Avian Haven celebrates 20 years of caring for orphaned, sick or injured birds this year, with the continuing goal of releasing birds back into the wild.

In the time since co-founders Marc Payne and Diane Winn incorporated the company in 1999, the organization's caseload has increased from 300 to about 3,000 birds, making Avian Haven one of the largest bird rehabilitation facilities in New England.

Winn said admissions vary "tremendously" with time of year.

"I think our record for a single day in the summer is 40 birds, with 20 to 30 fairly typical," she said.

In the first week of August this year, she said there were 128 admissions, compared with only 16 in the first week of February. The total number of admissions for  the 2018 calendar year was 2,900 and Winn said she expects somewhere around 3,000 will be the 2019 total.

According to The Republican Journal archives, Payne and Winn met at a 1998 conference of ReMaine Wild, an organization of wildlife rehabilitators. Payne was there to lead a cage-building workshop, and Winn to learn more about bird rehab.

Before attending the conference, Winn already had built two songbird flight cages on her 26-acre property and treated 30 birds that year in her spare time from Colby College in Waterville, where she taught psychology for 31 years.

As Payne recalls, Winn said, "Let's open a center."

He promptly took a vacation from his 10-year job as a bird rehabilitator for The Raptor Trust in his native New Jersey and visited Waldo County.

In January 1999, he made the move for good. By the end of the year, Avian Haven was incorporated as a nonprofit, had added a 40-foot-long flight cage and treated 305 birds of more than 50 species.

At present, the North Palermo Road facility has four full-time, year-round employees, and several part-time or seasonal employees. Additionally, there are eight to 10 volunteers, some of whom are year-round, with others seasonal. According to the Avian Haven website, volunteer transporters play an especially valuable role by ensuring orphaned or injured birds can get to the center when rescuers cannot bring them.

Avian Haven is run almost entirely on donations and grants, Winn said, with a small percentage of its annual income derived from other sources such as honorariums.

Almost every year they put up a new building, Winn said, and currently, 17 make up the campus, with some comprising multiple habitats.

"In the next couple of years," she said, "we’ll be expanding our campus to property we own on the other side of the North Palermo Road from our present location.  We have dubbed one of the structures envisioned there 'Waterfowl Manor' — a facility dedicated to Canada geese and ducks of any species."

Winn said every day is different and, to some extent, unpredictable, with seasonal variations.

For example, she said, from June through August, "it's a sure thing we will admit nestlings."  But beyond that, the staff never knows what kinds of birds will be coming or where they will be coming from.

The most frequently admitted species typically include American robin, mourning dove, herring gull, eastern phoebe and American crow.

"These birds have in common that they nest in proximity to people, so when the youngsters run into difficulty, there is often a nearby human," Winn said.

The organization's 2018 year-end report showed herring gulls as top place for admissions with 216 birds. Next in line were American robin (188), mourning dove (145), eastern phoebe (142), barred owl (129) and American crow (122).

In addition to the 129 barred owls, raptor admissions (birds that hunt and feed on other animals) included 73 broad-winged hawks, 19 bald eagles, 17 American kestrels, 15 great horned owls, and 15 red-tailed hawks.

Winn said there are a few permanent residents at the center that are held under rehabilitation permit as surrogate parents for orphaned nestlings, including a great horned owl and two barred owls.

"But we do not have birds that can be taken out on programs or put on display to the public," she said. "Our mission is rehabilitation, not conservation education."

"When Marc and I founded Avian Haven in 1999, we envisioned a small 'mom and pop' rehab practice," Winn said. "It didn’t work out that way, and it sometimes seems as if AH has a life of its own, with Marc and myself just along for the ride!

"Public support has been tremendous," she added, "enabling us to maintain a high-quality, state-of-the-art practice despite the increased expenses that have gone hand-in-hand with increases in caseload."

Visit avianhaven.org or call 382-6761, to find out how to support the center.