the trees to be a future home for birds and other creatures.
What we didn’t realize until the trees came down was that one of the smaller trees was already home to a downy woodpecker’s nest. These birds had excavated a cavity in the soft poplar wood, and had hatched and begun to raise a brood of four chicks. The arborist managed to cut out the length of log with the nest and avoid injuring the little birds, but now we were faced with a dilemma: what to do with four tiny, very hungry woodpecker babies. Fortunately, I’d been working in the LifeSource produce department, and I knew that we regularly donated produce to Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center to help feed injured and orphaned wild animals. A couple phone calls later and I was in my car, the log with the nest inside belted awkwardly into the passenger seat beside me, headed to rural south Salem.
I arrived at Turtle Ridge and handed the little orphans over to the volunteers. While I felt guilty at having inadvertently taken these babies from the home and their parents, the Turtle Ridge volunteers were nothing but kind. They gently took the log and set to work getting the little woodpeckers settled into their new home.
My story is typical. Of the 2,000 animals admitted at Turtle Ridge in 2018, almost two thirds were orphans. Two thirds were birds as well, though they also cared for hundreds of mammals. But Turtle Ridge’s success rate is high: over 90% of orphans survive and are released back into the wild. Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center is a 501(c)(3) with a twofold mission: to provide treatment and care to sick, injured, and orphaned native wildlife and return them to their native habitat, and to foster a connection between humans and Oregon’s native wildlife through education programs. They’re the only full-species rehabilitation center serving Marion, Polk, and Yamhill counties and the Portland area. The center operates on a core belief that it is our responsibility as humans to give back what we inadvertently take away.
Unfortunately, Turtle Ridge is currently facing major challenges: after signing a 25-year lease on a new, larger property for the refuge early last year, the new landlords suddenly had a change of heart and attempted to raise the rent for the refuge and then evict them entirely. Instead of being able to direct their focus exclusively to the animals they serve, Turtle Ridge has been forced to spend time and resources fighting their landlords’ actions.
Despite its hardships, Turtle Ridge continues its work. For the month of May, LifeSource’s bag credit donations will go toward supporting Turtle Ridge to rehabilitate and return animals to the wild, animals who are overwhelmingly injured or orphaned by human activity.
And the baby woodpeckers from our tree? Turtle Ridge managed to raise them to adulthood and release them back into the wild. It was with an odd mix of parental pride and chagrin at our role in orphaning them that we looked at their pictures in that fall’s Turtle Ridge newsletter. We definitely got the checkbook out for Turtle Ridge. It’s now been several years, so those young woodpeckers likely grew old and died quite some time ago, but there’s a good chance that their great-grandchicks are flying around out there somewhere, raising broods of their own.