Spring, Renewal and being an Ally to Birds

The suddenly boisterous and highly visible activity of birds is one of the joys of Spring. Swallows, thrushes, egrets, mallards, geese and more are returned from the South, often coming several thousand miles to nest here in Humboldt County. Adults spend almost everything to make the journey, preparing for the oldest song and dance; – the hummingbird’s dazzling aerobatics, the grebe’s water ballet, the Red-winged blackbird at the top of the tree trilling for company – all around us these birds begin the season’s work of bringing their babies into the world. Renewal and rebirth – the spark of life is passed on.

IMG_20130524_173835A nest of House finches brought to our clinic, Spring 2013 (photo: mmerrick/BAX)

Right in our own backyards nest sites are selected. Close to shopping! Close to schools! Babies must be fed, after all, and adolescent birds get only a short apprenticeship before they must shift for themselves.

Once the eggs are laid parent birds are tied down, busy and focused. Once the chicks are hatched, frequent trips from sun up to sun down keeping babies fed is the routine life of mama and papa. It takes a lot of mosquitoes to make one swallow and many swallows raise two nestfuls each year.

Fledgling birds think they’re big enough and jump from nests before they can fly! Parents stay near feeding them on the ground or in branches and call sharply when danger is near. It can take as long as a week before these youngsters really have their wings.

Birders and casual enjoyers of birds are drawn to their beauty, feathers and song. Unlike wild mammals, many species of birds live their lives in the open, for all to see. We may never see a Long-tailed weasel in our lives, but here are House finches feeding their young just beyond the window.

As lovers of wildlife we cherish the close view birds allow, but this nearness brings such risk. If we get too close we can scare a parent bird away from a nest leaving a young featherless baby to go hungry, go thirsty – even die! Our houses are built where birds have lived for millions of years and our cars race through what used to be pasture of bounty, grass seeds and insects and all manner of good things. House cats roaming the lawn thrilled to pretend they are on the savannah, stalking game through the tall blades. But their kills are all too real, and a parent is left to feed a nest of five alone – it can’t be done and some will starve.

It feels good to be outside working in the long evenings, cleaning up the yard, planting bulbs; – yet we might trim a few branches and a nest full of hope crashes to the ground.

As Mother Earth rolls the Northern Hemisphere back into Spring, it’s important and good to get outside and rejoice in our shared and beautiful life. Being in nature is the only way to know and love her. Seeing our wild neighbors renews our own lives. As Henry Thoreau famously noticed, ‘in wildness is the preservation of the world.’ Any grandparent or songbird will tell you, do not harm what preserves us. Enjoy being close but allow who we see the privacy and the space to simply be. Be mindful of wild lives.

DSC_0429mallBaby Mallards in the aviary they were raised in after losing their mother. 2013 (photo: Laura Corsiglia/BAX)

Things you can do:

  • Keep cats indoors, or make an enclosed space outdoors.
  • Don’t trim branches during baby season. Plants prefer to be trimmed in fall anyway.
  • Give nests a wide berth. Enjoy with binoculars!
  • Feathered young birds hopping around the ground are probably learning to fly. Help them by keeping kids, cats and dogs away.

If you’ve found an animal you think needs help, or you have a problem with a wild family in your home or yard:

call baxHumboldt Wildlife Care Center – 822-8839
Spring and Summer
9am – 5pm everyday

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What am I in for? Well, let me tell you….

This Western Gull, entangled in fishing line and hooks at Trinidad Pier, was recently in our care (photos and story soon to come). You can help Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center rescue and provide the necessary care for wild animals, like this gull, who encounter the modern world at its worst.

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No one wants a fish hook for dinner.

Please contribute. Thank you for being a part of this life-saving work!

Department of Pesticide Regulations Restricts 2nd Generation Anti-coagulant Rodenticides

Effective July 1 2014 second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) will no longer be available in retail establishments and only certified applicators may use them. This is in response to years of observations that these posions have a very serious imapct on wild animals across the state… While the restriction doesn’t eliminate these poisons, it does get them off hardware and grocery store shelves… not enough but it’s a start! There will be more on this issue so critical to wildlife on the BAX website to come… but for now, good. At least this much is done.

