Who is Willow Tree Wildlife? We are a group of individuals who care about our environment and the wildlife who reside in it.
Our President, Dani Nicholson, has been a passionate wildlife rehabilitator since 2002. In 2001, she and husband Bill discovered that a mother opossum had dropped seven of her babies on their rural property. The babies were fully furred but too young to be on their own. Dani and Bill, both animal lovers, found them in the early morning. Their golden retrievers had brought them up from the creekside, alive and well, and left them on the living room floor. Bill thought they must be dead, but not so! They were just playing “possum”.
Dani found Pacific Wildlife Care (PWC), a wildlife rehabilitation organization in San Luis Obispo County, California. She had cared for the baby opossums at home for nearly a week, and on dropping them off, discovered that the care they would require for the next several weeks was something she could do. She became a PWC member immediately and in 2002, began to take rehabilitation classes.
At the same time, Dani found an ad about the Marine Mammal Center needing volunteers, and so she began those classes as well. One day, another PWC volunteer called asking, “do you want to rehabilitate a baby gull”? Dani replied, “Yes, but I don’t know what to do”.
At this time, all of the volunteers worked independently at their homes. Dani and Bill had property and water, two very important components to seabird rehabilitation. So began Dani’s entrance into becoming the seabird rehabilitator for Pacific Wildlife Care for the next several years.
From 2002 to 2007, Dani cared for hundreds of seabirds from her home. Pelicans, Gulls, pelagic birds such as Common Murres, Western and Clark’s Grebes, and the list goes on. Dani was mentored by a local couple who had been handling all seabird rehabilitation before her and International Bird Rescue.
During this period, Dani continued to volunteer with the Marine Mammal Center, became a member of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and sought out all of the training possible.
In 2007, Dani was flooded with Western and Clark’s Grebes. Although the new wildlife center was built, it was not yet occupied. Dani moved in with the birds and from scratch, working 24/7 for months, opened the wildlife center. Over time, more volunteers joined in.
In 2008, Morro was born. In 2009, Morro was injured and deemed non-releasable. In that same year, Judy Irving, Documentary Filmmaker, began filming Morro as part of her documentary, Pelican Dreams. To learn more about Pelican Dreams, Judy Irving and her other documentaries, go to www.pelicanmedia.org.
In 2012, Dani retired from the Center Director position and in that same year, applied for and received, a USFWS education permit for Morro, the Brown Pelican. In 2014, Dani and her core group of caring professionals, started Willow Tree Wildlife, with the primary mission to educate the public about wildlife and their environments, and to advocate for wildlife wherever the need may be.
Prior to her life’s passion of caring for wildlife, Dani worked as an accountant. She and her husband Bill owned Sunshine Health Food in Morro Bay, California, for nearly nine years and were an integral part of the community. Dani served on the Morro Bay Merchant’s Association and was a member of the Rotary Club. All of Dani’s family loved animals, and in fact, her mother, aunts, grandmother and brother, have been actively involved in saving dogs and cats.
Bill and Dani support all life on their property, keeping it free from pesticides and poisons of any kind. The property is nurtured, as are all the beings who reside there. A former gull who was released years ago as a juvenile now brings his/her mate back occasionally to see if there is an extra fish lying around and vultures roost in the trees. Bobcats, coyote and mountain lion skirt the property, songbird calls fill the air — all are respected and loved.
The Marine Mammal Center: Volunteer Supervisor and Med Staff and Volunteer Council San Luis Obispo Operations Representative from 2012 through 2015. www.tmmc.org
Pacific Wildlife Care: Board of Directors Treasurer 2002 through 2006; Center Director from 2007 through 2011; Songbird rehabilitator from home facility 2012 through 2015; Education Team, housed Turkey Vulture, Ms. Handsome from 2009-2015. pacificwildlifecare.org
Oiled Wildlife Care Network: Since 2003. Currently 24 hour Hazwoper Certified; worked two oil spills to date, VOBI, and Refugio Spill; cared for hundreds of oiled birds and trained in recovery, stabilization, Marine Mammal care, Avian care, Hazing, ATV and Boat Safety Training. www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/owcn/
National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association: Member since 2002. www.nwrawildlife.org
International Wildlife Rehabilitation Association: Member from 2003 through 2010, 2015 to present. Serving on Board of Directors as Treasurer, 2016 through 2017. www.theiwrc.org.
California Council for Wildlife Rehabilitators: Current Member. Committee member: Awards and Recognition Committee. www.ccwr.org