Weymouth wildlife center uses ‘Catbird Cafe’ to attract humans

Stephen Martin is a regular performer at the Catbird Cafe in Weymouth.
Stephen Martin is a regular performer at the Catbird Cafe in Weymouth. –Joan Campbell/N.E. Wildlife Center

On Saturday nights, two-legged animals take the spotlight at the New England Wildlife Center’s Catbird Cafe.  

The only comprehensive animal hospital in the Boston area that provides care for sick, injured, or orphaned wildlife, the nonprofit facility in Weymouth relies on donations to assist some 2,000 sick and wounded animals a year.

But while caring for wildlife and teaching wildlife veterinary medicine to its interns, the center is also an education center for people, said Katrina Bergman, its executive director.

“We use the resources of the medical facility for wildlife to teach science and to reconnect people to the out-of-doors,’’ Bergman said. “It’s another way that people connect to the environment and wildlife and to each other.’’

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One of the fruits of that connection is a weekly open-mike performance venue, called the Catbird Café, that “grew organically’’ from the efforts of staffer and musician Stephen Martin, Bergman said.

Martin, whose brief is to “involve members of the community in any way I can,’’ by efforts such as booking group tours of the facility and coordinating the activities of the center’s busy volunteers, said the weekly café has been running for 4½ years.

With its open mike featuring acts from folk singers to belly dancers, the Catbird Café is “a supportive environment,’’ Bergman said. “They’re just rooting for each other.’’

“The regulars consider it a family — the Catbird family,’’ Martin agreed.

The wildlife center’s big-tent philosophy draws both veteran performers and people standing up before a group for the first time.

“We encourage all kinds of music, poetry, spoken word, comedy, and the third Saturday of every month we have belly dancing,’’ Martin said.

The Hull resident was a member of a popular rock band, Orpheus, whose single “I Can’t Find the Time’’ rose high in the pop charts in the late 1960s. Part of that era’s “Boston Sound,’’ Orpheus shared a bill with period heavies such as Cream, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, and the Who. Martin and one of his former Orpheus band mates, Eric “the Snake’’ Gulliksen, regularly perform an acoustic set at the open mikes.

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On Saturdays, performers sign up from 4 through 6:30 p.m., and the Catbird Café’s mike is open from 5 to 9 p.m. The center supplies free coffee, tea, and lemonade or cider, along with some salty or sweet snacks; it sells bottled water and soda for $1. Admission is free, but the café accepts donations for the wildlife center.

“We’re now one of the longest-standing coffee houses on the South Shore,’’ Martin said. “Word’s gotten around.’’

The Catbird Café also hosts concerts on two Friday nights a month, with acts varying from “local kid bands’’ to widely known musicians such as Martin and Gulliksen. Admission is a $5 donation, with proceeds going to the center.

The New England Wildlife Center, which opened six years ago, has become a community center for supporters and volunteers, including some who don’t feel they belong elsewhere. Young people who don’t fit in other places “find a home at the center,’’ Bergman said.

“People have taken on the center as their own. They find ways to take care of wildlife and take care of each other. It’s grown into a community hub,’’ she said. “What we say is, ‘Magic happens at the New England Wildlife Center.’ You can feel the energy when you come in.’’

The staff is friendly and the science informal at the wildlife center, which is open for tours and allows visitors to observe animal care Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Self-guided tours cost $5, while  guided tours cost $10; the family maximum is $20. 

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The center’s current residents include three raccoons whose educational role is to help correct the negative image people have of their species, Bergman said.

“People think they’re always sick, they have rabies, they go in your trash. Sure, don’t go up to pet them. But they were here before we were,’’ she said.

Their area at the center enables people to observe normal raccoon behavior. “You can see them use their hands, see how intelligent they are,’’ Bergman said.

The center’s Internet site (www.newildlife.org) recently instituted its “Raccoons Live!’’ web-camera, which offers streaming video three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday) from noon to 2 p.m., to promote a truer image of raccoons. At other times the website provides previously recorded videos.

While local and state agencies as well as the general public bring hurt or abandoned wild creatures to the center for care, it receives no government funding and its patients can’t pay. As a result the facility depends on donations.

The center also houses the Odd Pet Vet, a commercial veterinary practice that provides care for exotic animals. Its proceeds help fund the center’s services for the steady stream of more than 200 species of wildlife — hummingbirds, snapping turtles, raccoons, foxes, cottontails, hawks, and owls, among many others — brought to it.

The center also attracts a good crowd of local human creatures who donate time and money.

“We say at the café that we have some of crustiest creatures around,’’ Bergman said. But with good hearts underneath.

Behind the Scenes

The Catbird Café

New England Wildlife Center

500 Columbian St., Weymouth

Saturdays, 5 to 10 p.m.

Free, but donations accepted

www.newildlife.org

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