Volunteer Spotlight: Anne van Elsen

After hitting a window, this Hermit Thrush was rescued by a FLAP volunteer and taken to Toronto Wildlife Centre to receive medical treatment. This photo was taken when it was released back into the wild to continue its migration. Photo: Rob Mueller

How long have you been a FLAP volunteer?

I have been a FLAP volunteer since October 2010.

In what capacity do you volunteer?

I’m a bird rescue volunteer, centered around the Yonge and Eglinton area in Toronto.

What initially drew you to volunteer with FLAP?

Starting in 1995 or so, I would see the ROM bird layout in the newspapers. I was in awe of the bird rescue people. Every fall just by chance I would find one or two birds on my way to school or work. So, in 2010 I emailed my short list of 10 or 11 birds to FLAP, and Susan contacted me right away. The rest is history.

What keeps you motivated?

The birds are so innocent and it’s such a meaningless way for them to die. Knowing that there are birds in danger, falling, and on the ground and knowing that my being there might be their only chance keeps me motivated. I can’t know that and not do something. It’s about trying to be at the right place at the right moment.

Can you tell me about a particularly memorable or rewarding experience?

One freezing cold day I was going around and around and around for hours. A young woman pulled up in her car, opened her window and said, “Can I give you something?” She had a small brown paper bag identical to the ones we use to secure birds safely. I took it right away, thinking she was handing over a bird, and she drove away. I peeked into the bag and found a hot toasted bagel.

What’s your favourite bird and why?

Oh, I have so many favourite birds. I feel an affinity to the thrushes, they seem so solitary and shy and I find them so early in the morning. Sadly, they seem to hit especially hard, so being able to release a live one is always extra rewarding. Also, they have their own unique feathery smell.

I’m also especially attached to the Nashville Warblers.

Dead Nashville Warbler. Illustration: Anne van Elsen

What would you tell someone who was thinking about volunteering with FLAP?

I would say prepare to be amazed, migration time in Toronto is like a whole other world. I always think of it this way: for us it is just a matter of time and effort but for each bird it is a matter of life and death. It’s a serious commitment and it’s really worth it.

Interested in volunteering with FLAP? Check out our volunteer page for more information.