By Stephanie Malench
MARYVILLE — TreeHouse Wildlife Center in Dow, IL (just north of Grafton) is an important resource for area residents who encounter injured wildlife.
The concept of TreeHouse had its beginnings in 1972 when Dr. Richard H. Evans and Adele Moore rescued an injured adult cottontail rabbit from the middle of Milton Rd in Alton. Evans had not yet begun his veterinary studies yet, so they took the rabbit to a local vet, Dr. Reed. Wildlife medicine was not taught at the time, but Dr. Reed was able to treat the rabbit well enough that it was able to go back home with Evans and Moore until it could be safely released back into the wild.
Evans then spearheaded creation of the first wildlife ward at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 1977. The couple moved back to Brighton after Evans’ graduation with a rough-legged hawk and several orphaned raccoons and squirrels and named their backyard rescue TreeHouse after the first nest box for orphaned raccoons was made from Moore’s nephew’s old treehouse. By 1980, the rescue was officially recognized as a 501c3 charitable organization.
TreeHouse now sits on nearly nine acres in Dow, Illinois and is the only licensed rescue and rehabilitation facility south of Springfield for all native wildlife except songbirds, raccoons, skunks, bats, and adult deer. The center relies on volunteers to help transport injured animals to the clinic, answering the phones, cleaning enclosures, preparing food and eating, keeping the hospital area clean, giving tours or greeting visitors, giving educational talks, and more.
TreeHouse does not receive any state or federal funding and relies exclusively on donations. Grants are a major source of funding, with Phillips 66 being not only one of their largest grantors of money, but providing 30-40 workers for volunteer work days at least once a year. Hawthorne Animal Hospital and Dr. Lindsay Trickel not only volunteer their time and facility to care for the injured animals that come into TreeHouse but have set up a special Angel Fund that collects donations for both injured wildlife and K9 officers.
In 2022, TreeHouse rescued, cleaned, and released over 100 animals from the Marathon oil spill along Cahokia Creek in Edwardsville, including beavers, ducks, and more. The ducks were relocated to Watershed Park nearby which did not have any damage. After developing expertise in oil spill rehab, TreeHouse volunteer Jeff Easley was asked to help with rescuing wildlife in Washington, Kansas after the Keystone pipeline ruptured and leaked 500,000 gallons of oil, impacting over 15,000 birds, animals, and other wildlife.
Education is one of the most critical services TreeHouse provides. By attending public events and bringing one of their resident animals with them to events, TreeHouse can talk to people about why wild animals should not be pets, what to do if you find an injured wild animal and get people comfortable being up close to wildlife. Guests are also welcome to tour the center Friday through Monday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
On Feb. 4, TreeHouse Animal Curator Kerry Lennartz gave a presentation at the Maryville Community Center as part of the Discovery Series. Lennartz brought several of their permanent residents for the public to meet. Injured animals become permanent residents when they have become injured in a way that they can no longer defend or care for themselves.
Victor is a barred owl who lived with a human who raised him from a hatchling and tried to release him. Birds imprint on whatever raised them, so Victor thinks he is a human. When he was released. He got into a fight with another owl and lost his eye. Another volunteer, Jeff Easley rescued Victor and took him to TreeHouse. Because he thinks he is a human, Victor becomes agitated when another barred owl comes into the facility as a patient. Myths of barred owls is that they can turn their heads 360 degrees when in reality, they can only turn it 270 degrees; they are not as smart as daytime birds of prey because each eye weighs 1/3 of the total weight of their skull. Their ears are asymmetrical holes so they can hear all around them. Victor can fly around 30 miles per hour. Barred owls are very chatty.
Billy is another bird that thinks he is a human. He is an American Kestrel (small falcon) that a family found in a creek and tried to raise. When they realized that was a bad idea, they sent him to a parrot rescue where he only spent a couple weeks before being transferred to TreeHouse. American Kestrels are the only birds of prey that their sex can be identified by their markings (females have blue under their wings) instead of by a urine test. They can fly up to 40 miles per hour. Both birds are tethered to perches, so they do not try to fly away.
The majority of birds that are brought into TreeHouse have been hit by a car because they eat prey that is close to or in the road at night when they are hard to see.
Hazel the hognose snake with yellow scales on her back and a soft white belly is an endangered species. Reptiles like humans for their warmth. She hunts by flicking her tail until a rodent latches onto her tail thinking it is a worm and she slams it on a rock to kill and eat.
Here are some key facts about wildlife in Southern Illinois and what to do if you spot an injured animal.
Call (618)466-2990 to request help with picking up an injured animal or to arrange for drop off. Regular hours are 9 am to 6 pm daily. Do not leave a message on their Facebook page.
Put the animal in a quiet, dark box to keep it safe during transport.
Birds must be transported upright to keep their blood flowing. Injured bird of prey babies start coming in during March.
If you find an injured songbird, call Wildbird Rehabilitation at 9624 Midland Blvd in Overland at (314426-6400. They have a 24 hour drop box for injured animals.
A momma deer that needs help for her baby will walk up to a human and take you to her baby to get help. Last year, TreeHouse took in 15 fawns and released them back to the wild. Fawns are only accepted May through September.
Opossums are marsupials that transport their babies in their pouch for the first two months. If you see a dead opossum in the road and it is safe, pull over and flip it over on its back (if it was not dead it would have run off by this point) and look for babies. If there are babies, place them in a box with a towel and contact TreeHouse immediately if you cannot take them to the center yourself. Keep latex gloves and supplies in your car at all times if this is something you are comfortable doing. Opossums are very important to the ecosystem because they are immune to rabies and venom and eat ticks and mosquitos.
If you see a baby squirrel on the ground, leave it there. The mom knows how many babies she has (unlike opossums) and will come retrieve it. It is common for squirrel babies to fall out of their nests because their eyes closed until they are five to six weeks old.
TreeHouse will answer questions from anywhere in the United States and can connect callers to a trained rehabber nearby.
In 2023, TreeHouse helped 1400 patients. If you would like to help TreeHouse, you can find their volunteer application and wish list for donations at https://www.treehousewildlifecenter.com/.