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All photos courtesy of Carolina Waterfowl Rescue.

If a wild animal rescue happened in the central Carolinas, there’s a fair chance Carolina Waterfowl Rescue has played a part. In 2023 alone, they provided care for over 7,000 animals.

Carolina Waterfowl Rescue (CWR) is a nonprofit 501c3 wildlife rescue organization in Indian Trails, North Carolina, just outside of Charlotte. CWR is run by federally licensed wildlife rehabilitators and many passionate volunteers who provide sanctuary, rescue, and rehabilitation for wildlife, farm, and exotic animals, as well as education for the public on a myriad of animal issues. The rescue also works with local law enforcement in seizure cases and investigates nuisance referrals.

Pekin ducks Sadie and Beatrice found a forever home last year after CWR rescued them.

But like many rescues, CWR started with just one caring human.

Founder and director Jennifer Gordon started doing volunteer work when her family moved to North Carolina from California. At the same time, she noticed a critical need for rescue services with the local waterfowl population. While California had many no-kill shelters and farm sanctuaries, she was disappointed to find that in her new area, ducks “were just meat to most people.”

After her first duck rescue, Jennifer was on the path to becoming a wildlife rehabber, volunteering at every place she could find within a two-hour drive. Because of the special need for waterfowl rescue/rehab, however, she began taking on birds herself.

Volunteer Cassie and CWR animal ambassador goose Buzzy.

At one point, her husband says, “I counted 40 ducks in our garage.” They knew they had to go bigger. Through a lot of blood, sweat and tears, the one-woman effort steadily evolved into the nonprofit rescue CWR is today, which handles not only waterfowl, but all manner of creatures in need.

“It’s been a never-ending growing and learning experience. Carolina Waterfowl Rescue is grass roots and sometimes unconventional compared to other places,” Jennifer writes. “With age and wisdom, I have realized we need to simply make the world right for that one animal who needs it. Be a light in the darkness for an animal who otherwise would have no hope, and always try to do what’s right. We are humans and make mistakes, but we work hard and go home to sleep knowing we tried, and we did our best.”

CWR rescues and rehabs many reptiles, and even has a tortoise adoption list.

Stepping Up to Help

Carolina Waterfowl Rescue is run almost entirely by volunteers, passionate workers who confirm the rescue’s assertion that its people are the “critical element to the success of CWR.”

Longtime volunteer Animal Care Coordinator & Shift Leader Melissa Patera tells us that the work is its own reward.

“I love every moment of my volunteer work at CWR and being able to meet new friends, both human and feathered,” says Melissa, who has worked at the rescue since 2015. “I first was drawn here because of a post about Sebastian. He’s such a special donkey and as soon as I saw his face I knew I had to be involved in his care. I didn’t realize what that entailed until I worked my first day and knew I found a home that would become very important to my life.”

Current CWR resident donkey Eddie getting some sun.

Melissa also has a special soft spot, she says, for the “many resident birds that have won my heart through the years. From lil’ Zeke the chicken, who has been here since I’ve started…to Willis, the best turkey ever who passed away a few years ago. There was Charlie the duck, who went on many fundraisers with me and Zeke … Then I fell in love with Augustus, the biggest, fastest goose ever – until I raised Forest. My heart is with these three geese: my baby Forest, her love companion Jenny, and best buddy Maverick, who has since passed away. My greatest joy was raising them … and spoiling them as much as I can.”

Just as rewarding, says Melissa, are the “long-shot” cases – “rescues that we thought could never survive but are in fact thriving and enjoying a new lease on life.” Of these successes, Melissa counts owlets, songbirds, ducklings, goslings, pigs, goats, sheep, crows, “and I’m sure that’s not everything we’ve had over the years. Where else can anyone be around this much cuteness for free?”

Traveling songbirds sometimes get delayed by building collisions, cat attacks and more, and heal up at CWR before starting on their way again.

Longtime volunteer baby bird feeder Priya Rahatekar couldn’t agree more.

“I have been volunteering with CWR for over six years,” she says. “Initially, my thought was I was rescuing the babies… but soon, I found out they were rescuing me! There are some hard days at the rescue when you see you cannot help the animal/bird in certain situations, but then the miracle happens, and that bird starts responding to the treatment and in no time, you are releasing this baby back in nature.”

She describes the particularly challenging rehab of a boat-tailed grackle who, despite long odds with an injury, avian pox, and rapidly approaching winter, recovered thanks to the tireless workers at CWR.

“We had almost lost hope,” she says, but the day finally came. “The moment we released him, he caught a big juicy bug, hopped/flew from tree to tree and settled for a sun bath. At the end, he came close enough to us and looked at us straight in the eye as if he was saying ‘Thank you.’ We had tears of happiness. All our efforts to save this baby were fruitful!”

Volunteers make all the difference at CWR.

It seems everyone who works and volunteers with the rescue has experienced more than a few magical moments with the animals – and occasionally even with the humans they inspire.

“Our mission of helping animals that are so often overlooked brings joy,” says Laurel Millaci, who has also been with CWR for six years, first as a volunteer and now as Staff Communications Director & Baby Songbird Program Manager.

Laurel recalls an especially inspiring moment from 2023’s baby bird season: “A young girl and her family brought in a baby robin who had fallen out of its nest. This girl wrote such a beautiful letter asking us to help and save Star – the name she had given the robin – that it touched all of us. Thankfully, the robin thrived and was released. When children are so invested in the care of wildlife, it is wonderful. Her actions and the letter inspired a volunteer to write and illustrate a book about a rescued baby robin. She not only helped one baby robin, but hopefully will inspire others to love, respect, and help other animals.”

A letter and plea from a girl who found a baby robin inspired a CWR volunteer to write a book.

Carolina Waterfowl Rescue is always in need of volunteers, supplies, and other donations. Want to help but not sure how? Contact the rescue or learn more here. Keep up with CWR on Facebook or Instagram. Support CWR and read more about their inspiring rescues on Patreon.

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