Honk Honk Goose

Blog by Alyssa Lakota & Genevieve Arterburn


On a cold May evening, in the middle of a heavy rain and hail storm, a gosling wandered up someone’s driveway, separated from his siblings and parents. A month later, in June, another gosling was found orphaned near Little Payette Lake. In both circumstances, efforts to reunite them with family were unsuccessful. Attempts to introduce them into flocks with other goslings around the same age were made in vain, as hardly any geese were found between McCall and Cascade. We presume Avian Flu and a long, tough winter had much to do with the decrease in their numbers. The couple of flocks we did manage to locate swam away before an introduction was possible, or they simply took no interest. One flock had at least six goslings. It felt as if they said, “We already have too many mouths to feed. Move along.” And so, we did [move along].


As the goslings grew, we continued our search, reaching out to multiple people in hopes of a sighting. During our pursuit, we stopped to ask a man and his daughter riding bicycles if they had seen any geese. They did not, but they took our number, and a short time later, they called. We met up and took to the water to scout the location. We couldn’t see them, but we could hear them. A plan could now be hatched. A few days later, when conditions were right, we met up again, taking to the water yet again, only this time with our two goslings on board, heading towards the flock. There they were. We set our goslings loose and hid in the tall grasses and behind our flotation devices to ease them into the flock. It seemed as if they had found their new tribe, but an adult goose suddenly attacked one of the two goslings, scaring both out of the water and up an embankment. The flock aggressively shook their heads in unison, “No,” and encouraged their young to follow, leading them away from the two in our care. We felt defeated. We strove to avoid releasing them into the crowded Boise parks. Our goal was to return them to the wild.


Weeks later, when their flight feathers grew, we began physical therapy in Snowdon’s new flight barn. Each Canada Goose was encouraged to fly back and forth, making multiple passes, until we felt comfortable with their abilities to escape danger once released. That day finally arrived.


We set off on a warm September day to release these two before the majority of geese migrate south for winter. We were nervous, including our geese, to find the perfect spot. We approached the lake and mud flats and held our breath. We saw a blue heron, pelicans, but no geese. However, we rounded the corner, and to our excitement, we finally saw geese. We hopped out of the truck to investigate, but they flew away despite keeping our distance. We climbed back in and drove down a road near where they all flew. With the sun going down and the proximity to the road, we were skeptical about releasing them at this time. Thinking this was perhaps their only opportunity (the flock could be gone tomorrow), we took a chance and carried each crate down a hill through tall vegetation. We held our breath and opened the crate doors. They seemed confused and scared at first, but then one took flight and glided over the flats. The other soon followed. We grabbed our binoculars and observed them for an hour or longer. After meeting a few ducks along the way, they slowly and gingerly approached the flock. What appeared to be the alpha goose made it clear that he was in charge but seemed inviting. They happily joined the rest grazing nearby, and soon we could no longer differentiate which geese were ours.

Little Raccoon Rascals

Each summer, Snowdon rescues any number of wild animal babies, and this year was no exception. Alyssa and her staff have had numerous orphans streaming through our clinic for treatment, including birds of all sorts, waterfowl, squirrels, skunks, bunnies, fawns, and perhaps the most heart-melting of all, baby raccoons! One summer as a friend and I were volunteering at Snowdon, we noticed there were three orphaned raccoons that were tucked away in the clinic. They needed multiple bottle feedings each day. As the hardworking Snowdon staff was typically overwhelmed with baby animal care during the summer months, we offered to help feed the little guys. I peered into a small kennel and saw three tiny gray and white things all huddled together sleeping. How utterly peaceful and adorable. When they heard the latch of the kennel door open, they sprang to life! All three babes came toddling out, making incredibly raucous screeching cries, and using their tiny little raccoon hands to grab out at anything that might become a handhold. They were perfect little miniature raccoons, so soft and yet so loud! We each gently grabbed one or two and proceeded to fumble around with some syringe tubes filled with warm milk replacer formula. The babies had not learned to use a nipple tip (and never would), so we just put this huge syringe tube in their mouths and slowly squeezed out the formula. Amazingly enough, those little babies unhinged and opened their jaws to grab that huge syringe tube, and we were off to the races. They squawked the whole time unless the milk was actually going down their throats, at which time the screeches turned more into gurgles. They all ended up with milk all over their faces and running down their tiny bodies, but that didn’t seem to matter. All they wanted were full bellies. One by one, when we achieved full belly status, the screeching stopped, we cleaned them off, and they toddled off to sleep in their cushy bedding. It would all be repeated in a few hours. Whew! But boy were those little masked faces and grabby hands cute.