Gull Rescued Today in Trinidad

15 minutes before closing on 18 March the phone rang at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. A young gull with a fish hook through his beak was begging for food at the Lighthouse Grill in Trinidad, about 15 miles north of Arcata.

When we arrived on the scene, we found exactly what the caller had described. With a little bit of patience and a little bit of available bait (by the way, the french fries from the Lighthouse Grill looked very good – hopefully we’ll get back for more when on less pressing business!) and with the appreciated assistance of the folks who made the initial call, we were able to net the young Glaucous-winged gull. We returned to the clinic and removed the nasty hook. There is no more rewarding work than succussfully removing a hook from a wild animal. (update: local ornithologist Rob Fowler has observed (see comment below) that this bird is most likely a Glaucous-winged x Western hybrid, so here’s a link to Western gulls too!)

The gull is in care now, treated with pain medication and offered healthy hook-free fish! The bird has an excellent prognosis.

Thanks to Julie and friend who made the call and stayed to help, to the onlookers who watched from a safe distance, to the older gull whose competition for the french fries made our soon-to-be-patient less wary of our net, and to everyone who supports our work and makes it possible for us to go on these rescues and provide the necessary care!

To learn more about fishing line and how it effects local wildlife check out this story from a month ago. All pictures Laura Corsiglia/Bird Ally X

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Killing Contests Soon to Go

Sign Project Coyote’s ONLINE PETITION HERE

Predator Killing Contests in California

Did you know that killing contests are common in California and the rest of the country? Hard to believe, isn’t it? Here we are in the second decade of the 21st century, a march of civilization toward greater understanding of the world, the solar system, the galaxy and beyond, back all the way to the bang that began it all. And still there is debate if it makes sense (for men and boys, mostly, although certainly women and girls aren’t excluded) to attempt to kill the most, the biggest, the most rare – by whatever metric – to kill for competition; – to slaughter for a reward.

A short list of the species targeted by killing contests includes, pigeons, raccoons, doves, bobcat, prairie dog, woodchuck, deer, turkey, crow, wolf and of course, the least protected or respected mammal native to North America, coyote.


Killing Coyote

Coyote ‘calling’ contests, in which teams of hunters often using battery powered coyote callers attract coyotes so that they can be shot, are held nearly everywhere. At the time of this writing there is a contest underway in Washington state. There is also an online predator killing contest open to hunters across all of the United States and Canada currently being held that is sponsored by Foxpro, a maker of coyote and other wildlife callers. (Contestants are encouraged to post “tasteful” photos of the predators they’ve killed. Raccoons, badgers and wolverines are worth 1 point, coyotes, bobcats and lynx are worth 2, wolves, 3 and cougars are the big prize, worth 5 points.)


Coyote killed after being called in to range. These kids were taught this.

Even highly urbanized New Jersey holds coyote killing contests. In some the one who has shot the most pounds of coyotes wins. In others it is the quantity of individual animals, in other contests other criteria may obtain.

Just a month ago in February, 40 Coyotes were killed in the annual Big Valley Coyote Drive sponsored by Adin Supply Co. in Modoc County, California. Tens of thousands of people, led by Project Coyote, petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission in 2013 to stop that year’s drive to no avail. Wildlife advocates continued to press for reform, by petition as well as by expert testimony to persuade the Commission to prohibit these contests.

On the eve of this year’s Modoc contest, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to put consideration of prohibition of such contests on their agenda. Speaking in favor of this review, Commission President, Mike Sutton is reported to have said he’s “been concerned about these killing contests for some time. They seem inconsistent both with ethical standards of hunting and our current understanding of the important role predators play in ecosystems.”

Though small, this is an historic movement toward co-existence with coyotes. Reviled by the ranchers and sporthunters who’ve been re-shaping North America for over 400 years, coyote’s eradication has been at the heart of nearly indiscriminate state-conducted and state-sanctioned trapping, shooting and poisoning wherever coyotes may live.


