I quietly stepped up to the small, screened window allowing me a direct view into the eagle house. He was perched in full view, his female companion Hyacinth closeby. Humpty, who did, indeed, have a great (and near fatal) fall from the nest, is now a perfectly breathtaking adult eagle, larger than life with piercing eyes. Though he rarely vocalizes (and when he does it’s faint), and his flight and mental deficits are permanent, he is thriving at MARS Wildlife Rescue (MARS).
Metaphorically speaking, Humpty’s silence is what MARS, just a 15-minute drive from the Old House Hotel, is all about. This beautiful 11- acre escape devoted to wildlife recovery is a voice for wild animals that need our greater appreciation, awareness and protection from harmful and often naïve human activity.
I observed Humpty during my MARS tour which I was finally able to book after months of waiting out covid restrictions. I was happy to see our group was ageless – two 20-something guys, a young woman and an older gentleman who had just donated an expensive microscope. It was surely our lucky day as Jan, a super engaging and knowledgeable MARS board member/volunteer, was designated to be our guide.
Our conversation and observations flowed as we meandered around the new Centre which opened in 2019. (The new property was purchased in 2015.) A landscaping and architectural work of art, it integrates an interpretive center, educational pollinator and native plant gardens, carefully designed animal enclosures and a state-of-the-art animal hospital into its forested acres. I considered myself knowledgeable about my own backyard until I met Jan! My eyes were opened to more things I would need to consider as we curate our little five-acre forested home.
The entire experience was about seeing our Island backyard differently, both visually and mentally. If they could speak, resident owls Brinley and Shakespeare (pictured above) would say, “Please do not throw food out of your car window, I’ll go after the rodents that will try to eat it.” Brinley is a Great Horned Owl whose wing had to be amputated after a vehicle hit her. Shakespeare, a spectacular Barred Owl, also was hit by a car. He lost his left eye and fractured his beak and sternum and sustains a significant hearing impairment on his left side.
Fortunately, despite their long-term challenges, the owls are living a good life with lots of human interaction. I learned Brinley (pictured above), more than 17 years of age, relishes her regular diet of quail and mice and has a secret superpower: 400 pounds of crush force in her claws. Shakespeare is a great vocalist, though he sounds more like a howler monkey than a Barred Owl! It’s easy to get emotionally connected to these engaging creatures.
Those are just two of the many birds that have a story to tell, from a Red-tailed hawk to a Western Screech Owl and albino American crow siblings. While the resident birds capture our attention, the team working behind-the-scenes sees dozens more that receive medical attention with the goal of rehabilitating them through to a full recovery and their return to the wild.
Too many of the animal patients that come to MARS suffer from human threats: lead and rodent poisoning, entanglement, and collisions with power lines and windows. To date, 1143 patients have come to MARS, now surpassing last year’s number.
It takes a village to operate this hospital/vistor’s centre: volunteers, representing more than 28,000 labour hours; collaborating rescue centres; wildlife experts; staff; fundraisers; communities; students; and corporate sponsors, like BC Hydro which is actively mitigating its power line threats to birds. Old House visitors are a welcome addition!
My final stop was the interpretive centre. What imaginative learning experiences! My favourites were comparing arm spans with wingspans, a stunning hummingbird display, and a video capturing the entertaining process of robin chicks leaving the nest!
At MARS, the voice for wildlife conservation is loud and clear. From the caws of the crows to the words on the graphics, from the voices of the guides to the hoot of the Barred Owl, it shouts, “We are all connected; we all need to protect our wild animals and wild places!” Were Humpty able to vocalize, he’d be a great addition to this chorus.
The MARS Visitors Centre is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday 10 am – 3 pm for drop-in shopping and exploration of the indoor exhibits area.
One-hour guided tours must be pre-booked. For the protection of the animal patients and resident animals, self-guided tours are not allowed.
For more information and to book your tour, click here.
Outside the Old House Front Door
A Comox Valley and Vancouver Island Travel Blog
(Photos by Jackson Rooper)