Something wild is happening at Pike Lake on Saturday when Marty Thompson shows up with a few friends. Thompson, executive director of the Wanakia Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center, is bringing a few of her “wild neighbors,” like those that might be seen in the park or in visitor’s back yards, to the Pike Lake Beach Picnic area at 6:30 p.m. Before Wanakia opened its doors in 2008, Thompson taught junior high school science at the former St. John’s School in South Milwaukee and St. Boniface in Germantown.
When her children were at an age where they needed her at home she retired from teaching, but her passion for science, biology and wildlife prompted her to volunteer at Pine View Education and Rehabilitation Center in Ozaukee County. “I’d do what needed to be done to be close to animals.
I was willing to clean up poop just to be near an owl,” Thompson said. She worked at Pine View for four or five years as a volunteer and as her children became more independent, the Brookfield mom formed the idea of starting her own center of injured wildlife. She trained at Pine View and they sponsored her so she could receive her state license and she moved to Richfield. She took classes through the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council and after a year of preparation and study, the facility became state and federally licensed.
The Center’s name, Wanakia, according to A Theoretical and Practical Guide to the Otchipwe Language means “I make them live in peace.” “I figured once (animals) come here, they have little peace of mind; they’re away from predators,” Thompson said. When the Center opened its doors in 2008, the first animal Thompson took in was a tiny baby squirrel. “When they are really small, they need to be fed frequently and you need to monitor their intake — and output,” Thompson said. Since then, the center’s patients have included everything from birds of prey to cranes and waterfowl, cottontail rabbits, opossum and squirrels.
This mission of the Center is twofold — two rehabilitate and release injured wildlife and to educate the public. To help her with the education portion of her mission, the Center is home to 17 animals – all with disabilities that prevent them from living in the wild. The first permanent resident was an Eastern screech owl that was hit by a car, leaving the animal with a damaged left eye and fractured jaw.
Thompson said owl/car collisions are not uncommon in this area, but the creature’s gentler nature among owls makes them easy to train and use for education. Her biggest challenge and greatest reward came this year, when a redtailed hawk dubbed Tucker was released. In October 2016 the hawk was found on the side of a road. “Even though his retinas were clear he was showing signs that he wasn’t seeing well. He wasn’t landing on perches correctly and was banging into things,” Thompson said. A month after his arrival Thompson released him into the Center’s 50-foot flight cage, but the bird could not hunt.
Tucker was brought back inside for the winter and his fate remained unclear. In spring the bird became restless and was released into the flight cage again, where he did much better. Thompson started networking with other rehabilitators and researching on if a partially blind red-tailed hawk could be released successfully into the wild. She started testing him with live food and then started hiding live food. “He passed all the tests,” Thompson said.
Tucker was banded and released on a farm in Erin. “His takeoff was spectacular. He did two loops around us and took off,” Thompson said. “The best gift we could give him was his freedom.” In addition to her wild friends, Thompson is bringing artifacts to that park that kids can touch and they see how their height measures up to the wingspan of a red-tailed hawk or turkey vulture. She will also inform people on what to do if they find an injured or orphaned animal.
The program is free, but an annual sticker or daily pass is needed for admission to the park. Information on other programs at Pike Lake can be on Facebook at friendsofpikelake. For more information on Wanakia Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center, call 414-803-0388 or check on line http://wanakia.org or its Facebook page, Wanakia Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Center.