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Know the West

Wyoming’s ‘Bird Lady’ offers a haven for injured birds

For the past 33 years, Susan Ahalt has run one of the only bird rehabilitation facilities in the state.

 

In late January, Susan Ahalt walked into a veterinarian’s office in Cody, Wyoming, carrying a hooded bald eagle that was found in a ditch on a ranch, unable to fly. Blood tests revealed severe lead poisoning. Even after 33 years of helping birds, Ahalt still finds moments like this emotional.

Ahalt always loved animals, but it wasn’t until she moved to Cody and rescued a baby starling that she decided to dedicate herself to birds. “I decided that I would have to name him a magnificent name because he was such an ugly little thing, so I named him Rex,” she said. “He was just a joy.” Since 1987, she has singlehandedly run Ironside Bird Rescue Inc., one of only three wild bird rehabilitation facilities in the state. Her work has earned Ahalt a region-wide reputation: “People don’t know my name,” she said. “They just know me as the Bird Lady.”

The nonprofit facility consists of an eagle, hawk and owl barn, along with enclosed areas where the birds can fly. Lacking federal or state funding, it depends entirely on grants, donations and volunteers. And with as many as 170 birds in residence, money can be tight. Ahalt worries about what will happen when she retires, and there is no longer a local facility for injured birds. “You can’t just take a bird into your house and say you’re going to fix it,” she said. “I have no idea what’s going to happen.” Helen Santoro

Rebecca Noble is a freelance photojournalist based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on InstagramEmail High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor