Birds of a Feather

Liberty Wildlife gives injured animals a new lease on life

You won’t find any lions, tigers or bears at Liberty Wildlife, but you will encounter many birds of a feather and other desert animals at the wildlife rehabilitation, conservation and educational facility in Phoenix. Started by veterinarian Kathleen Orr in her Scottsdale back yard, Liberty Wildlife has been rescuing and rehabilitating birds including bald eagles, white horned owls, kestrels, and other indigenous animals and reptiles since 1981.

In 2017, the nonprofit moved to a state-of-the-art facility on 6.5 acres at 26th Street and Elwood in Phoenix, along the Salt River. It houses a triage hospital and surgical suite, outdoor amphitheater, children’s interactive room, butterfly and hummingbird garden, gift shop, conference space, and educational trail and aviary where visitors can view birds of prey.

While Liberty Wildlife is an environmentally conscious organization dedicated to protecting the natural world, its facility and surroundings are equally sustainable. The Platinum LEED-certified property is powered by nearly 87 percent solar energy and has three biomes—upper Sonoran Desert, riparian and wetlands.

In 1981, 87 animals were treated through Liberty Wildlife with a staff of one. Today, five full-time employees and between 350 to 500 trained medical rescue and transport volunteers help process and rehab more than 6,500 injured animals a year, according to executive director Megan Mosby, who says the organization is the “best kept secret in town.”

Though Liberty Wildlife’s focus is nurturing the native wildlife of Arizona, it rarely turns an animal—or a concerned citizen—away.

“If someone cares enough to drive across town with an injured animal of any kind, we’re not going to turn them away. Why would you kill that compassion? All animals suffer in the same way,” Mosby says.

Such was the case when a worried landscaper recently brought in a coyote he found injured on a busy street in Scottsdale, apparently hit by a car.

“All he wanted was to make sure the coyote was going to be OK—and that we call his boss to account for his whereabouts,” adds Mosby.

Most animals get rehabilitated and then released to their natural habitats. But some—like Sonora, a bald eagle attacked by bees—who are non-releasable because of physical or mental factors that make it impossible for them to survive in the wild, are transitioned into Liberty Wildlife’s educational programs. Others serve as “foster parents” in the orphan care program, where cavity dwellers like hummingbirds, woodpeckers and cactus wrens are nursed back to health.

Even when the rehabilitation center can’t handle a case, a well-orchestrated flurry of activity ensues to get an injured animal to the right place, such as the pelican who was rescued from a pool in Ft. Huachuca and eventually made its way to SeaWorld San Diego via Liberty Wildlife and a well-oiled network of community assistance.

Liberty Wildlife gives injured animals a new lease on life, but it’s giving feathers a new purpose, too, through its non-eagle feather repository (NEFR), a pilot program started in 2010 that provides Native Americans with a legal source of non-eagle feathers from federally regulated migratory birds.

“It’s a way for us to take a stab at the black market where feathers are sold illegally and also help save the culture of Native Americans,” explains Mosby.

Supported by donations and grants, the relocation and extra space is helping Liberty Wildlife expand its rehabilitation and educational programming. The facility also provides an opportunity to improve its fundraising reach in the second phase of its capital campaign through signature events. The organization’s annual Wishes for Wildlife event in October will now be held onsite, as well as a new craft food and beverage series, Sippin’ the Spirit of the Southwest, introduced last spring and that will resume in the fall.


Story: Sally J. Clasen

Photos: Mark Lipczynski

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