Influx of Injured Western Grebes

grebe puncture story - 0217 January at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, we admitted a Western grebe who’d been found on Centerville beach near Ferndale. The deep puncture wounds on his flank and belly, as well as crushed bones in his wing, were too severe for treatment. While we greatly prefer to treat injured animals and release them back to their wild lives, to be able to humanely end the suffering of an animal too wounded to ever live freely again is also an important part of our mission.

Later that day another Western grebe, found several miles north at South Jetty, was brought to our clinic. This bird, with similar wounds, died on the way.

And so began a five day run in which 11 of these elegant seabirds with deep puncture wounds and occasionally with a crushed wing or leg, came to our small wildlife hospital on the Redwood coast. Many of the birds came from Crescent City, a few were found between here and there – Manila, Clam Beach, Trinidad.

grebe puncture story - 03As of this writing, only two have survived. Both are currently in care.

This is somewhat unusual. Typically, when more than a few of one species of seabird are found struggling, the birds suffer from emaciation, a condition brought on from a lack of nutrition. For as long as seabirds have been observed, mass starvation events have occasionally happened. Such occurences are often called “wrecks.”

Nowadays, overfishing, climate change and host of other ocean ills cause these wrecks to occur more frequently. While there are many possible causes for this kind of starvation, the cure is relatively simple: stabilization (fluids and warmth) and food.

When emaciation isn’t the problem, the next most likely scenario to cause large numbes of seabirds to run into trouble is a toxin in the environment, such as petroleum spills, harmful algal blooms (often caused by agricultural “run-off”, sewage, fish waste.

The wounds we’ve seen look like predator bites. Our working hypothesis is that sea lions are hunting these birds for food, or what seems more likely is that these grebes were bitten while pursuing fish in the same school with sea lions. There is precedent for marine birds injured by Sea lions while foraging. Whatever the case, currently we have no direct observations or conclusive results.

grebe puncture story - 33The prognosis for the two birds in care is hopeful. While their wounds are severe they are healing and all other aspects of their health are good.

Western Grebes are aquatic birds – they spend their entire lives on water. Even their nests are aquatic, built on floating vegetation anchored to reeds and other aquatic plants. Once they hatch, grebe babies ride on the backs of their parents and from then on they are either on water, under water in pursuit of fish, or in flight. For these birds to heal successfully they need to spend most of their time in care on water. Right now, providing that housing is the challenge we face.

Our facility in Bayside is small and most of our equipment is improvised or re-purposed. (For example, plastic 55 gallon drums house our homemade filters on our pools.) Your support provides the means for our skilled staff to build the infrastructure necesssary for the care of all wildlife that meets the specific needs of each animal.

grebe puncture story - 01If you see a Western Grebe on the sand, there is a strong likelihood that something is the matter.

If you are able to do so safely, toss a towel, sheet or jacket over the bird’s head to protect yourself from the sharp pointed bill. Western grebes have very long necks – hold the bird low, near your waist, at arm’s length. Your safety must come first.

Once you have the bird wrapped in a towel, or ideally in a box, you can transport her or him to our clinic.

If you are unable to do this, call us and we’ll try to help. (locally 822-8839 or our statewide hotline 888 975 8188.) As always, thank you for your support. Thank you for being a part of this life-saving work.


Rock Pigeons: Native to Cities (and some farms)

ROPI release 22 Jan 14 - 05Given that roughly 80% of North America’s human population lives in an urban environment, it’s possible that Rock Pigeons are our continent’s most widely recognized birds. Although they are often the targets of abuse, derision and harsh measures to discourage their presence, the cityscape wouldn’t be complete without pigeons.

Rock pigeons have been domesticated for so long that precise knowledge of their original homeland may never be known. However, fossils over three hundred thousand years old have been found in present day Israel. Generally, they are thought to have occupied a band that stretches from North Africa and southern Europe across Mesopotamia and into India and southwestern China.

As their name suggests, Rock Pigeons are naturally cliff dwellers, nesting along the sea coasts of the Mediterranean, perhaps the foothills of the Himalayas. Powerful fliers evolved to these habitats, city pigeons in the skycraper canyons of Vancouver or New York are second-nature.