As the little noise-pots grew, they demonstrated amazing climbing and clinging skills on the kennel door. When it was meal time, they would be all over that mesh door, clinging upside-down, sideways, and into any other position their little fingers could get them into. It was all noise, all movement, and all messy fun until those bellies were satisfied. One baby had an obvious case of mange on her tail, which was being treated every few weeks with the appropriate parasite medication. I think it was my second or third feeding when someone casually mentioned that I should be wearing gloves. Oh, right – my mistake. Mange is caused by tiny parasites that burrow into the skin and wreak havoc on one’s hair follicles. Surely once I washed my hands after handling those cute little raccoon rascals, the parasites would disappear down the drain. Not so! The night after my last ungloved feeding, I woke up in the middle of the night with my right hand on fire. I groggily reached over to my bed stand where I had a stash of various creams and oils, grabbed a bottle of peppermint/wintergreen oil, and slathered it on the hand. The next morning, I had a vague recollection of doing something with that oil, but I couldn’t quite remember until I smelled my hand. It felt great and smelled even better! The oil must have drowned the little mange mites. But the memories of that pain came back, and I now have a whole new perspective on what animals with mange go through. It is agonizing. No wonder infestations can kill entire colonies of squirrels and foxes! The pain and relentless burning can sap an animal’s immune system and cause horrible hair loss, leading to starvation and eventual death. Knowing that the baby raccoons at Snowdon had mange that was being successfully treated made me feel quite good about wildlife rehabilitation and the good work they can do.


As the baby raccoons outgrew their kennel and were able to climb well, they were transferred to a special raccoon enclosure. We helped stock the enclosure with tree branches to climb, fun things to do, and we even hung a little hammock for them to sleep in. Now we had to back off from human contact and let them become wild again. That was easier said than done because those creatures are just so cute. Their little busy fingers are always going, and they make these cute little chittering and purring sounds. We just enjoyed watching them play amongst themselves with no input from us. The best part was watching them eat the fruit, veggie, and dog kibble salads we made for them. Hearing them crunch grapes and watching the pure joy on their faces was priceless. They loved playing in the water, too. There’s a great video on Snowdon’s Facebook page of baby raccoons playing with the running water of a hose.


By September, the babies had grown into little adults, and the cute chittering was replaced with a little more growling and hissing, which is perfectly normal and just fine. Raccoons are pretty much defenseless in the wild except for their attitudes and growls and hisses. They need to intimidate to survive since they can’t really run fast or threaten anyone with sharp claws. Those little fingers are sure soft and cute, but they can’t be used in self-defense. All orphaned raccoons rehabilitated at Snowdon, including the two cuties Alyssa and crew have this summer, will exhibit the same behaviors as they grow and mature. Their hissy attitudes let us know when it is about the right time to release them back into the wild. What I didn’t know with that first trio, however, was exactly how to catch them and put them in transport crates. My friend and I volunteered to release the now-large and wild raccoons, and so one day we went into the raccoon enclosure with all kinds of confidence that this would be easy. Just throw their favorite foods into a crate and wait for them to stroll in. Uh, no, that’s not what happened. We tried everything we could think of to get them into the crates, but the little monkeys had other ideas. After my clumsy attempts flailing around and getting beat by those slippery little goons, I was finally able to barely grab one’s neck scruff and toss him into a crate, at which time he let out a growl that sounded like an adult cougar! Yikes. I soon got better at a more peaceful transfer when I was able to grab a young raccoon by her torso from behind. She just went limp and let me do that – no growling, no squirming. It was as if she said, “Well, why didn’t you just do that to begin with?” I have since learned that the torso grab is the best way to handle raccoons, so a few years later when faced with the same task of catching young raccoons for release, it went much more smoothly. I did get a few growls, a bite on the glove, and some loose bladder spray that conveniently went into hubby Jeff’s direction, but we caught those raccoons quickly and drama-free. Holy cow.


At both release sites, we chose areas near streams with lots of trees for the raccoons to climb for safety. Both sets of raccoons that I released acted the same while facing newfound freedom. They initially did not want to leave their kennels. One bold one would finally step out and immediately climb the kennel door, showing us once again their impressive gravity-defying skills. The others would follow eventually, all climbing up, over, and around their kennels. That actually made for some great photo ops. Slowly but surely, the little group of siblings would amble off, all the while smelling, touching, and examining anything they could explore. It must have been a sensory overload for these orphans to finally get this chance to be reintroduced to nature. I loved the way they stuck together. The second released pair found a slick-bark birch tree to climb, and my release partner, Snowdon Board of Directors member Debbie, and I had several silent moments of laughter as they each fell out of that tree twice! But those little raccoon fingers soon learned how to master birch bark, and we left the youngsters with a stockpile of food to snack on before we slowly retreated away. May their little bandit skills serve them well in the wildlife! May the raccoons currently in the care of Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary enjoy a similar release experience in the near future. In other words, this story is to be continued.

