By Josh P. Crotzer
As a young woman, Lori Barba once prayed for birds to descend upon her. She thought, in that moment, that promising to keep it a secret might help make it happen. No birds came to her then, but they certainly come to her now.
Barba operates Ascending Bird Sanctuary in Plum Branch, a rehabilitation habitat for injured and orphaned songbirds. The sanctuary is one of only two in the state licensed to take in the federally protected birds.
“I believe God answered my heart,” says Barba, a member of Little River Electric Cooperative. “It’s as if God said, ‘Not only will birds land on you. You have to tell people about it.’”
Barba receives multiple calls per day—many directed to her by the South Carolina Department of National Resources and other wildlife rescue organizations— from people who have found baby cardinals separated from their mother, or a Carolina wren poisoned by lawn care chemicals, or a blue jay injured after crashing into a window. She’ll instruct them through proper steps (see sidebar) and, if the situation is life-threatening, encourage them to drive to McCormick County.
During nesting season, which runs from April until September, hundreds of baby birds come into rehab. It’s an intensive and expensive mission. Feedings are every 30 minutes and costs run as much as $700 per week for Ascending Bird Sanctuary, which Barba says depends upon “fly by” donations. On average, the nonprofit sanctuary takes in more than 300 birds per year.
“This is truly a labor of love from the ground up, full of heart and spirit,” she says. “We will find our wings to mend and ascend these beautiful creatures.”
Currently, most of the avian care occurs at Barba’s home, but for the past two years she and her family have been renovating a 5,000 square-foot barn to serve as an aviary. The facility, which is a part of a 103-acre property off Augusta Road in Plum Branch, will eventually house an education center, lodging for volunteers and native habitats and gardens for the birds as they transition back into the wild.
“We’ve got everything needed for the habitat for any kind of bird that comes to us,” says Barba.
Barba hopes the sanctuary is eventually a centerpiece of a community nature and recreation center.
“The beautiful thing about McCormick County is that it’s not touristy,” says Barba. “It’s plain, wild nature and people come here for that. It will definitely bring a point of interest to Plum Branch.”
Protecting and rescuing songbirds
Lori Barba, a federally licensed songbird rehabilitator, says most of the injuries suffered by songbirds are human-caused. Homeowners can prevent harm to songbirds by:
- Keeping cats indoors
- Not using outdoor chemicals toxic to wildlife
- Placing decals on windows
- Cleaning birdfeeders
- Leaving nests alone
If you find an injured bird or “orphaned” baby bird, do not give it food or water. Call Ascending Bird Sanctuary at (864) 980-6638 or Carolina Wildlife Center at (803) 772-3994 for guidance.