The first Rock Pigeons are believed to have come to North America in 1606, brought to Mi’kma’ki, by French settlers to be raised for food. Over four hundred years later, feral pigeons have spread throughout the Americas, occupying all but northern Canada. Yet, unlike the European Starling and the House Sparrow, both species introduced by European settlers who drive native songbirds from habitat and nesting grounds, Rock Pigeons in America, perhaps because of their city and farm habitat, their near complete use of the urban environment, do not appear to pose much threat to native wildlife.ROPI release 22 Jan 14 - 08

Last week, a kind man stopped at the intersection of 4th and Q in Eureka, CA to scoop up a younger, possibly female pigeon who was flightless in the middle of the street. He brought her to our clinic in Bayside, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center.

Upon admission the bird was given a complete examination. Because we found no broken bones, it seemed most likely she had been hit by a vehicle, suffering only a glancing blow.

BAX and Humboldt Wildlife Care Center are concerned by the damage that introduced species may cause. For this reason we are cautious about rehabilitating and releasing non-native wild animals. However, every animal, including non-native species that damage native wildlife also deserve humane treatment, even when eradication is deemed scientifically, ethically and legally right to pursue, as in the case of introduced rats on islands that are important for seabird breeding and rearing of young. Introduced non-native animals are not guilty of anything and do not deserve our wrath. They deserve our compassion and our respect. If we can’t see this fundamentally true thing, then what business have we interacting with any species at all?

The life of an urban pigeon, replete with resources in the form of human discards, is still dangerous. Fishing line, twine and other traps abound. Vehicles run birds down in every neighborhood of every city every day. Look more closely at a flock of pigeons. Notice how many pigeons have injured or missing feet, how many have poor feather condition, how many are dead in the gutters.

In the case of this young pigeon? We’re glad we could give her a second chance.

After a week of supportive care and anti-inflammatory medicine, the pigeon had resumed graceful, coordinated flight. We released her back in the only habitat she and many generations of her ancestors has ever known, the urban wilds of Eureka.

Your support makes care for injured and orphaned wild animals possible. Thank you for being a part of this life-saving work.

photos: Laura Corsiglia/Bird Ally X – click here for more photos from this Rock Pigeon’s release.


new short film from Predator Defense

Wildlife Services, a department within USDA, kills millions of animals each year – from hawks near airports to red-winged blackbirds near grain, and especially, it seems, coyotes, eagles and wolves. This short film from Predator Defense looks into the dark heart of this killing agency through the testimony of two of its former killers. Read more about this agency at the Sacramento Bee in this series by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, Tom Knudson


Large Waves Batter Seabirds

Elissa Blair, an intern with BAX, carries a rescued Double Crested Cormorant back to the truck.

Late Saturday, January 11, a Pacific storm brought an exceptionally large surf to the Redwood Coast. With waves height reaching nearly 30 feet, people were warned to stay from the beaches and jetties.

Since that storm, over the last couple of days BAX/HWCC has been admitting Double Crested Cormorants rescued in Crescent City for care. Sunday and Monday rescue teams drove up from our Arcata location to survey the area.

So far, we’ve admitted three cormorants, each very battered, likely by the very large surf that pounded the North coast Saturday night and Sunday morning. Cormorants roost on rocks offshore at night – vulnerable to intense and unleashed power of the sea.

Another team is going to Crescent City today to look for more birds. So far, each of the rescued birds has died due to the severity of the wounds suffered. Hopefully any other birds we rescue will be able to pull through.

It’s important to remember, when we tuck ourselves in for the night, when we plan for emergencies, as we face climate disruption and the associated increase in severity of storms, that our wild neighbors also are at risk.

Your support makes our efforts possible, from a staffed wildlife hospital to the rescue teams ready to go a hundred miles in any direction. Thank you for contributing. You make a difference for injured wildlife on the North Coast and beyond.


Murdering Crows

A look at the “sport” of hunting crows.

The Great Auk, buffalo herds coloring the plains – the Carolina Parakeet, species once so numerous that their wholesale slaughter happened without worry. In our time we might think of species preservation as protecting those endangered – not usually protecting those who are common.

I’d just come in from a walk in a nearby field watching fledgling crows begin to explore their new home and found a message from a friend up north. He’d seen a brown crow, he thought, and wanted to know if it could be true. It wasn’t really that unusual for this person to exhibit such auspicious timing. He went on to say that he’d typed brown crow into his search engine and what came up, he said, was “not for the faint of heart.” So I did the same. Brown crow.