Lunches With Luna

I fondly remember my “lunches with Luna” during the summer of 2014. Luna was a red fox who had been hit by a car and injured very badly. Her rear leg was broken, requiring surgery and hospitalization for an extended period of time. The leg bone did not heal correctly, and Luna was left with a limp and mistrust of humans who had caused such pain. When I met her, she was in the large chain link enclosure specially designed for foxes. The Snowdon Board of Directors, in conjunction with Idaho Fish & Game, had determined that Luna’s injury rendered her non-releasable to the wild. Accordingly, the Snowdon staff was instructed to encourage Luna’s socialization to human contact so that she could become an educational animal. Years earlier, Snowdon had an educational fox named Maizey, who was very friendly toward humans and regularly visited children’s classrooms. I saw her on many occasions out and about in town with Snowdon founder Linda DeEulis. They were a delightful pair! Remembering this, I didn’t give much thought to Luna following in her predecessor’s footsteps. I asked the interns if I and my friend could help socialize Luna during our weekly volunteer visits to Snowdon that summer. And thus we began a weekly routine of having our sack lunches with Luna in her enclosure.


At first, we just wanted Luna to be comfortable around us. She was not. Her nervous energy kept her panting and pacing back and forth as we calmly watched. We offered her food, which she suspiciously took from us before running off to bury it. As we learned her food favorites – cheeses, the meats from my friend’s sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, and dog treats – Luna came closer and closer, but never quite close enough for us to touch. The interns, who also spent many hours with Luna, showed us her play toys – stuffed animals, balls, and the always-popular stick with a feather on a string. She loved pouncing after the toys. Several times she even playfully grabbed my ponytail from the back, probably envisioning ambushing a bushy-tailed woodrat. I took this as a positive sign that she was getting more comfortable around us. But by the end of the summer, it was clear to everyone that Luna did not truly enjoy being around humans. You could just tell by the look on her face that she wanted a different life. Her nervousness and distrust were evident.


Everyone collectively made the decision that Luna would not become a classroom ambassador. It wasn’t fair to her to remain captive in a gravel environment surrounded by chain link. Besides, Snowdon’s mission is to “Rescue, Rehabilitate, and Release,” with a secondary emphasis on education. I fully supported the idea of a “soft release” for her. She had demonstrated hunting skills in her pen by snatching an occasional chipmunk or bird who had ventured too closely to snack on Luna’s food. And the girl could dig! She buried more food than a barrel of nut-hoarding squirrels. The plan was to transfer Luna to the 1-acre enclosure for a period of about six months, determine if she would be able to successfully hunt for her food despite the broken leg, and then if all went well, open the gate next spring and set her free. She could hang around the sanctuary for food if she pleased or wander off in her own direction.


I made sure to be there for her transfer into the 1-acre pen. It has a forest canopy of larch, lodgepole pine, and spruce, as well as a healthy understory of huckleberry bushes and ninebark. When Luna was released, she immediately ran off and disappeared into the bushes. Kelsey, one of Snowdon’s incredible interns, decided that Luna should have her favorite toy, a pink stuffed bunny. She ran and retrieved the bunny from Luna’s old cage and brought it to the new habitat. We all called for Luna. I don’t think any of us expected to see her. But amazingly, Luna appeared from the bushes and went straight to her pink bunny toy, which was lying in some long grass that had flattened out into a soft bed during the fall weather. She latched onto the bunny and rolled onto her back in that grass. Now, if you can just picture what a face of pure contentment might look like on a fox, Luna had it. It was the very first time I saw her relax and smile! She lolled around in the grass and looked at us with an expression that spoke of gratitude. We had never realized that the entire time she spent at our sanctuary, not to mention her long stint at the vet clinic, she was without grass. She had only known cold, hard steel, concrete, or gravel floors. What a huge oversight on our part! That day, Luna’s actions imprinted on us that we humans need to do better at providing rehabilitating animals a more natural environment. Without it, they may never thrive.


I think everyone expected to spend many more hours with Luna in her new habitat now that she was relaxed. I really wanted to see her begin to thrive. But Luna had her own plans. It wasn’t more than a few days later that the interns discovered Luna was gone. A quick inspection revealed that she had found the one spot in the enclosure that was vulnerable to digging under the fence. The vast majority of the enclosure has chain link fencing buried at the base of the vertical fencing to prevent digging. Except for that one tiny spot, literally no more than 5 inches wide… Luna had released herself! She deftly dug a small hole and slipped out. We all hoped beyond hope that we’d see her again, coming back for a visit or for food. It would be so great to know she was doing well on her own. But Luna needed to leave our presence to fully heal. She was never seen again. With her special skills and wild spirit, we can have no doubt she is living the good life.


April Showers Bring May Volunteers & Interns!

They came from the east. They came from the west. They met in McCall, Idaho, at Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary. Please welcome our two spring/summer interns, Shannon Blount and AnaVictoria Garcia Medina. Both are studying to become Wildlife Veterinarians with goals of working internationally and helping underserved communities. Both are highly motivated and inspirational, working tirelessly to prepare our facility for the arrival of orphaned and injured animals and caring for those already here. Additionally, they are learning to train two educational raptors, Merlin and Qa’ya (Great Horned Owl and Red-Tailed Hawk).


