By Marta Zarrella
San Vicente Valley Club members, like most Ramona residents, know that springtime is the most vibrant time for Mother Nature. It means wildflowers, vibrant grasslands and babies — lots of animal babies.
Many wild species give birth in or near backyards or in the places where Ramonans enjoy outdoor activities.
The timing was right to learn about the rehabilitation facility that helps with so many of those native species who share Ramona’s outdoor spaces, so the club invited Ali Crumpacker, director of The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center, as its guest speaker.
“We got a call from the San Vicente Golf Course once about a baby barn own that had fallen out of a tree on the golf course,” said Crumpacker. “The tree was too tall for the crew to put the baby bird back since the nest was about 40 feet in the air, so they called us. The first choice is always to put the baby back in its nest, but in this case the nest was much too high.”
A New Jersey native, Crumpacker grew up on a farm with goats, chickens and horses. She earned her master’s degree in zoologic administration from George Mason University after earning a bachelor’s in environmental studies. She has an extensive background in animal rehabilitation, having worked in the field since 2006.
Her priorities for the 13-acre center operated in partnership with the Humane Society of the United States, include growing the list of active volunteers as well as renovating some of the animal enclosures.
Though the wildlife center on Highland Valley Road has a number of lifetime residents, its goal is to rehabilitate and release as many animals as possible. It is not a sanctuary, and, if the animal is too dangerous, sick or injured in such a way that rehabilitation is not an option, the case is referred to agencies such as the California Department of Fish And Wildlife or San Diego Animal Control. Noting that euthanasia is not always the outcome for animals referred to Animal Control, Crumpacker encouraged people not to be afraid to call them.
The wildlife center tries to release the animals within three miles of where they were found after rehabilitation. For that reason, the public is asked to make note of where an injured animal is found.
She cautioned against “Googling” animal care and feeding pet or human food to wild animals, especially babies. The best thing to do is to call the center first at 760-789-2324. They will assess the situation and advise what’s best for the animal and the caller.
If a call goes to voicemail, Crumpacker recommends safely confining the animal and, if possible, bringing it to the center at 18740 Highland Valley Road.
“We only have a limited number of volunteers, so we can’t do transport 100 percent of the time,” she said. "If no one is in the office, calls do go to voicemail, but we do get back to callers as quickly as we can.”
The most frequent calls from Ramona involve situations with ducks, rabbits, crows and coyotes. A mother duck and her ducklings might end up in a pool, koi pond or other man-made body of water. Though the mother duck can climb out of a swimming pool, the babies cannot.
If the mother duck leaves, she will not return, said Crumpacker. Should you find baby ducks floating in your yard with no sign of their mother, gently scoop them out of the water, being careful not to entangle them or hurt their wings and take them to the center.
This is the season for baby rabbits. Mother rabbits nurse their babies every 12 hours, so it is normal for a nest of baby bunnies to be alone without an adult rabbit.
Rabbit nests are usually in tall grass or among weeds where the mother can bend leaves and stalks to protect her babies. Human scent will not keep a mother rabbit away from her nest. If you see a nest, and the babies look young and healthy, they should be left alone. Their mother will return.
Baby crows are often seen on the ground, causing concern to people who see them.
It is natural behavior for baby crows to sit on the ground until they are ready to fly, said Crumpacker. If the baby crow is sitting upright, looks healthy and alert and is watching you as much as you are watching it, it is fine.
It is also normal for the adult crows to dive bomb the baby to encourage flight. The adult crows are teaching the babies, not attacking them. They might, however, attack a curious human who gets too close to a baby on the ground.
Other advice Crumpacker shared applies to coyotes and other “nuisance” animals such as raccoons, possum and skunks. She warns against leaving pet food out at night when these animals hunt, because they will learn to search there for food.
Anyone who finds a coyote or other animal den, disturb the den — not the animals — gently, and the mother will move the babies.
Crumpacker suggested making the access hole bigger to expose more of the den, spraying white vinegar or ammonia around the den, or making the area unpleasant. Loud noise such as a radio or shining a bright light or a strobe light makes the area undesirable. The mother will move her babies to a more appropriate place.
These techniques are called “passive hazing.” They encourage the animal to select another location. Other ways of passively hazing wildlife, are using a water hose, water gun or Nerf gun. Crumpacker suggested calling the wildlife center for hazing advice specific to an individual situation.
The center always needs volunteers, she said. The best volunteers are people who are able and willing to learn about wildlife and natural behavior and they must be OK not seeing the animals because healthy animals will hide from humans.
Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age, commute to the center and realize that not all stories have a happy ending. They are needed to answer phones, do laundry, prepare food, prepare medication, transport animals, assist with diagnostics, and assist with animal releases. Other volunteer opportunities include enclosure repair and constant cleaning.
A memorial garden is planned, and donations of money and gardening expertise also are needed.
To learn more about the center, visit www.fundforanimals.org.