Among the top of the search results, if you haven’t looked, is a page on the website, titled Oddities, featuring photographs of crows that differ from the standard in some way. All of the crows pictured are recently shot and killed. In fact, most of the pictures on this site are of crows that have been killed.

Crow Busters is strictly concerned with killing crows, and the sale of products to enhance the enjoyment or the efficiency of killing crows.

US federal law permits killing crows. The regulations are slim: the season can last no more than 124 days each year; killing must not occur during the main nesting season in any given state; only rifles, shotgun, handguns, archery, and falcons may be used to kill crows. If these crows are engaged in, or about to engage in property destruction, including ornamental trees, fruit trees, all agriculture, or depredation of wildlife, or if they have gathered in number or manner sufficient to cause a human health hazard, or any other nuisance (italics mine), then the federal government offers no protection whatsoever, regardless of the season. At no time during the year is a “bag limit” imposed by the federal government.

If a state wishes to offer greater protection it may. The federal regulation is a minimum standard. This may mean that in your state killing crows is illegal. Let’s hope so. More likely, your state adopts the federal wording, and adheres to the letter of the law. California appears to lead the way on increasing the protection to crows with a 24 bird daily limit. Most states extend the “crow season” by limiting the carnage to three days each week. Even these slight restrictions wear on the patience of crow-killing enthusiasts, although it is still essentially legal to kill as many crows as you can. A crow hunter in Pennsylvania told me,
“I’m either just over or under 1000 a year. That’s all combined, geese, duck, pheasant, grouse, woodcock, crow. I rack up large crow numbers. I hunt 3 states and shoot anywhere from 1500 to 2000 rounds a year to hit that number. What I spend on ammo could feed your family for a year!! That I know!!”

In 2010 the crow season in Pennsylvania, in deference to nesting season closed April 6 2014. Three days previously, Hunting held its 2nd annual crow shoot. Participants from around the state posted their results with photographs on the website’s forum. The season re-opened on July 2. July 11 the Pennsylvania Crow Shoot was held in Erie County. According to the organizer of the “event,” 32 shooters killed 251 crows. Afterward, they had a picnic.

32 people killing 251 crows may seem destructive but it isn’t outside the norm by any means. In California, according to an agency report, in 2003, with its 24-bird daily bag-limit, 40,000 crows were “harvested.” That same year the state’s Department of Fish and Game rejected a proposal to extend the crow season to year-round and to eliminate the bag limit, ostensibly to help the citizens of Yuba City “offset the nuisance caused by crows.” The grounds for rejection cited were that the 124 day season was federally imposed, that the popularity of the crow hunting had declined over the last 20 years, and that the relative low numbers of the yearly “harvest” of crows at 40,000 individuals, and the low number of crow hunters, 3,100, made alteration of the existing statute unnecessary. It was also stated that “[c]hanging the bag limit from 24 per day to no limit may also bring with it negative public perception and misunderstanding.” As it stands, 330 crows being killed every day of the 124 day season apparently isn’t viewed negatively by the public and is “understood.”

Wildlife rehabilitator and self-described “crow mama,” Sandy Beck, who has raised orphan crows since 1989, describes the degree of slaughter that has been considerd normal and understood in an article she wrote for the Tallahassee Democrat (September 9 1996)

Fort Cobb Oklahoma, the heart of Oklahoma’s rich peanut crop, boasts the world’s largest crow roost. I learned this fact in a eye-opening but (mercifully) out-of-print book, The Varmint and Crow Hunter’s Bible, [written by Bert Popowski] which I picked up in a local used book store. It also includes chapters on such “nuisances” as bobcats, coyotes, snakes, great horned owls and foxes.
During harvest season, the Fort Cobb State Recreation Area drew as many as ten million crows. To coincide with this event, they hosted the annual Fort Cobb Crow Shoot. No bag limit.
Red Watt, the author’s “all-time favorite crow-shooting buddy” came all the way from Omaha to score between 80 and 90,000 each year.(empahasis added) Red’s pet crow named Judas was an excellent live decoy. Red also mimicked a young crow’s distress call.
When I called Ft. Cobb recently to ask if they were still planning their crow shoot for this year, the park ranger said, “You know, it’s the darndest thing. We haven’t seen a single crow in these parts for six years now.” Small wonder.

