Think Wild, a wildlife rehabilitation center in Bend, is seeing first-hand how the historic heat wave last month and recent wildfires are affecting animals across Central Oregon.
The center has been inundated with calls from concerned residents and intakes of overheated birds. Staff expect to receive more calls throughout the summer as people encounter animals threatened by the heat and wildfires.
Between June 26 and July 6, the center treated 56 animals, mostly songbirds and raptors. The center’s hotline received 30 calls per day for three days at the end of June, which is triple the usual daily call volume.
“There was definitely a significant peak during those days of extreme heat,” said Sally Compton, executive director at Think Wild. “That's not normal, and speaking to other wildlife hospitals, it sounds like they saw similar trends as well.”
The center was actively caring for 54 animals last week, including a great horned owl and eight baby raccoons. Compton said summer is usually the busiest time of the year at the center, and she is preparing to treat more animals and field more calls throughout the season.
“There’s more people out hiking, and they are more likely to encounter wildlife,” Compton said. “There’s more people on the roads. Summer is definitely much, much more business than any other time of the year.”
Wildlife officials are encouraging people to not approach an animal if it is found injured or orphaned, but rather report the sighting to a wildlife hospital. If an animal has been burned, and a person is waiting for an official to respond, he or she can wrap it loosely in 100% cotton fabric and place it in a well-ventilated box.
“Almost every case is going to be to leave the animal alone and then put out fresh water,” Compton said. “Water can be hard to come by for these critters right now.”
Michelle Dennehy, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the state agency studies how heat and fires affect wildlife. Officials found that most wildlife in Oregon have evolved with wildfires and adjusted to survive as wildfires intensified in recent years, Dennehy said.
Birds will fly away and small animals burrow underground or in rocks to escape wildfires. Large animals like deer and elk run away or seek refuge in rivers or lakes.
“There are no documented cases of fires that have wiped out entire populations or species,” Dennehy said.
People are still asked to not feed fleeing animals, especially deer. Dennehy said attracting deer to a house will attract predators like cougars.
“If you feed them, they are going to congregate at your house, and that’s going to bring others problems,” Dennehy said. “If you bring in deer, you could bring in predators. So let the deer move on to their water sources.”
At Think Wild, Compton encourages people to call the center’s hotline number, 541-241-8680.
Compton estimates half of reports to the hotline can be resolved over the phone. Staff are able to advise a caller to leave an animal alone or monitor it from afar and leave out fresh water. If an animal is orphaned or injured, then the center would bring it in for treatment, Compton said.
Most of the animals brought to Think Wild recently were dehydrated or overheated. Rarely will an animal come in with burns from a wildfire.
Animals are either able to escape wildfires or are caught in the flames and are killed, Compton said.
“If an animal could run, it would escape,” Compton said. “If it can’t, it perishes, unfortunately.”