Shannon has worked with not-for-profits before. She has experience working with some wildlife and studied as a young adult at The Ohio State University. She has since come full circle, continuing her studies at Southeast Missouri State University. Shannon and her husband built a straw bale home, off-grid, for themselves and their two sons. No small feat! She has brought those incredible skills to Snowdon and has single-handedly repaired and rebuilt animal enclosures with their safety and welfare in mind.


AnaVictoria, also known as AV, has been a big animal lover since she was little. Currently, she is studying at the University of San Francisco. She is passionate about conservation and environmental justice. She has fostered a lot of animals. AV has taken on the challenge of organizing and redesigning the Snowdon clinic. It is a tiny space, and without knocking down any walls, she strives to make it feel roomier than it actually is.


Baby season is slightly delayed, perhaps due to the long winter, but soon these projects of theirs will pay off dearly for the little ones now starting to arrive. Thank you, Shannon and AV. We are excited to have you on board. May you have a wonderful time here at Snowdon. May you learn something new each day. May you teach me something new every day too.


Before Shannon and AV arrived, Snowdon was fortunate to have eighteen men and women from U.S. Courts, District of Idaho, volunteer to prepare our site for baby season and the arrival of our interns. Shannon and AV will never know what they missed. This working party of volunteers cleaned things no one in their right mind should ever have to touch! It was, at times, disgusting! They did it without balking or batting an eyelash. They removed organic matter and debris (a polite way to say, feces or poop), repaired entryways, moved fencing and fence lines, fixed screens, constructed platforms, filled holes, raked gravel, removed old, drenched hay, dragged tree branches, and passed crates and bins down from the loft in the barn, only to return some of those same items back up to the loft space once cleaned. They scrubbed, hosed, lifted, and hauled. They helped clean the intern cabin and more!


The day before their arrival, the sensation was a feeling of being overwhelmed. We would not be ready to take in animals without their assistance. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your energy, enthusiasm, perseverance, work ethic and efforts, and mind-blowing capabilities to achieve many of our goals in a single day! Actually, it wasn’t a single day. It was four incredible hours! My only regret was not getting to say goodbye to each of you and not capturing a group photo. Please allow me to thank you: Benjamin Biddulph, Carrie Christopher, Carrie Wade, Colton Esplin, Crystal Laleman, Emma Wilkins, Erica Langton, Gavin Zickefoose, Hailey Baker, Jason Hofstetter, Jen Duboise, Jeremy Hansen, John Godwin, Jonathan Skinner, Kim Neal, Kyle Peterson, Nate Hudson, and Selvi Mustafic.  Jessie Thompson-Kelley, thank you for organizing the event. Further thanks to our dedicated Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary team, board members, and supporters.

The things we do for love

The Things We Do For Love


The journey to Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary to become the new Wildlife Rehabilitator Manager was exciting, to say the least. Picture this… 10 months ago, leaving Vermont to work as a Registered Veterinary Technician at Big Bear Alpine Zoo and VCA Lakeside Animal Hospital in Big Bear Lake, California. Now, cut to… 3 weeks ago when roads up-and-down the mountain to Big Bear were closed due to the insane amount of snow being dumped… tons of snow… and more snow… and more. So much snow it was nearly impossible to throw it out of the way. Now picture 38 steep steps to climb to the front door. 38 steep steps to keep cleared of snow in order to pack the car to move to McCall, Idaho. Then, there were decks to clear to avoid collapse. The driveway. The unplowed roads. What does one do? They shovel… and shovel more… and more. Not only must one shovel out their home, but the job where they care for injured wildlife needs to be shoveled too… repeatedly… exhaustingly… painstakingly, because lives literally depended upon it… wild lives. Let us not forget that on top of shoveling, one had to pack, clean, and steam clean rugs because someone really wanted their security deposit back. The question over those two weeks of clearing snow and ice was… Will the landlords be able to make it for the walk-through, and will someone be able to leave on their moving day because, again, roads were closed, and only residents with proof of residency were allowed up and down the hill? Thankfully, when the day arrived to head out of town, roads were finally open to everyone.


The car is packed to the roof in every available space. The driver seat is erect, elbows snug to the body, and legs not any better. The seat position could not be moved back any further. Two large dogs shared breathing room only. And, literally, up to the very last moment when a decision had to be made, the question looming was… take scenic Highway 93 or go through Death Valley National Park? If ever there was a time to go, now is it. Annnnnnd… Death Valley it is! Made it there in time to appreciate the sunset at Zabriskie Point. Then, pitched the tent in the dark for the night. The dirt was hard as pavement, meaning stakes were nearly impossible to pound into the ground. Piling rocks was the go-to source that helped secure the tent in place. Winds packed a punch all night long, but we slept almost peacefully.


