May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center: A Year in Review

The work never ends at the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (MWRC). A diligent team of students, faculty, rehabilitators and volunteers work around the clock to provide treatment for injured and orphaned wildlife from the Highlands and beyond. As 2022 draws to a close, the center is proud to share the many successes and exciting stories that exemplify the hard work of the rehabilitation staff.

Content and photos contributed by May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center staff.

The Dan & Dianne May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center personifies Lees-McRae College’s motto – In the mountains, of the mountains, for the mountains – in caring for the injured and orphaned wildlife of western North Carolina. The founder of the college Reverend Edgar Tufts created a boarding school for women, a hospital and an orphanage when he started this great college. We are so proud of the dedication of students and staff who work with these animals and know that Reverend Tufts is watching us with a smile as we train wildlife professionals who make a difference in the world through wildlife rehabilitation , veterinary care and education.

The MWRC had a busy summer, receiving more than 620 patients from the beginning (May 16) to the end (July 29) of Summer Clinical. More than 49% of patients were released, which is very good in wildlife rehabilitation! Unfortunately, not every case ends ideally, but we always do what we can to provide comfort and make the best decision we can for each animal.

This summer saw an influx of Virginia opossums – we admitted nearly 90 in just three months! These adorable tick eaters take a lot of work to raise. Marsupials feed their young differently than other mammals; when opossums arrive as babies, we tube feed them formula to reduce the risk of aspiration. Each patient receives a personal plan to help them succeed. As they grow, we give them specialized diets rich in calcium to ensure they develop strong bones, as they are prone to metabolic bone diseases.

This summer saw an influx of Virginia opossums – we admitted nearly 90 in just three months! These adorable tick eaters take a lot of work to raise. Marsupials feed their young differently than other mammals; when opossums arrive as babies, we tube feed them formula to reduce the risk of aspiration. Each patient receives a personal plan to help them succeed. As they grow, we give them specialized diets rich in calcium to ensure they develop strong bones, as they are prone to metabolic bone diseases.


The final outcome of a patient depends on a variety of factors: the significance and timing of the injury, their status upon arrival, how manageable their injuries consider their species, and how likely they are to survive in the wild. Our team must determine what a patient needs to make them most comfortable, whether that is treatment or humane euthanasia.

“Summer Clinical at MWRC was a great learning experience that I am grateful for. It was such a great summer with great role models.”

– Jaycey Deal

“Summer Clinical at MWRC was a great learning experience that I am grateful for. It was such a great summer with a great role models.”

– Jaycey Deal

“The memories I made over the summer will last a lifetime and have strengthened my love for helping animals.”

-Emma McGuckin

“The memories I made over the summer will last a lifetime and have strengthened my love for helping animals.”

-Emma McGuckin

“Summer clinics are full of growth. We get a lot of babies and have the pleasure of watching them grow. They’re not the only ones growing though – we’re growing too! I’m so glad I got to spend my summer growing with them.”

-Breyanna Mathis

“Summer clinics are full of growth. We get a lot of babies and have the pleasure of watching them grow. They’re not the only ones growing though – we’re growing too! I’m so glad I got to spend my summer growing with them.”

-Breyanna Mathis

Kelli Johnson ’21 returns to Lees-McRae

Hello, my name is Kelli Johnson! It gives me great pride to introduce myself as the newest staff member at MWRC as of May 2022. I graduated from Lees-McRae in 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Biology and a specialization in Wildlife Rehabilitation. I have had a passion for rescuing animals since I was a child, and I am happy to now hold the title of Wildlife Rehabilitation Specialist. While I have a deep love for all animals, reptiles and amphibians are my specialty. I look forward to providing excellent care for all the animals at MWRC and educating our community about the natural world around us!

Alyssa Robertson ’22 is going to Dollywood

Alyssa Robertson graduated from Lees-McRae College in 2022 with a degree in Wildlife Biology and a specialization in Wildlife Rehabilitation. Alyssa was accepted at the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, North Carolina for her summer-long educator/trainer internship position. She worked with a wide variety of raptors, training and participating in the many educational programs they offer in the region.

She recently accepted a position as a trainer/educator with the American Eagle Foundation where she will perform at Dollywood’s Wings of America. We are so proud of Alyssa for following her dreams as an educator and avian trainer!

Mykola (peregrine falcon) came from the Kentucky Raptor Center. He suffered a wing injury, so he cannot fly well enough to catch prey. He is still in training, but we expect him to be ready for the public in the spring. His name, which means “winner of people” in Ukrainian, was chosen by MWRC work study student Kevin O’Brienhalla, who was adopted at age 6 months from Mykolaiv, Ukraine.

Mykola (peregrine falcon) came from the Kentucky Raptor Center. He suffered a wing injury, so he cannot fly well enough to catch prey. He is still in training, but we expect him to be ready for the public in the spring. His name, which means “winner of people” in Ukrainian, was chosen by MWRC work study student Kevin O’Brienhalla, who was adopted at age 6 months from Mykolaiv, Ukraine.

Buckley (northern saw-white owl) came from Featherhaven in Washington, near the base of Mount Rainier. Director Nina Fischesser and alumnus Alana Murray flew out and visited two other rehabilitation centers (Sarvey and West Sound) and met with Featherhaven owners Kelly and David. Nina and Alana were very impressed with Featherhaven’s home-based rehabilitation center. Buckley will serve only as a display bird. We are still looking for a companion bird to keep him company.

Buckley (northern saw-white owl) came from Featherhaven in Washington, near the base of Mount Rainier. Director Nina Fischesser and alumnus Alana Murray flew out and visited two other rehabilitation centers (Sarvey and West Sound) and met with Featherhaven owners Kelly and David. Nina and Alana were very impressed with Featherhaven’s home-based rehabilitation center. Buckley will serve only as a display bird. We are still looking for a companion bird to keep him company.

Cooper’s hawk beats the odds

For some patients, it seems that their gumption is as important to their recovery as the treatment they receive.

Cooper’s Hawk 2022-0825 was reportedly hit by a vehicle prior to admission to the MWRC on 16 July. Cooper’s hawks are notoriously high stress and active; This bird’s attitude upon arrival was despondent at best. The physical examination and radiographs showed not one but FOUR fractures. For an adept floorer who depends on speed and agility, prognosis was grim. However, the ever-hopeful staff opted to surgically repair the humerus and apply a “figure of 8” wrap to strategically support the fractured wing bones. The femur, surrounded by large thigh muscles, heals well with cage rest. After five surgery/anesthesia events, numerous physical therapy sessions, and over 40 days in rehab, the Cooper’s hawk flew (and landed) beautifully…a great testament to both the skill of the rehab team and the tenacity of this species !

The smallest patient

Our patients come in a wide range of sizes, and this ring-necked snake may have been our smallest patient all year! Weighing less than a gram, this patient was admitted with a possible spinal fracture. They could not gain momentum to move their body forward and would therefore be susceptible to capture and predator attacks. After 11 days of laser therapy and cage rest, this patient recovered and was able to move normally, making them eligible for release!

By May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center Staff02 December 2022

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