ROSEVILLE, Minn. (WCCO) -- At Roseville's Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, 2015 saw a record number of injured and sick wild animals nursed back to health.
People around Minnesota and Wisconsin brought in nearly 12,000 mammals, birds and reptiles in need of medical care. That represents a jump of over 30 percent from the 9,119 cared for in 2014.
It also shows an overall awareness of people who are willing to step in and give Mother Nature a hand.
Here in the Northland, not everyone has the luxury of escaping winter's icy grip. We humans head indoors and migrating birds head south. That's why when an injured goldeneye duck was found on a highway, unable to fly, it was brought to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
"This is an adult female goldeneye that came in yesterday," veterinarian Leslie Reed said.
Reed says it's not uncommon for waterfowl to mistake wet pavement for the glassy surfaces of an inviting lake. That's likely what happened when it crash landed on a highway in the western suburbs.
"So they can greatly injure themselves by landing on pavement," Reed said. "But sometimes they just have minor bumps, scrapes and bruises."
The duck is emaciated and needs to put on weight before being released into the wild. She will feast on minnows and other aquatic life in a large, filtered pool until that happens.
"This is the time of year that's very concerning," Reed said. "She needs to get where she can get more of her natural food source."
It's the clinic's mission to mend any sick or injured wild critters -- caring for a wide range of wild animals, from flying squirrels to a coyote with severe mange. For an animal that thrives in the harshest of weather, it is deadly to fend off winter without a thick fur coat.
"There are animal centers around the country and most of them, frankly, are struggling," the center's executive director Phil Jenni said.
Jenni explains that their work is expensive. It's currently caring for seven trumpeter swans which are being treated for lead poisoning. It will cost about $50 per day, per bird, and each will stay with the center an average of three months.
"They get what, in our language, is very depressed, lethargic," Jenni said of the lead poisoning. "We've actually had swans that have come in that actually were frozen right into the ice."
And when two loons missed the normal fall migration, suffering from injured wings, the clinic did its job by first healing them with some impressive surgeries.
"We have a process called imping, which is implanting feathers into those damaged feathers," Jenni said.
However there was a shortage of the feathers required, so the center stayed true to the mission of release. Staffers put them on a commercial flight to a rehabilitation center in Florida that could perform the operation. They will heal before joining their loon families along Sanibel Island.
The big jump in patients isn't cheap -- it costs the clinic well over $1 million to pay for all the medicine, tests, food and staff. It's an annual budget supported entirely through private donations.
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