AB2402 and Congressman Jared Huffman

What’s driving this change? A remarkable California law known as AB2402. Before his election to congress representing the North Coast in November 2012, Jared Huffman was a member of California’s State Assembly, where he chaired the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. February 2012, he introduced AB2402, a bill that would make a few minor adjustments to California’s Department of Fish and Game(DFG), that when carried out, would make for sweeping change.

Seemingly superficial, AB2402 changes DFG’s name to the Department of Fish and Wildlife – a change intended to reflect the conservationist mission of the agency. In keeping with this, AB2402 also requires the Department and the Commission to:

use ecosystem-based management informed by credible science in all resource management decisions to the extent feasible. It is further the policy of the state that scientific professionals at the department and commission, and all resource management decisions of the department and commission, be governed by a scientific quality assurance and integrity policy, and follow well-established standard protocols of the scientific profession, including, but not limited to, the use of peer review, publication,and science review panels where appropriate. Resource management decisions of the department and commission should also incorporate adaptive management to the extent possible.

Science-based ecosystem management is not exactly the language of respect for Mother Earth. Still, this law now demands that predator management policy must at least follow the basic precept of making sure that methods actually achieve goals. Definitions of the terms ‘adaptive-management,’ ‘credible science’ and ‘ecosystem-based management’ are also supplied in the text of AB2402 (see below).

The science of coyote management has already demonstrated that lethal measures, intended to reduce populations, presumably because of actual or potential damages to ‘livestock’ or ‘game herds,’ don’t work. Coyotes’ reproduction increases when they are stressed. Shooting a member of their family group is an obvious cause of such stress, as any member of any family group ought to be able to understand. Coyotes fight back and their most formidable weapons are adaptation and renewal. Or, as apparent although unheeded folk-wisdom among ranchers in Wyoming states it, “kill one coyote, two appear.”

Still the barbarism of the past persists. The coyote enjoys absolutely no protection whatsoever in the current California mammal hunting regulations. In fact, they are expressly mentioned in this regard in Chapter 6, Section 472(a):

The following nongame birds and mammals may be taken at any time of the year and in any number except as prohibited in Chapter 6: English sparrow, starling, coyote, weasels, skunks, opossum, moles and rodents (excluding tree and flying squirrels, and those listed as furbearers, endangered or threatened species).

There are no limits imposed by the state on killing coyotes.

AB2402 may have a much wider revolutionary effect than the Assembly and Senate even knew. Or perhaps the change in perspective over the last hundred years in Western science that has agreed in some respects with a more holistic apporach to life and the web of life is finally beginning to stick.

Whatever the cause for this change, the mandate for peer-reviewed, science- and ecosystem-based management has led to the creation of the Wildlife Resources Committee within California’s Fish and Game Commission to review predator management policy. This has the potential to go a long way toward peaceful co-existence and proper respect for coyotes and other maligned predators.


Wildlife Agencies Need Your Input

Now the Commission will formally decide on the regulations regarding killing contests as well as predator management overall. In a few days, 19 March, the Commission will meet via teleconference with key locations across the state hosting gathering places for public participation. On 16 April in Ventura, coyote contests will be on the Commission’s agenda for discussion. A vote is expected at either the June meeting in Fortuna or in August when the Commission meets in San Diego. (click here for FGC meeting schedule)

Meanwhile, predator management review has been taken up by the Wildlife Resources Committee, co-chaired by commissioners Jack Bayliss and Jim Kellogg. Their next meeting will be in San Francisco, 7 May. Public participation in these meetings is important.

Right now, you can help the Commission understand that these wanton, violent wastes of wild lives interfere with the will of the people to modernize the Department and strive to meet the actual science-based goals of wildlife conservation. To support the Commission in finding that Californians want these contests prohibited please sign Project Coyote’s online petition here – also, use their well-crafted letter to send a stronger message to the Fish and Game Commission as well as the director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife urging these agencies to carry forward the good work begun in 2012 with AB2402. (see below for a brief explanation of the roles of the Commission and the Department)


Killing Contests Must End

Killing contests, for any species, are outmoded, outdated, and an out and out shameful vestige of a more ignorant time. Let’s return to our right relationship with Mother Earth. Let’s show Coyote we’ve learned a few things.

