Steamboat Springs At 11 a.m., it's feeding time at the Bye household, and four of the newest arrivals obviously are hungry.
Tracy Bye on Tuesday opened a kennel and removed a bowl lined with paper towels. Inside were four baby robins that began chirping and reaching their necks toward the ceiling in anticipation of a meal. Using an eyedropper, Bye fed each of the chicks a formula that will nourish them until they are able to eat worms. She does this throughout the day.
“If I’m home, every hour,” Bye said. “As often as I can.”
This summer, Bye is celebrating the 20th year of her nonprofit organization, the Born Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. She operates the center out of the “intensive care unit” in her garage and several fenced-in barns and structures on her property south of Steamboat Springs. She is keeping the robins inside her home.
Bye is licensed at the state and federal levels. Working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife throughout the years, she has cared for the smallest, biggest and most exotic animals.
“Everything from baby deer mice to moose, from baby bluebirds to eagles,” Bye said.
During the first years of the organization, Bye would take in 25 to 30 animals annually. Now, she takes in more than 100.
“Every year, all of them touch your life or teach you a lesson in some way,” Bye said.
In addition to the robins, Bye currently is rehabilitating several other animals, including two fawns that need care because humans intervened when they should not have. One of the fawns was found in a person’s car. Another human thought the fawn was abandoned, but it was not.
“You should never pick up a fawn unless it has an obvious broken leg, is caught in a fence or Mom is dead on the side of the road,” Bye said.
And while raccoons might not be the most beloved animals, Bye likes them and is taking care of four that were abandoned.
She also has a raven with an injured wing and two great horned owls. The adult owl injured its wing after being hit by a car in Oak Creek Canyon. The juvenile was found abandoned in a shed near Hayden.
A ranger at Steamboat Lake State Park found a nearly hairless baby chipmunk that Bye has been caring for since July 10. Finally, there is a rock squirrel that was found dehydrated five weeks ago in Leadville. To Bye and her two sons, Garrett and Dan, the squirrel is known as J.R.
Bye, whose full-time job is as a math and science teacher at Steamboat Springs Middle School, does not get paid for her work with the rehabilitation center, where the goal every year is to have a high rate of releasing animals back into the wild.
“A lot of times, it’s sad because you’ve bottle fed them for months, but it's a happy sad,” Bye said. “They were born free, so they need to live free.”
Parks and Wildlife District Wildlife Manager Mike Middleton said Bye is passionate about the work and the animals. Middleton said that if Bye’s rehabilitation were not available, wildlife officials oftentimes simply would have to let nature take its course when it comes to injured or abandoned animals. Most of the time, Parks and Wildlife does not have the facilities or time to take in the animals, Middleton said, and it is nice to have the resource available locally.
Although local veterinarians — particularly Lee Meyring — have volunteered their time to help Bye care for the animals throughout the years, her nonprofit has to pay for things like medications and feed. Bye said there has been only one year when she did not need to contribute her family’s money to the organization. Grants and donations have helped keep the nonprofit running, and interested donors can visit www.bornfreerehab.org. The organization also has a Facebook page.
Bye also is helping raise funds for animals impacted by the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs. She is leading an effort to find vet supplies and 25 large, round bales of good hay to take to the veterinary hospital in the community. To donate hay or money, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 970-879-3747.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com
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