In 2016, Hedwig grew to become the primary injured snowy owl to reach at Wild Fowl Fund, New York Metropolis’s first rehabilitation and schooling middle caring for animals in want. “She was shot close to LaGuardia airport,” the photographer Mike Fernandez remembers. A bullet had probably wounded her pectoral muscle, and he or she was unable to fly.
For her portrait session with Fernandez, Hedwig stood in a small lightbox, and Rita McMahon, the founding father of Wild Fowl Fund, held a light-weight simply outdoors. “I used to be starstruck,” he tells me. “It felt like I used to be within the presence of a better being.”
The photographer first heard about Wild Fowl Fund and the important work they do for town’s wildlife a couple of decade in the past. On the time, he had simply began working for Audubon Journal, and he quickly discovered himself making common visits to the Higher West Aspect clinic. He was moved by the fervour and dedication of the workers and volunteers, and he was astonished to study concerning the range of avian life residing in and passing by town.
Wild Fowl Fund treats an estimated 180 species, starting from acquainted favorites like pigeons and starlings to rarer guests like snowy owls. Fall and spring are particularly busy, as birds make their method throughout the East Coast migratory flyway, however they’re working across the clock all 12 months spherical.
Human exercise contributes to chook accidents, with window collisions and lightweight air pollution being widespread threads. “Birds get disoriented from all of the lights and reflection from glass buildings,” Fernandez says. “They’re searching for meals and don’t know what home windows or mirrors are, in order that they hit it head-on.”
That’s what occurred to Tremendous the Northern Flicker, who got here into Wild Fowl Fund with a fractured coracoid, and Eco the American Woodstock, who got here in with a corneal ulcer. Each survived after receiving care and Wild Fowl Fund.
It additionally is sensible that Hedwig, the snowy owl, was discovered close to LaGuardia, as tarmacs can resemble acquainted Arctic landscapes. Different causes of sickness embrace lead poisoning, introduced on by contaminated water or meals; collisions with vehicles; encounters with family pets; pesticide use, and trash.
Generally, additionally they obtain instances of abuse or neglect. Throughout his time on the clinic, Fernandez met a cock rescued from a Brooklyn preventing ring. Very just lately, Wild Fowl Fund rescued a domestic king pigeon, who’d been launched in Madison Sq. Park after being dyed pink. Regardless of the care he obtained, he died after a couple of week, probably from inhaling the toxins from the dye. Earlier than he handed away, the crew at Wild Fowl Fund named him Flamingo. They title each single animal who involves them for care.
As Rita McMahon as soon as defined in an interview with National Geographic, the birds appear to know that the people and Wild Fowl Fund try to assist them. To maintain the birds snug, Fernandez restricted each session to only one to 2 minutes.
When he photographed Hedwig the snowy owl, Fernandez knew that their paths would by no means meet once more, however he remembers the time they spent collectively vividly. As a part of the Audubon Mural Undertaking, he painted a snowy owl in flight, dedicating the piece to Hedwig.
From Wild Fowl Fund, Hedwig was transferred to Raptor Belief of New Jersey, the place she continued her rehabilitation. She in the end recovered—and was then launched within the lovely Shawangunk Mountains.
Wild Fowl Fund depends on donations and volunteers to proceed their life-saving work. Learn more about volunteer opportunities here, and make a donation here. Lots of Fernandez’s portraits of sufferers at Wild Fowl Fund are actually on view at HERE Arts Center as a part of I FOUND A BIRD, a two-person present with the painter and sculptor Katrina Slavik.
All photos © Mike Fernandez
Searching for extra animal rescue tales? Try our conversations with Sophie Gamand, Sage Sohier, and Jo-Anne McArthur.