Wildlife rehabilitator gives songbirds a second chance in Cummington

  • A catbird rests in one of two of Judy Pasko’s aviaries she uses as outdoor flight cages, where the birds recover from injuries, heal and forage in order to imitate their natural environment before they are released back to the wild. “I act as a parent and actually teach them how to survive in their natural environment,” said Pasko. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Judy Pasko in one of the two aviaries she uses as outdoor flight cages where the birds recover from injuries, heal and forage in order to imitate their natural environment before they are released back to the wild. “I act as a parent and actually teach them how to survive in their natural environment,” said Pasko. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Judy Pasko, a wildlife rehabilitator, feeds a group of eastern bluebirds at her home in Cummington. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Judy Pasko in one of the two aviaries she uses as outdoor flight cages where the birds recover from injuries, heal and forage in order to imitate their natural environment before they are released back to the wild. “I act as a parent and actually teach them how to survive in their natural environment,” said Pasko. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Judy Pasko, a wildlife rehabilitator, feeds a group of eastern bluebirds at her home in Cummington. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A group of eastern bluebirds wait as Judy Pasko, a wildlife rehabilitator, gets mealworms ready to feed them at her home in Cummington. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Judy Pasko, a wildlife rehabilitator, feeds a baby robin that is so young it requires an incubator in her rehabilitation room at her home in Cummington. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Judy Pasko, a wildlife rehabilitator, gets ready to feed a group of eastern bluebirds in the rehabilitation room at her home in Cummington. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/20/2021 10:48:17 AM

CUMMINGTON — Multiple times an hour, Judy Pasko feeds the birds.

Taking tweezers, she places drowned mealworms into the hungry mouths of the robins and bluebirds she is rehabilitating. She does this from roughly 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. at night, seven days a week.

Pasko is a wildlife rehabilitator who runs Cummington Wildlife Inc. It is a one-woman operation that Pasko, 69, operates from her home in the woods of Cummington.

Pasko became a wildlife rehabilitator 15 years ago, founding Cummington Wildlife shortly after.

“In my mid-50s is when I actually heard about wildlife rehabilitation,” she said. “It was like a whole new world opened up to me.”

She has both state and federal certifications and draws no salary from her nonprofit. Instead, all donations go to care for the animals, with a small amount going to administrative costs.

“This is a very pure charity,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a surge in cases of animals in need of rehab, with Pasko fielding almost double the number of calls. She attributed this to people being home because of the pandemic.

“They were home and they were finding animals that probably were there in the past, but they just weren’t there to see,” she said.

In previous years, Pasko has rehabilitated porcupines, waterfowl and squirrels. However, her current focus is on songbirds and rabbits.

“I am drawn to these helpless prey species,” Pasko said. “That’s the group I want to help.”

Some of the birds that Pasko is rehabilitating are robins, bluebirds, house finches, a catbird, Baltimore orioles and a cedar waxwing. She said that although songbirds like these may not attract the funding that hawks and owls do, “These guys deserve a second chance, too.”

Pasko shared that good phone work saves more animals than wildlife rehabilitation, noting the correct course of action in most cases is to leave wildlife alone.

“There might be 20 animals that I save with phone calls, which is 20 less animals I have to bring into care,” she said. “The public needs somebody to pick up and talk with them.”

As such, she makes sure to return every call that she receives.

“I accept phone calls generally from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week,” Pasko said, although she does take emergency calls outside of this frame.

“There’s a lot of animals that look like they’re orphaned and the parents are actually nearby,” she said.

For instance, fledglings are fed on the ground by their parents, and baby rabbits are mostly left unattended by their mothers. Signs that an animal is in need of rehabilitation are injuries, the presence of maggots and malnourishment.

“If you’ve got time, call us and ask the questions,” Pasko said.

Pasko advises first watching animals to see if they’re not being taken care of before taking action and moving them. More information about how to determine whether wild animals are in distress can be found at cummingtonwildlife.com.

In her rehabilitation efforts, Pasko makes sure the animals don’t get acclimated to humans and that they learn how to feed themselves. To accomplish this with birds, Pasko leaves out branches with berries on them and leaf litter with worms in them in the aviaries where the birds are rehabbing.

“I have to act the role of the parent and actually teach them,” Pasko said.

Pasko doesn’t have a firm number of animals she can care for at a time, as it depends on what species she has and what stage of development they’re in. At the moment Pasko is close to full, and she’s not taking in rabbits currently.

“You have to know your limits,” she said.

She took care of about 300 animals last year, and is on track for a similar number in 2021.

She noted that wildlife rehabilitators work closely with veterinarians, and that rehabilitators are trained to recognize when an issue is beyond their capabilities.

Pasko doesn’t use any other volunteers, preferring to focus on the quality of care for the animals.

“I’m not trying to be the biggest,” she said.

Pasko talked about the need for more wildlife rehabilitators, and she teaches a course every January on it. Wildlife rehabilitation, she said, is about wanting to help the individual animal.

“It is a lot of compassion for the individual animals and giving it a second chance,” she said.

However, some species that are being helped are in decline, noting that rehabilitators can notice troubling trends in animal populations. She switched her efforts to songbirds, she said, because they’re in decline in general.

Rehabilitation overall has an educational component in teaching people how to better live with animals. Pasko suggested people keep their cats indoors so they don’t kill birds, avoid using rodenticides, and that people tolerate possums because they eat ticks. The number for Cummington Wildlife is 413-695-6854.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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