Giving a Hoot

The Texas State Aquarium’s Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital helps give local ill and injured wildlife a second chance.

By: Andrea Bolt

The tiny owl twists his tufted head around 180 degrees to inspect his surroundings, much to the delight of the small gathering of children “oohing” and “ahhing” over him at the Downtown Corpus Christi Farmers’ Market. Many ask about his diminutive size or how closely his coloration resembles the bark of a tree, both of which are markers of the Eastern screech owl species; more ask about his left eye, which is completely blind.

AQU_Norman in Aquarium

This owl’s name is Norman, and he is one of many animal ambassadors that have come to have a forever home at the Texas State Aquarium through our Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital. Raptors like him, as well as a variety of shorebirds like pelicans, laughing gulls, spoonbills and more, make their way to Second Chances either via staff pickup or a Good Samaritan. At the hospital, staffers are able to treat injuries like fractured wings and other bones, pest or parasite issues, marine debris entanglement-related injuries and a host of others. Once the animal is healthy and deemed releasable, the aquarium returns the animal to its natural habitat. In the event the animal is not releasable due to a permanent disability, the aquarium works to find a proper long-term facility for the animal.

AQU_Second Chances Red-tailed hawk release AQU_Second Chances brown pelican release

Sometimes that facility is the aquarium, itself. Along with Norman, our Wild Flight bird and mammal trainers care for two hawks, a turkey vulture, a crested caracara, two herons and three ducks that have been rescued and rehabilitated through Second Chances, and there are a number of other rehabilitated animals throughout the aquarium. If it is determined that a non-releasable Second Chances patient will go to another facility, the Second Chances staff does a thorough background check on the facility, ensuring the highest care standards are met before then deciding on how to transport the animal to its new home.

Started in 1995, Second Chances has been responsible for rehabilitating and releasing more than 1,000 ill and injured birds, marine mammals and sea turtles back into the wild. Today, Second Chances staffs a fulltime veterinarian, along with a small fulltime staff and a multitude of dedicated volunteers.

Pending the condition of the animal when it arrives, aquarium staff stabilizes it, evaluates its condition and provides comprehensive medical treatment. Services range from simply providing a safe, temporary refuge for an exhausted migratory shorebird to acute medical care for an ill dolphin.

Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager Laura Martinelli says the hospital’s surgical suite, featuring state-of-the-art X-ray equipment, helps the team take in, treat and care for patients that similar hospitals may not be able to help.

“Seeing birds on the brink of death and then being able to not only see them recover, but to have a hand in it, is an amazing thing,” Martinelli says. “To be able to bring them back from that, then to actually release them back into the wild is incredible. We’re very proud of this program and what we do here.”

Martinelli explains that volunteers help staffers medicate and treat birds, clean kennels, prepare daily diets, keep detailed records and do the huge amounts of laundry Second Chances requires to ensure patients receive the best care possible.

“The wildlife rehabilitation done through Second Chances is one of the most tangible ways we practice conservation and live out the mission of the Texas State Aquarium,” Martinelli says.

The Texas State Aquarium’s Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital is located at 4230 Rincon Road in Corpus Christi, Texas. For more information, call 361-881-1210 or visit, or email Martinelli at

Photos courtesy of Texas State Aquarium

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