Sometimes a bird needs a hand |

Sometimes a bird needs a hand

by Lisa Gavon
Special to The R-C

Her piercingly clear blue eyes lit up with delight. “Oh, look at this little one!” she exclaimed. After 40 years, the moving force behind Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care has seen more than 24,000 injured and orphaned animals pass through her doors. To Cheryl Millham, this little creature needed care and protection, and she was there to offer it. It continues to bring her immense fulfillment to be able to raise, rehabilitate, and release each individual animal they rescue and bring it back into the wild.

Two girls visiting Genoa and Carson Valley from Kansas had brought the bird to me. It was nowhere near trees or bushes, but rather at the top of a huge play area, hopping along the hot metal structure. It was obvious it could not fly. Although many years had passed since my sons and I studied with Cheryl and volunteered at Wildlife Care, I remembered some of the protocol. First and foremost, it is important to call and talk with staff about the animal and the situation it is in. They will tell you what to look for, precautions to take, and how best to proceed.

Cheryl asked questions and reviewed my ancient knowledge about transporting, deciding the bird should be brought to her. She and co-founder and husband Tom Millham have always operated out of their home. They are currently in the process of building a state-of the art facility with more sophisticated enclosures which will greatly expand their capabilities to care for and successfully release injured and orphaned animals. Denise Upton, Animal Care Director since 2014 will live in the caretaker’s unit on the 27 acre site and oversee operations along with Cheryl.

Cheryl held the fledgling I brought up in the aerated cardboard box, examining it closely, holding it, and thinking. “A sparrow,” she said looking up and smiling. “It is a tiny sparrow.” She set about finding the right size eyedropper, and the right “mush” recipe to raise it properly. The birds have to be fed every 15 minutes, so as soon as they are finished, the person feeding them has to start all over again. I watched as she set up the sparrow in a safe fabric-covered area, all the while attending to the great horned owl baby next to it, along with some charming young jays and blackbirds in an adjoining box.

Her years of experience and training have made her an expert in the field. Cheryl has hosted two international wildlife rehab conferences in Lake Tahoe, presented many original papers, and been the main instructor for the annual LTWC training seminar since 1980. Both she and Denise continue to attend symposiums along with their “hands-on” study. Every new animal is unique unto itself: some healing within days, others in weeks, months or years. Their constant research and observation prepares them for new situations with different and unexpected species.

I let the girls who found the bird know that it was doing well, being cared for by specialists, and getting better every day. Denise was kind enough to text photos and updates. When I asked what they wanted to name it, their answer was immediate: “Jack Sparrow”. We were all happy when we heard Jack was being moved to the “flying cage,” and eventually, that he big enough to be let out on his own.

Wildlife Care makes every effort to return animals to the location where they were found, unless migration patterns have moved their families from the original site. I met one of the volunteers at the play equipment area where Jack had been found. Setting down the bag nearby some willows, we carefully opened one corner. Jack-the-Sparrow was so thrilled to be home, he flew straight out. Landing on an elevated branch, he turned and looked back before flying off into the marsh lands below him, alive because of the efforts and dedication of Cheryl, Tom, Denise, and their volunteers at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care. Another sweet bird’s song was added back to the flock that day. It was a truly joyous occasion.

Their Annual Open House is fast approaching. It is the only day the public is allowed to tour the facility. Not yet in their new buildings, this may be the last year to see the original location, and appreciate the depth of their constant and unwavering dedication. Go to for a wealth of information about how you can become involved, make a donation, attend upcoming events, and to watch their live webcams.

The free Open House is from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at 1485 Cherry Hills Circle South Lake Tahoe, Calif. If you find an animal in need of immediate care, you can call them at 530 577-2273 (CARE).