By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — What do two baby possums, a 40-pound beaver and a newborn pigeon named Daphne have in common? They've all been treated by the Wild Bird Fund's wildlife rehabilitators.
For the past several years, the non-profit animal rescue group has operated out of Animal General hospital on Columbus Avenue, but soon the Wild Bird Fund will move into its own space — a storefront across the street from Animal General at 565 Columbus Ave., near West 87th Street.
When it opens this fall after a renovation, the Wild Bird Fund's new facility will be the city's first wildlife rehabilitation and education center, said Rita McMahon, the fund's co-executive director.
Both McMahon and Karen Heidgerd, a veterinary surgical nurse and the other director, hold federal wildlife rehabilitation licenses, credentials that come in handy more often than one might think in New York City's urban environment.
The city is home to a rich array of wildlife, said McMahon — from Riverside Park's red-tailed hawk family, to coyotes who wander into Central Park, to the two baby possums who were rescued from a Bronx lumberyard.
When those critters run into trouble, it's the Wild Bird Fund that steps in to nurse them back to health so they can be released into the wild again. Animals usually get sick or injured because of human interference, McMahon said.
"We cause their distress, so morally, ethically, we should be doing something (to help them)," McMahon said. "We better be honoring our environment and wildlife, or else we ourselves will perish."
The new center will also educate the public about the city's animal population. The facility will include a theater where people can watch the animals while they're being rehabilitated.
The Wild Bird Fund signed a 10-year lease on its new storefront, but before it can open the space needs a major overhaul that will cost at least $300,000, McMahon said.
The Wild Bird Fund is holding a fundraiser on Sat. June 18 at the Boat Basin Cafe near the West 79th Street Boat Basin in Riverside Park. Tickets are $20 for the event, where the public can rub elbows with a falcon, and hawk and Daphne the baby pigeon. There's also a raffle and auction.