In the morning, the car was loaded once more. We proceeded to several scenic stops throughout the park, stretched our legs, admired the views, and marked a little territory here and there (two dogs, remember?). Do not fear. They did not desecrate anyplace where they were not allowed to go… and, as they say, have poop bags, will travel. They do say that… right? Anyway, here is the list of places we admired inside the park: Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level), The Devil’s Golf Course, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Artists Drive and Artists Palette. In a word, AMAZING!


After completing Death Valley, the next stop was Rhyolite Ghost Town to take in the Ruins, Tom Kelley’s Bottle House, Goldwell Open Air Museum, and a Cemetery. That night we chose to stay in a motel somewhere in Wells, Nevada. It was dark and snowing, and the mood to search for a place to camp was lost to the need for sleep.  From there, the next day, Snowdon or Bust! It is a MUST to photograph the Extraterrestrial Highway Sign along the way. It is unearthly.

Upon crossing over the bridge above Snake River in Twin Falls, Idaho one must stop to admire the view and recall Evel Knievel’s attempt to jump across the river on a rocket-propelled motorcycle, albeit not at that specific stopping point. He did not make it, but he lived to talk about it.


Lastly, McCall, Idaho… Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary. Upon arrival, the greeting was friendly and warm while demonstrating how life off-grid would work. Took the next day off to unpack and settle in and reflect on how much I love working with wildlife. The day after that, the winter intern, Bob, introduced the animals before heading to the roof, where we naturally cleared more snow and ice. Thank you, Jeff, for joining us! Two days later, it was back to shoveling more snow off the rooftop… but, truth be told, Bob was the muscle. Putty arms and zapped energy meant several breaks for this weary one to rest their head upon their shovel handle. Thank you, Bob! You ROCK! It would not have been completed without you.


Bob is leaving Snowdon in another week. He will be greatly missed. While the time working together was short, he is incredibly knowledgeable and fascinating to listen to. Wishing him nothing but pure joy and success on the next leg of his journey. He has accepted an exciting job opportunity where he will do incredible things for rivers and the environment. Cheers to you, Bob! We will see you down the road… or, down the river. Safely down the river.

Bird Brain

Bird Brain

by Sierra Pederson, February 2023

Before coming to Snowdon, I had yet to have the pleasure of working with ambassador raptors. Early in my tenure, the Board of Directors tasked me with the seemingly impossible job of retraining Merlin, the great horned owl. Our 14-year-old education bird had grown fond of his enclosure after an extended event hiatus during the sad times. Though Merlin was a challenge to win over (the topic of our first website blog), it only took about a month for us to start touring Valley County on a 30-presentation-long circuit. I continue to work with Merlin almost daily, and he has proven to be a very tolerant and stoic education bird once again.

            There is a steep and challenging learning curve to animal training. The key to working with any animal, or person for that matter, is patience and consistency. I had the pleasure of building on these skills with a local falconer, Isaac Pottenger, while training a non-releasable fledgling red-tailed hawk we received over the summer. This 3-month-old youngster flew into a truck near Council soon after leaving the nest. The altercation left him with two compound fractures in his right wing, which usually results in the need for euthanasia. Instead of immediately putting this bird down, the Board and I agreed to see if he had a curious and food-motivated disposition. Though life in captivity is a challenging transition for most adult wild animals, juveniles can often adapt to this new set of stimuli. Isaac told me the number one way to earn a bird’s trust was exposure, so I moved some pillows and my laptop into the loft of our raptor enclosure. A week after doing all my computer work in my new nook, I could feed this wild fledge by hand.

            Because we can’t tell our feathered friends we are only trying to help, we rely on our body language to communicate and earn their trust. If you are consistently calm during training sessions, they will associate you with the positive parts of their day. Once I started feeding the red-tail by hand, I began introducing him to the glove. Getting a bird to “step up” means you are asking them to perch on your arm, which is often unsteady, and to voluntarily exist within your space. It might seem like a small request, but it is a massive ask for a wild animal. The hawk was understandably hesitant at first. He was getting used to my company in his enclosure and took the time to shred the mice and quail bits I handed him. He no longer displayed stressed behaviors when I entered the enclosure. In fact, he started preening while I typed and would choose to perch as close to me as possible. It took me another week before he decided to hop onto my glove to take the food I was offering. I was shocked. I sat stock-still while he ripped the head off the mouse I had in my hand. I was 100% certain he would hop off the second the food was gone, but he chose to sit there and stare at me with no intention of moving away. I gave him another piece of food every few minutes to encourage this behavior. I eventually ran out of mice and chicken, but he still chose to stay on my glove. I hung out until his 1300 g grew heavy. Then, I turned my wrist and moved him toward one of his perches, gesturing for him to step off. He did what I asked of him but quickly moved closer to me, watching me curiously to see if I happened to have any food left. That was when I knew this hawk would make one heck of an ambassador.