In Oklahoma, the season is on right now, running each year from 10 Oct – 16 Nov and 9 Dec – 4 March, with no bag limit. In Massachussetts, the season is open Monday, Friday, and Saturday of each week except during the period from April 11 to June 30.

In Washington the 124 day season runs consecutively from September 1 to December 31. No restrictions greater than the federal regulations are placed on killing crows.

Auburn, New York is apparently notorious for its annual “crow shoot” weekend, with controversy over it gaining national attention in 2003 and for the next few years. According to the Auburn Citzen, in February 2004, 52 teams killed 1,067 individual crows.

The reasons usually given for the Auburn crow shoot relate to alleged problems associated with with a resident flock of crows whose population fluctuates around 50,000. Crow killers complain that crows are dirty and noisy.

You can purchase instructional DVDs produced by Kansas crow killing expert, Bob Aronsohn. Featured on the Crow Buster‘s front page was a new write-up from Bob of his recent crow killing exploits, traveling around Kansas, shooting crows with his friend Jerry.

Our first hunt was an afternoon shoot. We had a nice windy afternoon in which to hunt in. The wind was in the northwest at 20 to 30 mph and 58 degrees outside. We were in a river bottom out of the wind and started shooting by 1:30 pm. We shot 331 crows from 1:30 pm to 4:45 pm. Bob – 157 Jerry – 174

Bob and Jerry travel together for the next couple of weeks, wreaking havoc on crows wherever they go. A hundred here, a few hundred there until –

Day 7 – Our last shoot. We did another field setup where we put the dead crows on top of the cut milo, they sure looked good to the crows because we shot 234 of them from 11:00 am to 4:30 pm that day. Here is a good photo of Jerry with the crows on the cut milo (below). Bob – 125 Jerry – 109… Grand total came to 3,584 crows on 16 shoots. Bob – 1,872 Jerry – 1,712 This is the most crows I ever shot on a crow safari. This is most definitely a hunt that Jerry and I will remember for the rest of our life.

Bob Aronsohn claims to have killed 125,000 crows – a remarkable admission to say the least. Other staff at the same website claim tens of thousands. On the website you can read “hate mail” they’ve received and find humorous.

Aronsohn appears to be a celebrity to other crow killers, and he drops in to other forums – offering counsel to youthful beginners, in this case, a teenager from Anacortes, Washington:

by Stonegoblet » Wed Oct 24, 2007 9:31 pm

Here’s a little party favor for ya! This is the same gun I took down that squirrel with in a previous post.
Set em up, and Knock em Down!
Posts: 191
Joined: Sat Jun 23, 2007 11:34 pm
Location: Anacortes, WA

by Bob Aronsohn » Sat Oct 27, 2007 6:59 pm
Hey there Stonegoblet,You sure look happy and rightly so. If you should decide to buy a better air rifle in the future you will really be hell on wheels, no damn varmint will be safe with you around!Does that rifle shoot pellets or bb’s? If it shoots both, what did you shoot the crows with?Bob Aronsohn
Bob Aronsohn
Posts: 238
Joined: Mon Mar 21, 2005 12:44 pm

by Stonegoblet » Mon Oct 29, 2007 6:46 pm
lets see, it was about a year ago, or at least eight months when it happened. I was using Rocket pellets, also called Tomohawks. You know, the B.B. tipped pellets. At fifteen pumps, with a well aimed shot, i capped him right into the neck, where it lodged in his spine. Instant fall.The gun shoots B.B.’s and pellets, but as you can see, it needs a repeater to feed in the pellets, so for a while i could only use B.B.’s Now I’ve got four repeaters, and a Dangerous Grin! Feel Free to PM me, I’ll tell ya more cool stuff. Think that’s about it…
Set em up, and Knock em Down!
Posts: 191
Joined: Sat Jun 23, 2007 11:34 pm
Location: Anacortes, WA

by Bob Aronsohn » Mon Oct 29, 2007 8:11 pm
Hello Stonegoblet,Have you ever tried shooting birds on the wing with a shotgun? That is a ball calling the crows to you instead of you sneaking up on them. I was about your age when I could call them well enough with a hand call to get them to respond and come a winging over the treetops. I would guess your about 14 or 15 years old so you have your whole life ahead of you to enjoy popping those pesky varmints.Good hunting young blood!Bob Aronsohn

Of course, this isn’t new.

