The Mercer County Wildlife Center, located in Titusville, is caring for five baby Purple Martin birds that survived a horrific arson attack. On July 4th, an unknown person threw five bird houses into a makeshift fire pit located on the St. Michael’s Farm Preserve, a property owned by D&R Greenway Land Trust, in Hopewell Township. Four of the houses were densely inhabited by Purple Martins and the other was a general bird house.
Purple Martins are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, making the offense a federal crime.
Mercer County’s Wildlife Center is the only government-funded center of its kind in the state and one of the very few in the nation. Their mission is to raise young animals separated from their mother and to rehabilitate the injured or sick. All animals are released back into the wild when ready. Over 2,000 animals are brought to the Center each year by residents and animal control officers across the state. Additionally, they handle approximately 20,000 calls from residents asking for help with wild animals.
Diane Nickerson, Director of the Wildlife Center, focuses on helping residents modify their lives in order to live alongside wildlife. “Removing animals doesn’t solve the problem because something is attracting them to the area,” said Nickerson.
The birds were naked nestlings when brought to the Center, meaning they hadn’t yet developed feathers. Nickerson believes that the birds are approximately 21 days old now which is about the time they would leave their nest in the wild. To prepare them for release, the Center must ensure their ability, as aerial insectivores, to catch their food (insects) and water while flying. To do this, the birds will be moved next week from their cozy habitat where 60 mealworms are fed to each bird on the hour to an outside flight cage where they will learn to hunt their own flying food. Until they become the lithe, acrobatic fliers they are, staff will continue to feed the birds their beloved mealworms, each half hour.
When ready, the birds will be released into a foster colony of adult Purple Martin birds in an undisclosed location in the state.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the D&R Greenway Land Trust, and Hopewell Township police are all investigating the crime but currently have no leads. Township police officer Lt. Chris Kascik, said that he is “very optimistic that there will be resolution to the crime because people like to talk. I’m hopeful that someone will come forward.” People with information can reach Lt. Kascik at 609-737-3100.
Wildlife Center Friends, a non-profit organization associated with the Mercer County Wildlife Center, is asking for cash donations to support the Center’s rehabilitation efforts.