Let’s show Coyote and all that is wild the respect they deserve.

coyote pup 3 June 13 - 03Coyote pup at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center June 2013 – this orphaned pup’s mother was shot and killed. He was released 3 months later. photo Laura Corsiglia/BAX

visit Project Coyote

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

California Fish and Game Commission

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

new definition of terms for California Fish and Game Code

Adaptive management means management that improves the management of biological resources over time by using new information gathered through monitoring, evaluation, and other credible sources as they become available, and adjusts management strategies and practices to assist in meeting conservation and management goals. Under adaptive management, program actions are viewed as tools for learning to inform future actions.

Credible science means the best available scientific information that is not overly prescriptive due to the dynamic nature of science, and includes the evaluation principles of relevance, inclusiveness, objectivity, transparency, timeliness, verification, validation, and peer review of information as appropriate. Credible science also recognizes the need for adaptive management (preceding) as scientific knowledge evolves.

Ecosystem-based management means an environmental management approach relying on credible science, as defined above, that recognizes the full array of interactions within an ecosystem, including humans, rather than considering single issues, species, or ecosystem services in isolation.

How the Fish and Game Commission and the Department of Fish and Game interact, briefly and oversimplified:

For those unfamiliar with how these agencies interact, the legislature introduces bills that might eventually become law. The Fish and Game Commission is tasked with turning that legislative mandate into regulations and policy which will be executed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, through law enforcement and scientific observation. As an example, say it became law to protect crows. First, after the governor signs the bill, the Fish and Game Commission may review existing regulations, determiming that a crow season with a daily bag limit of 24 and a possession limit of 48 doesn’t meet the new code stating that crows may not be taken except as permitted in the case of human health risks, livestock depradation or crop damage amounting to more than $25,000. So, the Fish and Game Commission now writes a new regulation that eliminates crow season. Wildlife Officers begin citing violators and biologists continue to study crows and crow populations, monitoring for effectiveness of the regulations as well as their necessity.

Horned Grebe Click Bait!

Mid-February a Horned Grebe was brought to Humboldt Wildlife Care Center after being found on the strand of South Spit following a brief storm that brought a heavier swell to our region. The North coast of California, is winter home to almost all species of North American grebes.

This grebe’s only problem was being too thin. Otherwise, the storm had probably beached the little bird. Because all grebes are strictly aquatic (they even build floating nests!) once beached, getting back to the water isn’t that easy. Evolved to a life of diving in pursuit of fish, their legs are positioned far back on their bodies. Walking for these birds is nearly impossible. They also need a fair amount of open water to get into the air. In this vulnerable state, it was fortunate s/he was found by a kind-hearted person rather than a dog, or some other animal known to harm to wildlife…

After two weeks in care, the grebe was ready to get back in the ocean. Lucinda Adamson and a couple of our beloved volunteers, Matt and Jeannie Gunn, took him to the Samoa Peninsula. Humboldt Bay is a bird’s world and this bird was eager to rejoin it! (see pictures below!)

Your support made this bird’s rescue possible. Aquatic species require specialized that cannot be accomplished without skill and specialized equipment. If you haven’t contributed, please consider making a donation or sharing our stories with your neighbors and friends. As always, thank you for your love of wild animals and thank you for being a part of this life-saving work.

HOGR release 3:3:14 - 01Back into the sea. Jeannie Gunn places the Horned grebe back into Humboldt bay.

HOGR release 3:3:14 - 03Quickly swimming away!

HOGR release 3:3:14 - 04In winter plumage, the Horned grebe is much less conspicuous.

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HOGR release 3:3:14 - 08Humboldt Bay and the Elk River Bottoms in the background. A nice place to winter!

HOGR release 3:3:14 - 11Jeannie and Lucinda watch their ex-patient re-enter his wild and free life.