The brutal destruction of Eskimo Curlew, at the hands of “gunners” in Nebraska – shooting wagonloads of the birds, whose migrating flocks in flight would cover forty or fifty acres, according to Scott Wiedensaul in his elegant book of the migration of birds Living on the Wind (1999) – shooting the birds as they rose from the burned-off prairie, in numbers so large that 19th century colonists called them “prairie pigeons,” reminded of the Passenger Pigeons that once filled the eastern forests, before they were shot into extinction. They’d shoot them until they’d filled their wagons and dump the shot birds to rot on the ground and keep shooting until they had filled them again.

At the time, it was commonly believed that the numbers were so great, and the birds lives worth so little, that no great harm was being done. So it comes as no surprise that the crows shot today are called pestilent, or too many, or in the way. The same charge was leveled, along with shotguns and rifles, railroads and laws, against the bison, prairie and the people whose lives depended on its health and abundance.

The stories that naturalists, wildlife enthusiasts and subsistence hunters often hear and tell are of the days when this or that species, – pigeon, curlew, waterfowl in California’s central valley – so numerous their flocks would darken the skies, sometimes for days, as they passed. But now they are gone. As are the chestnut forests we hear of – so thick a squirrel could run from the Mississippi river to the Atlantic Sea without touching the ground; – and salmon, so many, you could cross the river they blackened by walking on their backs.

DSC_0383Do crow shooters view what they do as hunting? When asked, the Pennsylvania man who shoots 2000 rounds a year was incredulous, his reply mocking, and perhaps to him, laced with humor, “No! It’s killing! and it’s something I’m damn good at.” He said he hoped the country “lights up a second civil war” so he can “really practice his trade.”


Hermit Thrush Released!

On 29 December, a Hermit thrush was brought to our Bayside clinic, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. A kind woman had rescued the small bird from an all-too-common neighborhood marauder, a domestic cat. She rushed the bird to HWCC hoping we could help the poor fellow out.

After a thorough exam, we found only that about half of his tail feathers had been torn out. After a course of precautionary antibiotics (cat saliva is a bacterial stew that most often fatally infects small animals), this thrush was active and anxious to be as far from his caregivers as he could get.

Once in our songbird aviary he demonstrated quickly that his flight was as perfect as we could we judge. Just over a week in care, he was released back to the place he was rescued.

There are a number of actions to be taken to protect wild animals from domestic cat attacks. The most important of course is to keep domestic cats indoors. Some cats will gladly use a leash. An outdoor enclosure (a catio?) can be fun to build and a great solution if your kitty must go outside. The benefits of life as an indoorHETH release 4 Jan 14 - 4 cat are many – including a much longer average lifespan and far fewer health problems.

This Hermit thrush was one of the lucky ones. Of the 110 animals caught by a cat that we admitted for care in 2013, only 22% survived to be released. Without timely, urgent care the prognosis for cat-attacked small animals is very poor.

If you find or see a wild animal that has been attacked by a cat, seek help immediately. Call a wildlife rehabilitator in your area. If you don’t know a local rehabilitator call 888-975-8188, or visit the California Council for Wildlife Rehabilitators website. On California’s North Coast, call Humboldt Wildlife Care Center at 707-822-8839.

If you’d like to help, we always need financial support and volunteers. Help us prevent wild life injuries. Help us return injured wild animals to their wild and free lives.


A new format in progress…

The Bird Ally X blog is in the process of growing into a fully functional website. While it is expected that the function of the blog will be retained, we do anticipate providing a signifcantly imcreased amount of information, links to services, and more. This blog, at wordpress, is part of that transition. This will allow us to more efffectively meet our mission and our commitment to provide educational and informational materials and literature for our colleagues and our neighbors.

You will be able to find current updates on animal care and issues we are concerned as well as news from around the digital community that relates to our mission on our facebook page.

Our blogger page is still up if you’d like to donate. Also you can still find information for Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, our largest project.

See you in the ether!