            I sent Isaac a picture of my new buddy on the glove and asked if he could come out to the sanctuary to help me put jesses on him. The following week, we went through Snowdon’s falconry equipment and picked out anklets that would comfortably fit his legs and jesses that would be the proper length for a raptor his size. Thankfully, Isaac had a hood we could borrow that would cover the hawk’s eyes while we handled him. Isaac put the new bling (anklets and jesses) on our hawk while I held him against my chest. Though the red-tail wasn’t entirely sure of what we attached to his legs, he didn’t bother pulling at his jesses or picking at the anklets. For the next few weeks, he and I worked together every day. I always looked forward to training him because of our rapid progress. One week after stepping up, he started jumping down to me from the rafters. Soon he was jumping to the scale to weigh himself and allowing me to touch his feet and chest while on the glove. He won me over in the first week, but I was starting to think he was coming around to me as well.

            When I started working with this fledgling, I wasn’t sure if we would be keeping him. For this reason, I thought of him as a rehabilitation animal and wasn’t ready to give him a name. However, I started brainstorming once Isaac and I put jesses on him. I let Snowdon’s Board of Directors know I wanted to apply for a new education permit. Erin, the wife of Board member Jeff, immediately offered the name Qáya for our new ambassador. Qáya is the name for red-tailed hawk in Nimipuut’imt, The People’s Language (Nez Perce). The Nez Perce Tribe had hosted a feast for the entire town of McCall a few years back, giving the entire fund-raising proceeds to Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary. In addition, Snowdon’s founder built an enclosure over 20 years ago to house a pack of gray wolves that needed sanctuary in collaboration with the Nez Perce Tribe’s work to re-establish native wolves in Idaho. Snowdon wanted to recognize this partnership by naming our newest ambassador Qáya! Our crew fell in love with the name and decided we would give him the nickname Kai for short. Now that he had a name and I was working on his fifteen-page permit, I knew we were keeping him for good.

            We said very little to the public about Kai while we waited for federal approval. It was difficult for me, Macy, Alex, and Allison to keep him on the down low because we have had so much fun working with him. We are all excited to announce his addition to our ambassador team this month! Macy helped me train Kai throughout the fall and early winter. He spent most days in the house with us while we developed education programs, researched best animal care practices, and wrote new content for Snowdon’s website. We loved watching his overly elaborate preening rituals and unique behaviors. Over the summer, he continued to make rapid progress as we challenged him to learn novel behaviors. Soon he was jumping 4 feet up to the glove from the ground, running across the room to his “spot,” and returning to his perch, all with exclusively verbal commands. We were so proud of our favorite little murder bird!

            Anytime people would come out to the sanctuary to volunteer, drop off donations, or transport animals; I made sure they had the opportunity to meet Kai. I was so enamored with this bird that I needed other people to get to know him too. This also helped socialize him while I waited for permission to take him out for education programs. I finally scheduled Kai’s first-ever presentation for mid-February at McCall-Donnelly High School, and I couldn’t wait. I worked with Kai for seven months, hoping to take him to an event someday. I was ecstatic when his permit finally came through! As I expected, Kai performed wonderfully in the science classes at our local high school. He puffed out his feathers, preened, and tilted his head while checking out the students in the room. My heart soared while I answered the kids’ inquisitive and thoughtful questions. It took longer than I thought it would, but I finally got to present with Kai!

            The average red-tailed hawk will live 20+ years in captivity. Because Kai is not even a year old yet, he will give hundreds of presentations for Snowdon in his lifetime. Training this wild little guy into a curious and lovable ambassador was an absolute pleasure. Watching people light up when they see him is even better. I can only hope Kai’s story will inspire the people who meet him to be a little kinder to our wild neighbors. The human population in Valley County is multiplying, which has impacted Snowdon via an equally rapid increase in rehabilitation animal intakes. Unfortunately, more people in a predominantly rural area often leads to more human-wildlife conflict. Increasing our education efforts during this time of growth can mitigate many of these unintentional issues. I genuinely believe the best rehabilitation strategy is preventing animals from needing our intervention. As Snowdon continues to expand as an organization, I look forward to seeing the impact it can have on environmental stewardship in this area. We can all learn something about how to be better members of this beautiful Valley County ecosystem.


Kwaali, The Born-Again Squirrel

Kwaali, the Born-Again Squirrel

Sometimes animals just know best. Such was the case with a tree squirrel that had been hit by a car. Jeff and I were volunteering at Snowdon one day when we received a scratchy cell phone call from a guy who had scooped up an injured, unconscious squirrel and wrapped him in a towel. At least that’s what I thought he said. Cell phone coverage at Snowdon can be fleeting at times. Then the caller said he was speedily on his way to the sanctuary as we spoke, so it was lucky that Jeff and I happened to be on site to assess this squirrel. In my mind, a squirrel vs. a car does not usually end well for the squirrel. When Brent drove up, this was the scene: All the vehicle windows were open; there was a large panting black dog in the back seat; and there was a lively squirrel running back and forth across the top of the bench seat. Apparently, the squirrel came back to life during the drive! I couldn’t believe that the squirrel didn’t jump out the open windows or, for that matter, into the dog’s gaping mouth. This was when I began to chuckle.


