‘They’re important to us’: Ottawa woman heads group rescuing injured birds

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Anouk Hoedeman, (right) founder of Safe Wings Ottawa, speaks to a woman in downtown Ottawa in the middle of her bird rescue efforts on her bicycle.

Anouk Hoedeman, (right) founder of Safe Wings Ottawa, speaks to a woman in downtown Ottawa in the middle of her bird rescue efforts on her bicycle. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Anouk Hoedeman rides her bike at crack of dawn looking for birds that collided with windows

CBC News

 

When searching for dead and injured birds and storing them on your bike is your hobby, it’s normal to get odd looks from passersby. But Anouk Hoedeman is used to bewildered stares. 

‘The problem is so much bigger than anyone expected it to be …’– Anouk Hoedeman, founder of Safe Wings Ottawa

The founder of the advocacy group Safe Wings Ottawa regularly monitors downtown streets during the migratory bird season in search of birds who have collided with windows. This year it’s her fourth season doing it with a small team of volunteers. 

One early morning in September, Hoedeman went on a tour of the city with Giacomo Panico, host of CBC Radio’s In Town and Out, to explain why she does what she does. While speaking with Panico, she got a call from a volunteer, Tom. He found an injured bird near the intersection of Kent Street and Laurier Avenue West. When she pulled up to the scene she found two birds still alive and put them in the paniers attached to her bike. 

“The problem is so much bigger than anyone expected it to be in Ottawa and we found that there is such a lack of knowledge about the problem,” Hoedeman said.

She said she has spoken with building managers countless times and they told her a lot of birds are killed nearby and “it’s too bad” they can’t do anything about it. 

“You can and you should because it matters,” Hoedeman said. 

Taking note of injured birds

Last year, the City of Ottawa covered a second-storey glass walkway after more than 30 birds were killed after flying into it. 

She advised people to take note if they see a bird just sitting on the sidewalk and not moving. 

“If they’re sitting on the sidewalk, it’s because they need help. We need people to pick them up as quickly as possible. Get them into a paper bag,” she said.

Anouk Hoedeman, founder of Safe Wings Ottawa

Anouk Hoedeman has been rescuing injured birds for four years. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

She told CBC Radio she found five birds and 13 live ones after searching a handful of buildings one morning. 

During the tour, she found a dead Tennessee Warbler that had collided with a window in an alcove near the Bank of Canada building downtown. It was still warm by the time she got there. 

It’s a strange combination of being sad to see a dead bird but also feeling her work is validated, Hoedeman said.

“I can’t say it’s satisfying, that’s not really the right word,” she said.

“It’s this weird conflicting feeling of you’re sort of happy to find something because it means what you’re doing out here is worth your time, it’s worthwhile. But of course it’s always sad to see a dead bird.”

Hoedeman doesn’t know how long she will keep up her work, but in the years ahead she wants to convince people to retrofit existing buildings and get developers to build “bird-friendly” designs. 

“I care that the world continues to have birds, not just because I like birds, but because they’re really important to us,” she said.

“I guess I’ll keep doing it as long as I have my energy and my health.” 

With files from Giacomo Panico