JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - Freddy, a large crow with his right wing taped to an orange splint, hopped around his cage on Jonesboro veterinarian Archie Ryan’s land.
Two eagles, named Bismillah and Galileo after rock group Queen’s song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” strutted around a much larger flight cage adjacent to Freddy’s quarters. Both are recovering from injuries treated by Ryan.
Two small owls, a baby screech owl named Alan and an infant horned owl named Clarice, sat in carrying cases waiting for their meals of mice.
Throw in the scores of hummingbirds, raccoons, opossums, otters, hawks, herons, geese and ducks, and it all creates the typical menagerie at Ryan’s rural Jonesboro home.
Ryan is one of only a handful of people qualified by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission trained to rehabilitate injured wildlife and is the only veterinarian in the state licensed to do so, The Jonesboro Sun reported.
According to the commission, 11 people are certified to rehabilitate some type of wildlife. Most are licensed only to help songbirds, shore birds and waterfowl.
Ryan has received 2,000 hours of working with wildlife as part of his licensure procedure.
Recently, Ryan and his wife, Jayne Ryan, completed work on a new raptor flight cage to better house the large birds he often receives. The cage, made of wood and wire, measures 20 feet high by 120 feet long and is 20 feet wide. There are also three separate 10-foot-by-10-foot cages where Ryan can separate animals by species.
Ryan began rehabilitating birds and animals in 1991 after he moved to Jonesboro from Houston, and opened his clinic, Southwest Drive Animal Clinic.
He’s treated thousands of animals since then, giving them second chances to life. Many of the birds have either been shot or fallen out of nests during high winds. Mammals he tends to, such as bobcats, foxes, raccoons and opossums, have often been struck by vehicles.
Ryan also used to treat deer, but because of an Arkansas epidemic of chronic wasting disease, a neurological disorder that affects the brains of deer, elk and moose, he can no longer keep them.
It’s an expensive venture; Ryan spends $5,000 a year alone on mice to feed the birds. He also buys rats and puts their carcasses on the roof of his home so rehabilitating vultures can feast on them.
He receives no compensation from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission or any other state or federal entity.
He said he did receive discounts from Barton Lumber when purchasing materials to build the flight cage.
“We enjoy it,” he said of what he calls his “hobby.” ″The population of people continues to grow and as a result, there is less room for wildlife. People generally interact with animals only when they are injured.
“I’m able to use my skills as a veterinarian to treat them and release them.”
Children from the Jonesboro Health, Wellness and Environmental Studies Magnet School recently visited Ryan’s flight cage, learning about birds.
“I liked the eagles,” Jessica Madonna, 9, said. “It was the first time I ever saw an eagle.”
She also interacted with the Ryans’ horses.
“One tried to eat my hair,” she said, laughing.
Kimberlynn Nash, 9, said she learned about important feathers eagles need to fly. “If they lose one, they can’t fly,” she said.
Birds generally stay in Ryan’s shelter for four to six weeks while healing. Game and Fish wardens brought one of the eagles to him after they found it south of Valley View. The other eagle was wounded in Clay County.
Ryan will do the necessary surgeries at his clinic, such as placing pins in broken wings, and then take the patients to the flight cage.
The Ryans get attached to their animals, but they realize the role they play in their recovery.
“When they leave, we are happy because we helped them,” Jayne Ryan said. “And we know we’ll get more.”
She turned to her husband. “When they ask you if you want to rehab an animal, have you ever said, ‘No?’” she asked.
“No,” he replied.
Ryan said he hopes to add lights to the flight cage soon so he can feed the animals and work with them later at night.
“I’m a facilitator,” he said. “I help them either go on back to the wild or on to the great animal beyond.”