Remembering Martha, the loyal Bird Rescue Center volunteer

For 32 years, Martha Bentley was a charismatic leader and tireless volunteer at the Bird Rescue Center in Santa Rosa. She helped found the center in 1976 and subsequently worked with Sonoma County to secure the building that currently houses the center.

Martha passed away this May at the age of 89, never retiring from her work to rescue and rehabilitate birds, educate the public about wildlife, and help people grow in their capabilities.

As volunteers at Bird Rescue, we were mentored and coached by Martha. "Take a look at this," she said as she lifted the cover off a basket to reveal a special creature such as a loon in breeding plumage or a hummingbird as tiny as a fingernail yet neatly perching and waiting to be fed.

She shared treasures when she pointed out the iridescent deep green spotted loon's back and baby barn owls that looked like fluffy white life-forms with big eyes. Martha charmed new volunteers with her enthusiasm and energy, as she taught the beauty and amazement of birds.

Many know Martha from her work managing the hundreds of phone calls that came into Bird Rescue. The hot line was active seven days a week from morning until night. Martha worked with some regular phone volunteers, but covered many of the calls herself. Volunteers consulted her with their difficult calls: a sparrow was flying around a large grocery store, someone hosed 65 baby swallows out of their mud nests, a young green heron was walking in a parking lot underneath its nest 30 feet up a tree. Martha relied on a group of dedicated people all over the county to transport birds from as far away as Cazadero and Dillon Beach.

It wasn't just the birds that Martha rescued. When people called the center to do court-ordered community service, Martha found a place for them to volunteer. Whatever the reason for working at Bird Rescue, people enjoyed being with Martha. Her respectful approach got us to do things we didn't know we could do.

One evening Martha got a call and had to leave the center to pick up an injured raptor. At the time, we were working in rehab caring for baby birds. Because of their unique rehab requirements, Martha personally cared for all hummingbirds that were brought to the center.

Commonly during the hummingbird breeding season, Martha had one or more with her at all times -- feeding them every 20 minutes. That evening, Martha asked us if we could care for three baby hummingbirds while she was gone. She showed us how to mix the food and use the special feeding technique. Then she left us. We were uncertain about our abilities but rose to the occasion with Martha's confidence and training. The baby hummers were fine.

On her 80th birthday, Martha picked up an injured golden eagle that the rescuer had carefully placed in a box. As Martha was driving back to the center, the bird revived and got loose in her car. While the frightened golden eagle flew around the car, Martha quickly pulled off the road and, unfortunately, hit a tree. Witnesses of the accident saw a 5-foot-2 white-haired woman jump out of the car and exclaim, "We have to get the eagle back in the box!" A bystander helped secure the eagle. Only then did Martha check the damage to her car.

With her focus, compassion to all and hard work, Martha Bentley was a model of excellence.

Our association with Martha was Bird Rescue; others know her from her extended tenure and involvement in our community. We invite you to share your stories about Martha by e-mailing us at or A collection of these stories would be a fitting tribute to this exceptional woman.

Marlena Hirsch is a resident of Santa Rosa. Jeanne Sternbergh lives in Healdsburg. Both are former volunteers at the Bird Rescue Center in Santa Rosa.

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