Helping her patients heal and eventually fly the coop

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Four mockingbirds, three blue jays, two mourning doves, and a barred owl locked in a large cage are a few of the 57 wild birds convalescing in Judy Holzman's basement.

What once was the Holzman family office now houses dozens of cages covered with mesh and constant high-pitched chirping.

The makeshift animal hospital, which includes three rabbits and seven squirrels, has displaced the home computer and personal library.

"I never say never anymore because I never thought I would get a license," said Holzman, 58, of her state and federal certification to rehabilitate wildlife.

Holzman founded All Creatures Great and Small Wildlife Center Inc. in 2000 after she volunteered for a decade with other wildlife rehab organizations, such as the Chesapeake Wildlife Center in Bowie.

Upon discovering the need in her hometown of Columbia to help injured and sick wildlife, Holzman began rehabilitating animals that arrive at her doorstep in the Kings Contrivance neighborhood.

She creates splints for fractures with coffee stirrers and masking tape, administers antibiotics and conducts hourly feedings of meal worms and baby bird formula. She takes the severely injured animals to veterinarians for surgeries and nurses them in her home.

Through her touch and voice, it is evident how much she admires the animals while they are in her care. She ensures that each gets enough "cage rest" before it is released into its natural habitat.

"I tend to baby them," she acknowledged.

Last year, Holzman said she helped more than 450 animals and thinks she has surpassed that number this year. However, she said about 50 percent to 60 percent of the animals survive.

Holzman puts in more than 100 hours a week, beginning her days at 7 a.m. and often is not finished until 11:30 p.m. Though she is running out of space in the 10-foot-by-12-foot office, she refuses to move her operations.

"I would like to have more room in the house, but I don't want another facility," she said.

Instead, Holzman received a $1,000 grant from the Columbia Foundation, which she has used to fund the construction of a 16-foot flight cage for the birds that will be placed on property in Highland.

Flight cages, Holzman said, are used when birds have healed and are ready to reacclimate themselves into the wild. The birds relearn how to fly and rebuild their muscle strength in the cage. They also learn how to eat on their own. Before they are released from the cage into their original habitat, they must be self-sufficient.

It is the final stage of weaning the birds from their human dependency.

"We want to keep them wild and don't want them to be domesticated," said Theresa Lopez, a junior at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County who volunteers at Holzman's center.

Holzman has been moving her birds to an 8-foot flight cage in Granite but said it is inadequate for the number of birds she needs to return to the wild.

Summer is the busiest time, Holzman said, because it is the baby season for birds. Much of the mating occurs in springtime and juvenile birds are most susceptible to injuries.

Most birds are injured by natural disasters, flying into windows, being caught by cats and dogs, and falling from trees that are pruned.

Because Holzman's center is small, she has to close when it becomes too full. The new flight cage will help her release birds that have healed, creating space for more birds.

Holzman and Lopez said they don't know what happens to the birds once they are put back into the wild, but it doesn't bother them to let them go.

"We just hope for the best," said Holzman.

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