Healing Center: Born Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Center brings injured wildlife back to nature

The smile on Tracy Bay’s face tells the story as she shoots a baby bald eagle with Nick Metzler on Saturday, March 9, 2022 west of Steamboat Springs.
John F Russell / Steamboat Pilot Today

With the sound of the flowing water of the Yampa River filling the air, Tracy Bay opened the door of one of the tankers and smiled as she watched the golden eagle leap outside. The eagle paused for a moment before taking off into the blue sky of Yampa Valley.

Moments like this are nothing new on eBay.

She’s seen them countless times since the Born Free Wildlife Rehab Center opened in Steamboat Springs 30 years ago this spring. She estimates that the rehabilitation center has cared for more than 5,000 injured animals.



“I am just so grateful to be able to be in their presence and help them heal,” Bey said. “When you release them back into the wilderness—for there is only gratitude that accompanies it—I can either cry (tears of joy) or smile. When people are around, I always smile.”

The sick list includes a wide variety of animals, from chipmunks and porcupines to deer and elk.



Bay said the idea to open a wildlife rehabilitation center came from Jim Hicks, an employee of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, who often visited her classroom before retiring in 1996. After one visit, Bay asked what it would take to open a center. Bai’s house was located on seven acres, so you fulfilled the first condition, and you will learn the rest.

A golden eagle flies over the Yampa River shortly after being released near Craig by Tracy Bay, who ran the Born Free Wiildlife Rehabilitation Center near Steamboat Springs for three decades. } John F Russell / Steamboat Pilot Today

“We have a lot of injured animals handed over to us, and we’re going to take them to the vet, but then we needed someone to take care of them after that,” said Hicks, who brought an injured hawk to Bay soon after. She expressed interest. “I helped her a lot when she started and took a lot of animals for her.”

In the past 30 years, Born Free has become a part of Bye’s life, and she appreciates the experiences that came with the center.

She said goodbye to the animals she was caring for: “Every year there was a special event.” “Usually, that’s what my stories write about.”

Tracy Bay, who has run the Born Free Wildlife Reification Center near Steamboat Springs for three decades, watched a golden eagle fly from the banks of the Yampa River near Craig last week. The bird was one of two that helped Bai to the rescue, releasing him back into the wild.
John F Russell / Steamboat Pilot Today

She remembers getting a baby beaver, named Paul, one summer who didn’t eat. Her son Garrett intervenes and will not abandon the little animal. He started feeding the creature bananas.

“Garrett spent hours with that beaver trying to get him to eat, and eventually he started eating,” Bay said. “We released him into the Flat Tops wilderness in this pond where we’ve seen beavers before.”

Bullseye returned to the wild, and the recovery was deemed successful. A year later, Bay and her son returned to the pond curious to see how Paulsey would fit into his new neighborhood.

“All the other beavers left because we walked into the water,” he said goodbye. “Garrett had bananas…then Paul came swimming towards us, and we didn’t touch him or anything, we just talk to him. Then Garrett put the bananas on the water’s edge, and she (Paulsey) still loves it.”

It’s experiences like this that make Bye come back year after year, facing the challenges that come with running a wildlife rehabilitation center.

Last weekend I shot a bald eagle just west of Steamboat Springs that broke its pelvis in what I expected to be a hard landing. The other was a golden eagle that was found in a poor condition of bird pox.

Both birds were taken to Birds of Prey in Broomfield shortly after they were rescued and spent months recovering.

“When I started, we had no vultures at all — maybe one every three years or something,” he said goodbye. “Now, it’s like 20 vultures a year or something. It’s not every year, but the numbers are going up.”

Goodbye It’s no surprise that the number of birds of prey you see continues to rise. More people in the area means more bird-car crashes.

Also, a federal law in 1991 prohibited hunters from using lead ammunition when hunting waterfowl, but Bay said wildlife experts still require large game hunters, who can still use lead ammunition, to bury gut piles in the hope that raptors will do that. Stop feeding on those leftovers and consuming the tiny bullet fragments left over after shooting an animal.

A baby bald eagle is in flight after being released west of Steamboat Springs on Saturday. March 9, 2022.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot and Today.

“I’m not slowing down,” Bai said. “I would say that as more people move into the area, the more animals are infected.”

Fortunately, Bye has a full crew of volunteers and doesn’t need any more. She said it’s still sometimes difficult to balance her paying jobs with the requirements of running a rehab center, but she wouldn’t get it any other way.