When Jeff and I tried to capture the squirrel to assess its injuries, it demonstrated amazing skills at eluding capture inside the car. It ran over Brent, onto the steering wheel, across Brent’s arms, and back to the seat top. At one point, the little squirrel jumped straight onto the big dog’s head and clamped all four squirrel toes onto his doggie scalp, like a toupee! At Brent’s command, Elroy the dog froze, and the little squirrel ran down Elroy’s back to the other end of the vehicle.


OK, at this point I was having a hard time containing my laughter while trying my best to act professionally. Needless to say, everyone realized the squirrel wasn’t fatally injured, so laughing was also good stress relief. After several more clumsy attempts to capture this squirrel who was now flying around the back of the vehicle, Brent finally said he’d like to try the gentle approach.


Jeff and I backed off while Brent stretched his arm toward the squirrel. Then Brent began to sing. It was a gentle little song that he was making up as he went. Brent named the squirrel Kwaali at that moment. We couldn’t believe what happened next. The wide-eyed squirrel slowly walked up Brent’s arm and touched Brent’s face with his little squirrel nose. I am not making this up! Then Jeff made a quick grab and put Kwaali in a beer box (Pyramid IPA, I believe). We transferred him to a small kennel where we could get a good look at his injuries, noting one limp foot but use of the toes, and some scrapes on his face and jaw. This was one lucky squirrel.


We put together a nice bowl of food and water and brought Kwaali to one of the outdoor rehabilitation cages. We felt confident he would recover and be released soon. Snowdon takes in and successfully rehabilitates countless squirrels. Sometimes I think of Snowdon as a Youth Hostel for our young local squirrels. Just ask Sierra how many orphaned baby squirrels she has nurtured during her first year as manager!


At this point in my story, as we were transferring Kwaali from his beer box to the larger cage, he must have decided that the nearby bushes looked better than a cage. As Jeff grabbed the beer box for transfer, little Kwaali flew from the box and jumped onto my shoulder. He then launched squarely onto Jeff’s face and made a final bounce off into the bushes! My laughter just about brought me to my knees. Even Jeff and Brent were giggling now. Kwaali could not have chosen a better spot to release himself than the forested habitat of our wildlife sanctuary. He will have food and plenty of other squirrels for company! Go, Kwaali.


It Takes a Village

It Takes a village

by Macy Sonius,  December 20, 2022

My name is Macy, and I’m Snowdon’s one and only 2022 fall intern. While earning my undergraduate degree, I spent 8+ hours every other week volunteering to care for wolves and wolf dogs at a sanctuary near Fort Collins. After graduating with my B.S. in wildlife biology from Colorado State University, I accepted a position with USGS surveying Boreal toads in Rocky Mountain National Park. Though I enjoyed backpacking for a living and studying this unique endangered species, I wanted my next job to offer me more animal handling experience. When I found Snowdon’s post on Conservation Job Board, I wrote my cover letter and kept my fingers crossed. Thankfully, Sierra was impressed with my application, and our interview went great! I packed up my SUV to move outside of Colorado for the first time in my life, giddy with the prospect of rescuing wild animals. As my time at Snowdon is quickly coming to a close, I can confidently add animal handling, raptor training, primary veterinary care, and content creation to my resume. However, this internship has taught me so much beyond syringe feeding and wrapping broken wings.

            I arrived the first week of September to a frenzy of baby animals, weaned and restless, ready for release. Within two weeks of my arrival, the sanctuary buzz reduced to a quiet hum in the absence of skunks, foxes, a raccoon, a Swainson’s hawk, and a fawn. Despite our much lighter animal care load, we somehow got busier. With our open house event rapidly approaching, we hurried to make the property visitor ready. I weed-whacked until the blades dulled and painted our brand-new brushes down to stubs. Hundreds of hours of manual labor later, I took a step back to acknowledge the property looked incredible.

            On the big day, Sierra forced me out of my comfort zone and put me in charge of the education table. While maintaining the excitement and engagement for five hours was exhausting, I was shocked that it came naturally. Children and adults alike were interested in hearing about the skulls and pelts on display. Sometimes in the natural resource field, you forget what the general population considers “common knowledge.” Watching people’s faces light up with genuine curiosity while interacting with one of our artifacts made me realize how much people truly love animals. Visitors eagerly shared their critter stories with me in exchange for my impromptu wildlife lessons.

