Remembering Val Series: 7

Today officially marks one year since Valery Smith’s passing. We have something special coming up, but before that, here are two stories of other animals with whom Val shared a very special connection. There are countless others to be sure, but here are Val’s Little Helper and Val’s Most Memorable Release.

Wind Dancer:

“Wind Dancer” was another of Val’s favorite education ambassadors, an amazing American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) whose Native American name was Nyuol al shi aa^eh, which translates to wind dancer. He was admitted to MWR in 2004. Someone had kept him in a small cage for a year, leaving him imprinted and causing his muscles to atrophy without regular exercise. Unable to ever fully recover his flight, he was deemed non-releasable. But Wind Dancer was an excellent education ambassador.

He also turned out to be a great foster dad! One day Val admitted a fuzzy, white, bright-eyed nestling Kestrel into care. Wind Dancer became quite vocal when he saw the baby, so Val decided to see if he would foster the baby. She cautiously placed the baby bird in a large container inside Wind Dancer’s cage. He immediately began to feed the baby! He would then spread his wings, jump in the with the baby, cover it up, and keep it warm and safe. That was the beginning of Wind Dancer’s foster dad career. If Val had baby songbirds in the same room with Wind Dancer, she had to keep them covered. Otherwise, Wind Dancer would be obsessed with them, and not in the usual sense of birds of prey!

One day while Val was busy, the cover slipped between Wind Dancer and a nest of four baby Robins and Val heard Wind Dancer being very vocal and making sounds she had never heard before. When she went to investigate, the four American Robins had with their mouths open in Wind Dancer’s direction. She saw him run over and pick up half a mouse and try to stuff it through the bars to feed the Robins. As cute and funny as it was, after that she was always careful to keep the cage covered, but he was a smart little Kestrel. When baby birds in rehab began to vocalize a feeding call, he was the first to sound the alarm and let Val know that someone needed to be fed!

Shula, the bald eagle:

“Shula” is the name given to the American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) by her rescuers. It means “peaceful one” or “perfect one” in Hebrew.

In November 2019 a family of four were watching three eagles flying above them when someone noticed a fourth bird on the ground and unable to fly. MDWFP officer Austin Tallant was called and arrangements were made to transport the eagle to MWR’s ARK Wildlife Hospital where Dr. Stefan Harsch and Val dedicated the next two months to giving the eagle the best care they could.

She almost did not make it. The bird had a severe electrical burn on its leg, and despite a lingering infection from the hot wire, her loss of appetite, and a negative reaction to some of her medications, the eagle miraculously made a full recovery. One of Val’s pieces of advice to new rehabbers was, “Be patient, give it time.” That proved true with Shula!

The weather was beautiful on the day of the release. We returned to the field where Shula was found. A small group of folks were invited to attend the release. Officer Tallant pointed out the location of her nest across the lake on a levee. When Val opened the crate door, Shula walked out and looked around as if to get oriented. She took flight and circled not once, but 4 times over our heads. On the fifth circle, in the sky to the left of the release site… there they were! The other three adult bald eagles, obviously one pair and a single eagle without a mate, circling in the distance. All of a sudden one of the three broke away and flew straight toward Shula! By that time, she was flying over the lake, toward the nest site on the levee. He flew straight to her and they both disappeared over the tree line. Shula was back together with her life mate. It was a breath-taking, beautiful release.

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