Athol Bird and Nature Club asking for help for raptor rehabilitator

By GREG VINE

For the Recorder

Published: 04-18-2022 5:58 PM

ATHOL — Members of the Athol Bird and Nature Club do more than watch birds in the wild. Sometimes, they rescue them. Club President David Small said he sends about a half-dozen birds to the Birds of Prey Rehabilitation Center in Conway each year.

Now, Small said, the man who helps the birds — Tom Ricardi — needs some help upgrading the facility where a wide variety of raptors receive the care they need to eventually be released back into the wild. The club is urging residents to send a tax-deductible donation to the facility to help him continue his work.

“Tom is a great guy,” Small said. “I’ve known him quite a long time. Birds come to him from all over the state, including here in Athol and North Quabbin. He gives a lot of time doing a lot of good work. I once sent him a Cooper’s hawk that got trapped inside a warehouse.”

Ricardi said his love of wildlife — birds, especially — dates back to when he was a child.

“My whole life, my whole career, has been with wildlife,” Ricardi recounted. “I retired after 38 years with the Massachusetts Environmental Police — back then it was called a game warden. During that period of time I rescued a lot of different critters. But my fascination has always been with birds of prey.

“I’ve been in Conway since 1969, and I was doing this even before then. But it’s gotten to the point now where, believe me, it’s not a hobby — it’s a full-time job,” he continued. “I’ve got about 50 birds here right now, as we speak. Every day I get calls on injured hawks, owls, eagles and vultures. And I try to get out on each one of those calls.”

Ricardi added that he’s received a great deal of help from the South Deerfield Veterinary Clinic over the years. The clinic, he said, never charges for the work it does on behalf of him and the birds.

Asked if he receives any volunteer help at the facility, Ricardi said, “If I’ve got a project like I’m doing right now, then yes, definitely. But as far as taking care of the birds, I do about 90% of it myself. As far as the 50 birds, that number will change as the year goes on because I’m releasing birds and I’m bringing birds in. So, there’s always at least 40, 50, 60 birds here.

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“I’d say about 75% of the birds here right now are just about ready for release,” he continued. “I’m going to give them a good chance at life and hold them until the weather is really good, then I’ll start releasing.”

Ricardi said there are certain raptors that are at his facility more often than others.

“Red tails are probably the most common,” he explained, “but barred owls and red tails — I see a lot of those particular birds. The barred owls and the red tails, they love to hunt along the highways — Route 2, (Interstate) 91, the Mass Pike — and they’re the ones that get hit an awful lot. So, those are probably the two primary birds I pick up. Probably the great horned owl is the third.”

Ricardi said any contributions he receives will be used for more than the repair of his Conway facility.

“Not only is the facility in need of a lot of repairs,” he said, “but food is a big problem. You know, the prices of everything is skyrocketing. I’m having some trouble feeding the birds as far as getting the proper diet for them. A lot of it comes out of my own pocket.”

Feeding the birds, who are carnivores, isn’t as simple as swinging by the grocery store to pick up some meat.

“It has to be close to their natural diet,” he explained. “In other words, mice, quail, pigeon, stuff like that.”

“A lot of local folks have enjoyed the many presentations Tom gives annually at the Athol Historical Society, local schools and many other locations through the years,” Small said.

In fact, Ricardi said he has some local programs coming up in the near future.

On May 6, he and his birds will be at the former Warwick Community School for a program that begins at 2 p.m. On June 4, Ricardi will be outdoors on Royalston’s town common at 10 a.m. And at noon, July 10, he will appear at the New Salem Historical Society, 40 Elm St.

Ricardi does not have a website or Facebook page, so donations in the form of a check or money order should be sent to the Birds of Prey Rehabilitation Center, P.O. Box 26, Conway, MA 01341. The facility is a nonprofit and contributions are tax-deductible.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.

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