Gill says her true calling is working with birds, particularly raptors (birds of prey), such as the owls, ospreys, eagles, hawks, and falcons who are native to the East End of Long Island.
There’s a pretty good chance you’re about to be inspired! Meet Jane Gill.
What’s the nature of your work with animals?
Most of it is spontaneous because the work I do involves rescuing. Generally, I’ll get a call or text that there’s an animal in a bad position–whether it’s a possum, a deer, a great horned owl, a hawk, a rabbit–that is either in a fence, down a hole, hit by a car or caught in a net. After I retrieve the animal, I have to get it into rehab as soon as possible–either to the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Center in Hampton Bays, or to Dr. Turetsky at the Veterinary Clinic of East Hampton.
How did this begin for you out here on the East End?
A little over sixteen years ago, I moved out to the East End full time to raise my daughter, Grace. That’s when I connected with the Wildlife Center–it’s the only wildlife hospital in our area. My single goal was to learn how to rescue, rehabilitate and release.
Once Grace was old enough, and I started having success as a broker, I was able to spend a little more time at the Wildlife Center. Initially I volunteered one day a week and learned to work with the raptors. We have six raptors now: three red-tailed hawks, two great-horned owls and one screech owl that are all non-releasable.
Yes. They’ve sustained injuries so that they can’t fly any longer. The screech owl has lost the sight in one eye; the other hawks are fully-flighted but can’t really fly too well. They can’t go back to the wild because they won’t be able to survive.
Thanks to our very generous donors, we’ve built a flight cage at the Wildlife Center that has six aviaries in the middle. It’s a wonderful home for them. We also bring these birds into the community and introduce them to kids, parents, visitors, and long-time residents; we take them to the schools, child care centers, community centers and we often bring them to events. The kids are always floored to discover that these animals live around here and that they’re actually indigenous to this area, living right alongside us.
What do you think led you to pursue this kind of work?
Growing up at the beach and spending every moment possible on the water–whether it was surfing, fishing, clamming, crabbing–I was always bringing something home, or I was creating ecosystems at home with crabs or horseshoe crabs or fish. I’d find a bird, a butterfly, a grasshopper–I always tried to rehabilitate it and then tried to let it go.
Then, when I was in my early 20’s, I met a woman, who was influential in creating areas for the piping plovers in Amagansett. I met her on the beach one day and I started to work with her. She had a garage filled with seagulls, gannets, mallards and every kind of waterfowl you could imagine. It was fascinating. I helped her and learned about how each species interacts with each other and with people.
Do you know what it is specifically about birds, that has attracted you?
I had a pediatrician I went to as a child–Doctor Layton. You’d walk into his waiting room, and he had like twenty birds–parrots, cockatoos, and I loved going there. It’s one of my fondest memories as a child. I could talk to all the birds, and they responded to me.
But, why birds of prey? Why raptors?
I don’t want to sound crazy; I’m afraid people will never buy another house from me. But I will tell you a story: I joined a friend who was going to a workshop with Dr. Brian Weiss, a psychiatrist and hypnotherapist who specializes in past-life regression and wrote Many Lives, Many Masters.
In doing this work, he discovered that people have these other lives, and when he actually documented them, they were absolutely accurate–names, where the person lived, what year it was, everything.
Anyway, my friend and I went into the Javitz Center with about 250 people to see Dr. Weiss. He led us through a meditation-like sequence. My friend had an unbelievable experience, and I had something like a dream where I was in Mongolia. I was a hunter; I was a man; I was on horseback and I was hunting with birds. I woke up crying; it was so intense. And then, I thought to myself, “Oh, my God–and in this lifetime I’m rescuing birds–it makes total sense.”
Now, that could have come from being in a sort of trance–I don’t know for sure. All I really know is that once I started working at the Wildlife Center, it was Nick Marzano who introduced me to birds of prey; I hadn’t had any introduction before that.
Nick taught me how to handle an owl and a red-tailed hawk–how to bond with them and how to work with them––and from the first time I held those birds, I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing; I just knew.
What do you think is needed out here to protect our raptors?
That’s such a big subject. We need to clean up the water; we need to regulate the pesticides being used on the farms and by the landscapers. These animals are indigenous to this area, and many of those pesticides we use–this is just my opinion–are breaking the natural cycle.
You don’t see so many turtles anymore; we see only eggs of songbirds. Other birds’ eggs break because they’re fragile from not getting the nutrients that should normally be in the soil. We have to find a better way to care for the land, whether it’s farming or residential. We have to find a better way to coexist, with each other and with our creatures.
Just think about the blowers the landscapers use: they disrupt and irritate everyone’s quiet, and they blow everything off the top of the soil. That’s at least two natural cycles being disturbed simultaneously. I really wish the town supervisors–Larry Cantwell and Jay Schneiderman–would address that.
And an even bigger problem comes from all the chemicals used by farmers. They’ve degraded our soil quality. It’s the soil in which we grow our plants and vegetables. It’s also “deadened” our East End ponds, streams and harbors; those ecosystems are not as dynamic as they once were.
There are way too many biocides finding their way into the water, that’s why we’re losing our horseshoe crabs. Go to the water where you used to see an abundance of blue claw crabs and horseshoe crabs. Now, they’re few and far between.
You sound very concerned. Is there more that homeowners and visitors can do to help mitigate this problem?
Be mindful. If you go over to Shelter Island, you’ll find a much denser crab population–in fact, more varieties of crabs. Why? Because Shelter Island has established a number of restrictions on pesticide and chemical use, so the amount actually being applied is far less, causing less damage to soil quality and their ecosystems. It’s interesting, but residents of Shelter Island have adapted, and they’ve learned to live with less-than-perfect lawns. That’s a tremendous help to the whole cycle. It helps the mice, the voles, the turtles–all the creatures raptors eat. Whatever disturbs their cycle makes it harder for them to behave the way they’re [naturally] supposed to.
There’s a simple way to look at this: if it harms the animals, it will harm us too. Cohabitating means we look out for each other.
Are there things you wish people would appreciate more about our wildlife?
We live in an idyllic, beautiful place, and we need to realize that there’s wildlife here–especially in the spring when everybody’s going kind of nuts with their gardens and lawns. The turkey are having babies and the songbirds, too, and also the rabbits.
Again, we cohabitate; they live with us and we have to be willing to look out for them. We live in paradise, and we’re blessed with these extraordinary animals, and—look at that bird on the fence out there. Turn around. By the pool, see him? See how big he is?
Would you be willing to share your favorite place to see wildlife on the East End–besides your backyard, of course?
I’m afraid to say because I don’t want to give that up, but–Hook Pond in East Hampton is phenomenal; the Walking Dunes up on the north side of Napeague. And Dune Road in East Quogue, that’s where I see the greatest selection of bipeds–birds.
Gill’s suggested wildlife links and books:
- Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Center: wildliferescuecenter.org
- Jane Goodall Institute: janegoodall.org
- South Fork natural History Museum: sofo.org
- Seeds of Hope, by Jane Goodall
- Wildlife In America, by Peter Matthiessen
- H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald