This story is the first in a series of stories by Richard Spinney about his experiences transporting injured and sick wild birds for Avian Haven bird rehabilitation center in Freedom, Maine. Spinney lives in Brewer with his wife of 48 years. He retired from the U.S. Coast Guard after 20 years’ service, sold real estate for 23 years while also teaching adult ed algebra for 10 years, was a contributing editor of The Maine Genealogist for a few years and the treasurer of The Maine Genealogical Society for 14 years. He has volunteered for Avian Haven since the summer of 2016.
“Dad, can you do a favor for me?” That’s how it all started.
It was a Sunday evening in 2016 when my daughter telephoned. Her two sons and a friend had found a robin on the ground. It wasn’t moving very much, and they were worried.
“Can you take it to Avian Haven in the morning?” she asked, referring to Maine’s largest wild bird rehabilitation center.
I asked her where Avian Haven was. “It’s in Freedom. Over near Unity,” she said. “I put a towel in the bottom of a box and the bird is inside on top of the towel, just as they said to on their [phone] recording. I have it in a warm, dark place where nobody will bother it.”
Both she and her husband had to work the next morning. She would leave the bird just inside the garage door for me.
“What time will you get here?” she asked. “I’ll leave their address and phone number for you.”
I arrived at her house around 7:30 on Monday morning. I put the box with the bird in it on my back seat, entered the address 418 North Palermo Road, Freedom, into The Lady on the Dash (my GPS) and drove away. The bird was quiet and I wondered if it was living. Somewhere north of Dixmont, the robin started to chirp. It chirped a little at first, and then a little more, and a little more. My digital camera was in its case on the passenger seat. I took it out, pressed the single button to take a video — no point in uncovering the lens as the bird was inside a closed box — and put the camera near the bird. Later, I shared the song via email with my daughter and her sons.
With the camera back in the front seat, I continued to drive through Dixmont into Troy and then Unity. After turning at the flashing light and up the road a ways, I saw something in the road. My father would have said, “What’s that in the road? A head?” He was a great kidder. I slowed down quite a bit and realized it was mama turkey with a youngster. I grabbed the camera and took a couple photos through the windshield.
I drove through downtown Freedom with its one store and gas station, up the hill and around the corner, past the post office and cemetery and then The Lady said, “Go straight on North Pa-ler- more road.” She said it in a sing-song voice and I laughed at her accent. “You have reached your destination.”
“No I haven’t,” I argued. I stopped where it was safe and looked around. This was not the place. Happily, I had the phone number and I called Avian Haven. “Continue exactly 2 miles. We’re halfway up the hill on the left,” they instructed.
When I got there, I met a man outside who turned out to be Marc Payne, one of the founders of Avian Haven. I asked if I could find out the condition of the robin, and he replied they had a lot of robins, “but you can call if you want.”
When I called a couple weeks later, there was not enough information to determine which robin it was. Three years later, I came upon the photos I had taken of the mama turkey and the baby. The computer provided the date the photo was taken: June 20, 2016, at 8:14 a.m. I spoke with Diane Winn, co-founder of Avian Haven, and with that specific information, she found the file. The robin was lethargic and didn’t eat much at first. Then it got more active and was released on their property about a week after its arrival. A happy ending for my daughter, my two grandsons and their friend.
After delivering the robin to Avian Haven, I did some research of my own at the website avianhaven.org. I decided I would volunteer as a driver, shuttling sick and injured wild birds to the facility. I phoned and left a message. After no reply and after visiting our other daughter in Hawaii, I emailed and got the reply, “Diane has been busy. She’ll contact you.”
Days passed. Then one day, out of the blue, “Richard, are you still willing to volunteer? We have a bird for you.” Since then, our conversations start, “Are you available?” Either I am or I am not. Over the course of four years, I’ve probably transported between 200 and 300 birds. I don’t ask what sort of bird it is because it doesn’t matter. Either I am available or I am not. Being retired, usually I am.
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect last name for Diane Winn.