Birds in Flight looking for a new nest

Sanctuary planned for Vienna

Birds in Flight sanctuary owner Heather Merritt with a 10-year- old screech owl that was nursed back to health after being hit by a semi-trailer truck. Photo by R. Michael Semple

VIENNA — As Birds in Flight Sanctuary grows, it is looking to make a nest in the township.

The sanctuary hosted an open house Wednesday to raise the $225,000 needed to purchase a new 63-acre property. So far, it has raised about $56,000. The larger property would benefit the sanctuary and is located just off King Graves Road on Henn Hyde Road.

“We care for more than just birds; we care for all wildlife and right now, everything is being done on about a half acre of land,” said Heather Merritt, who runs Birds in Flight out of her backyard in Howland. “Right now, we are rehabbing about 350 animals.”

Merritt began caring for birds in 1991, when her neighbor brought her a great horned owl. She now cares for animals from more than 30 counties.

“I believe last year we brought in around 4,500 animals,” said Merritt. “Animals come in constantly.”

Merritt has until July 15 to purchase the property and plans to build a parking lot, wildlife museum, educational facility, a complete rehabilitation facility and homes for the staff.

“We don’t feel comfortable leaving our animals alone without quick access to them,” said Merrit’s son, Cameron. “It’s a 24/7 job. We need to be on site immediately in case of an emergency.”

The whole project will cost between $3 million and $5 million.

“We know it’s going to be years before this project is completed,” Merritt said. “It took years to get it to where it’s at, what’s another five to 10?”

Representatives from FirstEnergy came out to present a $1,500 check to help Birds in Flight purchase the land as a thank you for the work they do with the company.

“We work together a lot to keep birds, especially osprey, safe from the electrical wires,” said Chris Eck, senior communications representative for FirstEnergy. “Our foundation is committed to support groups and organizations like this for making the community a better place to live and work.”

Despite the quick turnaround, Merritt is confident they will meet the July 15 deadline as they have helped enough people who would rally behind them.

“We’re going to make it,” Merritt said.