I am the Birdman of Inwood

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My name is James Cataldi.   I am the founder and executive director of MWAWA, and the principal licensed wildlife rehabilator for northern manhattan. As well, the principal steward of North Cove on the Harlem River in Inwood ….(Sherman Creek area)   A parks wildlife rehab resource and ecological advocate / internship educator… pursuing a balance of open green spaces, and wetlands in Northern Manhattan (with full public access) along side responsible urban development.

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Birdman of Inwood’s 1st Post

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As northern manhattan is not gridded, we have a lot of open and green spaces left. And northern manhattan on the Harlem River has the last remaining estuarial inlets on the island. 

These inlets service a critical role in this estuary even though situated in one of the largest cities in the world.  And a lot of hidden wildlife, under our feet.”.  Northern Manhattan is a green apple Inside the red apple.

Questions….for context 

Is northern manhattan, and it’s river shorelines, a critical part of the larger estuarial system, with over 330 migrating birds, multigenerational insects and river/ocean life which rely on the estuary and its cloistered inlets, for at least part of their life cycle?   

What is our Hudson and Harlem Estuary System, and how does Northern Manhattan play a role?

Are estuaries important? And specificly, the local shores in northern manhattan, and how does Inwood Hill Old Growth Forest play a role, beyond park visitor’s enjoyment?

Are they at risk? Especially our inlets in northern manhattan?    
Why is this important today and for future generations, and are they an un replaceable rare environmental resource?  Once lost ….lost for ever……

Are estuarial natural habitats like wetlands more important than other urban green and open spaces not associated with our estuaries?  In Northern Manhattan…..

Can one fully see the importance of and benefit of our local northern manhattan ecological habitats; and wildlife with out putting in place our part of the larger national natural habitat treasure?

That Must Be Rita Nursing Swan on NYC’s Upper West Side

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That Must Be Rita Nursing Swan on NYC’s Upper West Side

By Mike Di Paola – Jul 7, 2013 11:01 PM CT

The swan was found in March, grounded and very ill, in a Brooklyn parking lot.

“Lead poisoning,” said Rita McMahon, the wildlife rehabilitator who opened the Wild Bird Fund Center last year on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “She was off the charts with lead poisoning and just a skeleton when she came in, about half the weight she should be.”

Wild Bird Fund Center cofounder Rita McMahon with a swan. The bird had been rescued from a Brooklyn parking lot, a victim of lead poisoning. Photographer: Mike Di Paola/Bloomberg

A yellow-bellied sapsucker recuperating at the Wild Bird Fund Center. After treatments of vitamin K, mealworms, and maple syrup, the bird was released in Central Park. Photographer: Mike Di Paola/Bloomberg

Wildlife rehabilators gavage-feeding a pigeon at the Wild Bird Center. There are usually 60 or 70 injured or sick birds and other animals at the city’s only wildlife rehab center. Photographer: Mike Di Paola/Bloomberg

Wild Bird Fund Center cofounder Rita McMahon with a squirrel house. “We get squirrels, woodchucks, opossum, and the rare chipmunk or turtle,” she says. Photographer: Mike Di Paola/Bloomberg

The swan underwent chelation for the lead, followed by antibiotics for swollen joints. If she had gotten strong enough she would have been released in the wild. Because of the lead poisoning, however, the swan couldn’t stand up.

Being grounded badly damaged the bird’s keel, the large bone on its underside. McMahon and her staff treated her for almost two months, even attempting to surgically repair the damage, but “we could not win the battle against infection,” McMahon said. She had to euthanize the regal bird in May.

The Wild Bird Fund has the only wildlife rescue center in New York City. On a recent visit, there were about 70 birds under care in the converted storefront and basement, including a Brant goose with a fractured leg, an ailing ring-billed gull, and many, many mallard ducks.

As the weather gets warmer more injured birds will be taken in, largely because more people are outdoors with more opportunity to see them.

Kate Winslet

Actress Kate Winslet brought in a pair of mourning doves that had been under hawk attack outside her penthouse. Jazz singer Nellie McKay often stops in at the center with an injured bird. “A very sweet person,” McMahon said.

Most of the animals here are sick or hurt, but occasionally healthy specimens need saving. A teenage girl who volunteers at the center rescued two birds — a muscovy duck and a chicken — from a live poultry market in Harlem. She purchased their death-row reprieves for $30 apiece. Both birds are now living happily ever after in more bucolic settings.

McMahon took me downstairs, where two rehabbers were gavage-feeding a pigeon through a plastic tube. Some of the more mobile pigeons got a workout flying about the room.

McMahon plucked a tiny yellow-bellied sapsucker from its cage. “He had a collision with a car, I believe. Blood was pouring out of its ear. A little vitamin K, mealworms and maple syrup and he was ready to go.” (The bird was released the next day in nearby Central Park.)

Although the clinic treats mostly birds, it will handle almost any type of patient. “We get squirrels, woodchucks, opossum and the rare chipmunk or turtle,” McMahon said. Not long ago someone brought in an abandoned fish — a large red pacu that had been left on a street corner in a bucket. “Lucky for him we have a waterfowl tank. He was in heaven.”

Lap Pool

The day of my visit, that tank was being used as a lap pool by the gull. The eight-by-three-foot structure has a ramp at one end used to facilitate waddling in and out.

A new bat room is almost ready to begin taking in chiropteran patients. Bats brought to the center this year may well have been climate-change victims, as unusually warm winter days wake the creatures from hibernation, then subsequent cold weather sends them into a sickly torpor and they require treatment or will die.

The new center gets substantial pro bono support in medical services from two veterinary hospitals across the street, Animal General and the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine.

Still, it costs about $330,000 a year to run, most of which is in rent. There are a few big-money donors and occasional fundraising events, but the clinic relies on individual donations.

Old Boyfriend

“The main thing that supports us are the people who walk through that door with an injured bird,” McMahon said. Good Samaritans who care enough to tote an injured pigeon will also be the kind of people who donate. “It could be $5 or $500,” she says.

“The greatest fun for me was when a high-school boyfriend I haven’t seen since 1969 donated. He saw some article about us and said, ‘That must be Rita.’”

Animal lovers can donate at the Wild Bird Fund website, where one can also consult informative articles such as “How to Rescue a Bird That Has Hit a Window” or “I Found a Baby Bird – – Now What?”

The center conducts guided walks in the park and frequent seminars at the American Museum of Natural History.

Donations to the Wild Bird Fund Center can be made at http://wildbirdfund.org/donate/. Information: +1-646-306-2862.

(Mike Di Paola writes on preservation and the environment for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include James S. Russell on architecture, John Mariani on wine.

To contact the writer of this column: Mike Di Paola at mdipaola@nyc.rr.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York atmhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.