© Bird Ally X 2014 – all photos Laura Corsiglia/BAX

The Case of the Houda Point Screech-owl …

WESO in care FEB 14 - 28Found at Houda Point, barely able to move, cold, very dehydrated and thin, almost unable to stand, it took a few days before this Western Screech-owl became fully aware of his surroundings. By appearances, his prospects looked pretty bleak, but after repeated exposure to such patients in this shape, the miracle of fluids, warmth and nutrition when ready can seem commonplace. And one strong reason for his optimistic prognosis was his ability and willingness to eat mice soon after being admitted.

Because he is on the small end of the typical range for the weight and size of Western Screech-owls we surmise that he is male. While it is true for most birds of prey that females are significantly larger than males, sometimes by as much as a third, among screech-owls this difference is less pronounced, with females averaging 13% more body mass than males (1).

WESO in care FEB 14 - 01After ten days in care, the small owl’s condition had improved significantly. This is our first photo of him after being moved to an outdoors aviary.

Motor vehicles are the most common cause of injury for all the owls that we see. Last year at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center we treated 50 owls of various species. We know that 26 of these owls had been struck by a vehicle. 24 of the owls we treated were Western Screech-owls. Of these 24, 14 had been hit by a car. Due to the typical severity of injuries car strikes cause, only 5 survived to be released.

While an owl might fly in front of your moving car anywhere, it is important to remember that these nocturnal hunters use the edges of roads to find prey. Maybe before we destroy the world we’ll realize that a good neighbor puts lives before speed. Etiquette and courtesy: why not teach these things first about living in nature?

WESO in care FEB 14 - 41With his feet wrapped in cohesive bandage, Dr. Lisa Bartlett of Arcata Animal Hospital examines the owl’s legs while BAX rehabilitation assistant and board member Lucinda Adamson handles for her.

WESO in care FEB 14 - 09After 3 weeks in care, the owl was visibly more alert and energetic

This Screech-owl, however was not likely to have been hit by a car. After a few days in care, with varying ability to stand, his legs began to swell. Both legs had multiple small puncture wounds. With antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs added to his daily care, he soon improved.

While we’ll never know for sure what caused his injury, we speculate that it was a conflict with another predator, perhaps a feral or free-roaming cat or even another Screech-owl.

No matter the cause, this owl’s injuries healed quickly. A lingering problem with his left hock (analogous to a human ankle) where a puncture from claw or talon was causing apparent pain and swelling took a few weeks and a couple of trips to the veterinarian. Twice we needed radiographs to confirm that the joint was healing and this small owl would be able to carry his dinner (primarily small rodents such as mice and voles) back to his roost or nest. Carrying mice back to his partner is an important part of screech-owl mating. When nesting, the male screech-owl also shares the duties of hunting for the nestlings once the chicks have left the egg(2).

WESO in care FEB 14 - 36Our small patient recovers in our newest aviary, built in 2013.

Because a wild animal needs to be in top physical condition to thrive, our concerns regarding the use of his leg required a cautious approach to his release. Besides physical examination and radiographs to make sure that his bones were healthy, we offered live prey to determine that the owl was capable of providing for himself after release.

WESO in care FEB 14 - 25Evading capture! While we aren’t trying to cause our patient’s stress, it is nice to see his restored vigor and agility.

WESO in care FEB 14 - 26A remarkable feature of owls in flight: near-total silence as they rush past your head!

After another couple of weeks in care, we were sure he was ready. Two BAX/HWCC interns and Kim Hettler-Coleman, our volunteer coordinator, took the owl back to Houda Point, back where he’d been found. After coming back from the release Kim reports, “As he sat in the hollowed out part of the tree, disappearing into his surroundings, all was well, in the owl’s world and mine. Freedom never looked so good … in camouflage!”

weso-rel-5-webReturned to his rescue location, the owl surveys the situation from a gnarly old Monterey Cypress.

weso rel 4 lovelyOur last view of him as we return to our built world and he is free again.

weso-rel-1-webAfter releasing the owl, the crew also enjoys a moment with wild Mother Earth.

(1) http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/597/articles/introduction

(2) http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Otus_kennicottii/

© 2014 Bird Ally X/ all photos Laura Corsiglia/Bird Ally X