Mardiney is one of a scant four Ulster County-based state-certified wildlife rehabilitators. She also holds a federal migratory bird license from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and works with Ulster County SPCA, Ravensbeard Wildlife Center and Forsyth Nature Center. There are also the calls from local and state police, SUNY New Paltz, apartment managers and golf courses with animal woes to deal with. “Most calls come from people who have enough compassion to stop when they see a wild animal in trouble, and want to find help for them,” said Mardiney.
Mardiney, a rural mail carrier, schooled herself on bird-care as a child spending summers on a Wisconsin dairy farm and had an egg business and ran the 4-H poultry chapter for nine years, She said she is thankful more than ever these days for the instantaneous wealth of information available online, as she says that veterinarians who deal in exotic animals such as birds and poultry are few and far between. She turns practically no one away, taking in nearly all birds except for 10 wild species for which she is not licensed, and she also cares for “rabies-vector” animals like raccoons, bats and skunks which eventually transfer to a specializing rehabber.
“The easiest critters for me to take care of are orphaned baby birds and bunnies,” said Mardiney. “It’s still enormously time-consuming. … Most nestling birds need to be hand-fed every 20-30 minutes, all day. Baby bunnies need to be hand-fed every morning and every evening, once or twice. Plus, until about nine days old, you have to stimulate their bottoms so they pee, or they will get sick. It takes me about five minutes per bunny per feeding, so when I get a full nest of six or eight bunnies, well, you do the math.”
Mardiney says that she takes in roughly 200 birds and rabbits per year, the vast majority of whom are injured by domestic cats. She added that the second-most common injury to birds is collision with windows and cars. “I get a number of probable cases of lead-poisoning, and a number of birds injured by fishing lines that tangle up their wings and cut off circulation to a leg, even amputating the leg,” said Mardiney. “This is a horribly painful and slow death that a lot of waterbirds experience. I also get a number of cases of shattered wings from larger birds that accidentally hit electric wires.” Early spring through early fall are her busiest times.
“This work is one of the most satisfying and intriguing things I’ve done in my life,” Mardiney said. “I love it. It’s amazing to raise an ugly, naked teeny tiny bird to a beautiful adult. It’s wonderful to set birds or rabbits free. I am amazed at their determination to live, even with the most severely injured animals. It’s truly astounding.”
Mardiney recently invested in an outdoor aviary with two flight rooms and an entry room, enabling her to rehabilitate even more birds than before so they can rehabilitate flight skills and wing strength before their release.
Friend and fellow rehabber Robin Evans of Tillson preaches the gospel of keeping domestic animals indoors, so as to minimize the threat to wildlife. “We waste more time and resources taking care of animals injured by well-fed house cats. They take more songbirds than any other cause of death.” Evans said that she personally has 14 feral and stray cats. “A feral cat acts like a wild animal and a lot of the time never socialize. I take them in and get them spayed and neutered. I do it to spare cats because I know what a terrible life it is, and to also spare the animals that I have worked so hard to care for and release.” Evans, a speech pathologist, feels that she is answering a higher calling by doing this work, and is doing “what is expected of me.” Evans and Mardiney exchange animal cases frequently, most recently was a challenging batch of meadow voles which Evans explained are difficult to care for because they thrive one moment, and then they don’t. “People accuse of doing speech pathology because I want to teach animals how to talk,” said Evans. “But it’s more so I can learn how to speak their language; I speak a mean possum.”
One of Mardiney’s worst cases was a several day-old fawn that she assumed had been hit by a car, brought to her by a family in a laundry basket with a blanket with one blood-covered hind leg badly broken and bent, suffering a compound fracture. “Although that poor fawn must have been in agony, it did what fawns are supposed to do, and huddled without a flinch in that basket,” recalled Mardiney. “She had to be humanely euthanized. I get a number of birds and rabbits every year with horrific injuries, usually from cats or cars, where humane euthanasia is the only option. You never get over that, even though you know it’s the right thing to do.”
Mardiney says that she is in need of cat carriers or dog carriers in very good condition, as well as cash donations “When you have to buy 10,000 mealworms at a time, for six months every year, it adds up! And because there is no local vet who will provide services for no cost, cash donations really help. I, and all the rehabbers I know, would love to have access to a local vet for no charge.” To contact Mardiney with donations or questions, she can be reached at (845) 658-3467 or (845) 943-8098.