Feature

This spring, after 30 years as a sensory perception psychologist at Colby College, Diane Winn, PhD, was ready to retire from academe. But she wasn't ready to quit her second career as co-director of Avian Haven-a nonprofit wild bird rehabilitation center that she founded with fellow rehabber Marc Payne in 1999.

In fact, in the few weeks since she retired, she's busier than ever. Each morning she wakes up at 5:30to the calling of a resident crow, checks her phone messages and heads downstairs in her 16-year-old Cape Cod-style house in Freedom, Maine, to the walk-in basement that serves as Avian Haven's main infirmary. She checks on the most critical cases from the day before, then defrosts frozen fish for water birds and mice or rats for birds of prey, and assembles a platter of fruit and cultured insects for robins. She also prepares a half dozen other combinations for the nearly 100 birds on site. Around 7 a.m., she and Payne deliver the food to one of nine nearby buildings that house species ranging from chimney swifts to bald eagles to eastern phoebes. Throughout the day, she'll take in a handful more birds and prepare and serve more feedings. Her days, which usually end around 7 or 8 p.m., are chaotic; sometimesshe feels like she's working in an emergency room.

Yet despite the long hours, there's nothing else Winn would rather be doing. Like many professionals entering retirement, Winn considers her second career a chance for community service.

"Avian Haven is my opportunity to give back to the natural world," she says.

A nature lover, Winn draws on her psychology background in sensory perception and states of consciousness in caring for birds, says Maine's APA Council Representative, John Lorenz, PhD, a psychology colleague of Winn's. Moreover, as her interests have expanded into the animal kingdom, her psychological research has as well, he adds.

"Systematically and methodologically, Winn uses her psychology training and research to help her make sense of-and find-information about the cases she comes across," he says, noting that APA recognized her work this year with an APA Presidential Citation.

Wildlife rehabilitation

Winn, Payne, their fellow volunteers and an offsite veterinarian have diagnosed and treated more than 5,000 birds since the center's founding. Each bird, rescued from areas around the center, undergoes an individually tailored program of veterinary care, feeding, physical therapy and conditioning before the center releases it in the appropriate season and location. If birds are unable to survive in the wild, the center humanely euthanizes them.

Winn and Payne-like many of the more than 2,000 wildlife rehabilitators in North America-see their work as a way to counteract people's impact on the animals' natural habitats. People are responsible, in fact, for many of the injuries Avian Haven treats. Many of its patients are victims of destroyed nests, speeding cars, unrestrained pets, poison left in accessible locations and accidental trapping or shooting, according to Beal College President Allen Stehle, PhD, a former wildlife rehabilitator who now serves on Avian Haven's Board of Directors.

"[Wildlife rehabilitators] are righting what we, as humans, have done wrong," says Stehle.

To most effectively rehabilitate birds, Avian Haven volunteers limit the birds' interactions with humans.

"We're not a zoo, and we're not exhibiting the birds," Winn explains. "We're just trying to get them back out into the wild."

Avian Haven

Winn stumbled upon wildlife rehabilitation after a divorce in the mid-90s left her living alone for the first time in her life.

"I was forced to think about who I am," she recalls. "And my psychotherapist suggested that I think back to what I liked to do as a child."

What stood out was a pet parakeet she had kept, so Winn began caring for a neighbor's parakeet and then other birds. Before she knew it, she was the town's "bird lady," and she began taking courses about wildlife rehabilitation.

"Something about wildlife rehabilitation resonated," she says, noting that it harkened back to her first published article-a study that compared compassion fatigue among rehabilitation workers and caregivers for the terminally ill.

By 1996, she was spending much of her summers working as a bird rehabilitator out of her house. During the school year, she began re-examining compassion fatigue to see whether it also affected wildlife rehabbers.

Two years later, she met Payne at a rehabilitator conference. Within months he moved from New Jersey to Maine so they could start Avian Haven. Soon after, they married.

The first year, they treated 300 birds-10 times the number that Winn treated the previous year. To meet their newfound needs, Winn and Payne used their own money to buy laboratory equipment and a donor provided an X-ray machine; they developed innovative feeds for songbirds; and they built circular cages to allow the birds to stretch their wings and exercise. Within five years, their caseload tripled to its current 800-900 birds a year, says Winn.

Healthy aging

Despite the center's productivity, nearly half of the birds the center takes in die of natural causes or need to be euthanized due to the severe illness or injuries. With many of the deaths, Winn cries. At first, she was somewhat uneasy about the reaction. But as she scoured the psychological literature on grief, compassion fatigue and burnout, she realized that the loss she deals with at Avian Haven reminds her of the losses she has endured in her personal life, such as her mother's death.

"It's important to express grief," she says.

In 2002, she published an article on the subject in the Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation (Vol. 25, No. 2, pages 22-25) as a means of helping rehabilitators deal with the stress and loss in their work.

Continuing to publish articles also helps Winn apply the empirical and analytical skills she honed as a psychologist in a new way.

"Diane's applying her psychological training in a broader context," says Lorenz. "And it's allowing her to merge the passions of her life."

Further Reading

For more information about Avian Haven, visit www.avianhaven.org.