            While cleaning up after everyone left, Sierra and I struggled to comprehend how the day flew by so fast. I mulled over the thoughtful questions and good conversations and weighed each smile and curious look to find the event a massive success. Our month of chaos preparing the property and the twelve-hour workday was well worth it. Snowdon made valuable connections with the community of McCall that day, thanks to our hard work. The following weekend, I had the opportunity to engage with the community again at Oktoberfest. Once again, Sierra put me in charge of outreach. Much more confident this time, I actively engaged people as they walked by with their German beers in hand. Like at our open house, people were excited to learn about native species and support Snowdon’s mission. At this point, I had only been in Idaho for a month, and I already began recognizing faces among the renaissance dresses and suspenders. I started becoming part of this small town and its natural resource community.

            After a month of shadowing Sierra, I began answering the phone more and running errands independently. Everywhere I went, I was recognized and approached by people. One young girl saw me at the grocery store and asked how her friend Merlin was doing. A couple at the brewery sat at my table to inquire about the health of our newest cub. But, my most unique interaction was with an older gentleman at the auto shop. While I was picking up our work truck, he pulled off the highway to ask me for directions. When I asked why he wanted my advice, he told me he knew he could trust someone who worked for Snowdon. It quickly became apparent how well-known our organization is in Valley County.

            Rehab itself is complex and often emotionally exhausting, but these brief interactions showed me the positive impact we are making. Once our big fundraising events were behind us, Sierra and I began visiting schools to teach students about owls, bears, and animal adaptations. Together, we carved pumpkins for cubs with the after-school program, educated preschoolers at Roots about squirrel rehabilitation, and hosted sixty first-graders for a scavenger hunt at the sanctuary. All these programs ended up being controlled chaos, but man, we had the best time. Will the students specifically remember why black bear claws are more hooked than a grizzly’s or the details of a raptor’s diet? Of course not. But I could see in their little faces that we had successfully planted a seed. They will grow up and remember when a cub tore open their jack-o-lantern or how they used a compass to locate a “skunk” in our forest. These experiences could be what motivates them to protect their environment! We are creating future stewards of wildlife; in 10 or 15 years, they could be out in the field with me, working to conserve the same fragile ecosystems I’ve dedicated my career to protecting.

            Not only does Snowdon support the community, but the community also supports us. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on the public’s generosity to keep our doors open. These donations come in the form of monetary giving, animal transportation, and volunteer hours. Recently, we have established relationships with several generous vets and vet techs who offer us their expertise to increase the quality of care that all our animals receive. For example, Dr. Mark Drew drove from Boise to complete a critical surgery for a red-tailed hawk at no cost to our organization. Thanks to him, that hawk will live a long and happy life. Last month, Dr. Linda Donerkiel and Jaime Hill-Schriker removed our ambassador great-horned owl’s eye in the surgery suite at MCPAWS’s veterinary hospital. All parties involved donated their time and resources to help Merlin. What a testament to how much people care about our animal’s quality of life. I’m incredibly grateful for Dr. Donerkiel’s willingness to pick up the phone whenever we need her help. Occasionally, Sierra is unavailable when we receive a new intake (hard to believe, I know). Linda has driven to the sanctuary with very little notice more than once to help me with initial exams. Though we appreciate all of our volunteers, I wanted to extend a special thank you to our unpaid veterinary “staff.” These three individuals invested a large amount of money in their careers, yet they chose to volunteer with us because they care about our mission.

            Another incredible example of the community showing up to support us was the epic rescue of Murray, the bear cub. The full recount of this three-day adventure earned the front page in our holiday newsletter. So, for now, I will highlight the kindness our community showed us when we needed them the most. During our initial rescue attempt, it quickly became evident that we lacked the necessary vehicle to get us to Murray. On day one, a stranger offered his lifted truck and afternoon to transport us up the mountain. The second day, Idaho Fish and Game loaned us one of their work trucks and two sets of chains so we could try again. We were only able to make our last attempt because the people that reported the cub lent us their snowmobiles as rescue vehicles. It took a village to save this cub, and we couldn’t be more grateful for everyone’s help.

            So this is more of a story about people than animals; probably not what you expected. I am dedicating this blog to all of our supporters. Their ceaseless acts of generosity and gratitude surprise me daily. I arrived at Snowdon expecting to be isolated from the rest of McCall because of our “off-the-grid” location and irregular work schedule. Coming out of the backcountry at my last job, I expected to chat with the animals while I completed my daily to-do list. Instead, the way I have been able to interact with the public has been a wonderful surprise. I now realize I had no idea what I was getting into when I accepted this internship!

            While earning my undergrad, I learned how humanity had failed our environment. Our classes studied unsolved natural resource issues involving stakeholders whose hatred of the opposing side drove their biased arguments. Professors gave endless examples to drill mistakes made by society into our brains. This internship has given me a refreshing look at humanity. The majority of people want to defend animals and mitigate human-wildlife conflict. These community members are willing to share their time, money, and resources with our cause. As I continue my career as a wildlife biologist, I will take with me the practical skills from this job and the inspiring attitudes of the people who make rehab possible here at Snowdon.